The Princeton Class of 2021 has experienced a senior year like no other. As students unexpectedly departed campus last March, faculty reminded them that Princeton is wherever you are.
That connection remained as they spread across the globe, but like the institution they left, seniors were indelibly changed by the pandemic. With the transition to virtual learning, the people and places of Princeton stayed in their hearts and minds. The resilience, grit, humor, and grace that seniors shared with each other came to define their journey continues to unfold, and the resolve to reach their goals is held in equal measure with the deepest gratitude for all those who have helped them along the way.
The Class of 2021 and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS) wanted to fix these moments in time as a reminder of our community. As senior Sanjana Duggirala shared,
"Over the past seven months, we realized that although we were away from campus, our hearts were still there…[we] spent the semester looking at classmates and professors through a laptop screen and the Historian Committee wanted these photos to preserve the very nostalgic sense of separation—both from each other and from our favorite campus spots—that we felt during the semester. It’s been really heartwarming to feel more connected to campus through this photo campaign."
Seniors were invited to select a campus location that held special meaning to them, and worked with photographer Sameer A. Khan / IG: @fotobdy to make portraits that help memorialize that no matter the circumstances, they are part of the place they love. Mr. Khan worked with seniors via zoom to direct portraits at their current locations and then incorporated the photos into the campus locations the seniors identified as meaningful to them. Mr. Khan has photographed campus events for a number of years, and he was happy to collaborate on this project. He said,
”It’s a privilege to be trusted by many to document a student’s journey through Princeton. I photographed some of these students in their first year on campus and was honored to capture these unique senior memories. Despite the interruption caused by the pandemic, students have continued on their paths and this project is a reassurance that they will always be a part of Princeton.”
ODUS staff worked collaboratively with senior class leaders and Mr. Khan to conceptualize the project. While the portraits were originally intended to be created live via Zoom, Mr. Khan suggested that he work with students via FaceTime in their home locations to direct portraits remotely, and then shoot the final images on campus in order to optimize lighting and weather conditions. Seniors enlisted family members and fellow Princeton housemates to work with the artist on these “virtual portraits” at locations literally spanning the globe. “It was a real family affair!” said senior Morgan Smith, who was photographed at her home in Long Beach, California. “My twin sister Lauren was Mr. Khan’s stand-in and my younger sister Jaden was enlisted to hold up a towel to block the sunlight. I’ve had the privilege of working with Mr. Khan before, but it was really fun to construct a portrait in this creative and collaborative way.
The project is rooted in a desire of seniors to reflect on their Princeton experience, and share their appreciation for the people and places that have made them so meaningful. Thomas Dunne, Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students and one of the originators of this project, reflected that “for many seniors, the activities that have been disrupted by the pandemic represent years of diligent work; student-athletes have competed in these sports since childhood and serving as a resident advisor, class officer, or student organization president presents once in a lifetime opportunities.” After twenty years serving with student leaders, class officers, and university partners, this has been a year unlike any other, Dean Dunne emphasized. “I’ve been so impressed by the resolve and ingenuity seniors have demonstrated as they’ve recalibrated to provide leadership and service in this new Princeton context. It bodes well for their future endeavors, and we are honored to be able to document this part of their journey.”
*Princeton is wherever you are*
"Since March, I’ve been reflecting on how lucky I am that during this time of sickness and hardship, I’ve the privilege to live with friends off-campus while my friends and family are all healthy. I feel incredibly lucky now to be returning to campus this spring and to move back into my Whitman College dorm room, where I started off and will now finish my Princeton career."
- Morgan Smith
"As a physics major, East Pyne hasn’t been a location I have spent much time in. But, the way I felt in the first few seconds I spent in the courtyard, on the first day I visited Princeton, is imprinted in my brain. These few seconds marked the first time it finally dawned on me that I would spend 4 years of my life at the University. So, today when I feel overwhelmed, I walk to the courtyard to remind myself of how fortunate I once felt to have made it this far."
"1879 Arch has been an unexpected staple of my Princeton experience—a place of both transience and permanence. It bridges the main campus with Prospect Avenue, where I’ve met some of my closest friends; it provides a path to Woolworth Hall, where I’ve spent many late nights playing piano; and it holds dear memories of my a cappella group, the Footnotes, singing on winter nights and welcoming our alumni back for our 60th Anniversary Reunion. When I return to Princeton after graduation, I know that passing under 1879 Arch will evoke nothing but sweet echoes of the music and connection that has made my college experience meaningful."
"I lived in Yoseloff Hall for the first two years of my Princeton experience, and saw this quote on the walkway every day. It brings to mind fond memories: countless conversations with my best friends, study breaks with my zee group, late night study sessions, and more. Even away from campus, I have kept this desire to remain happy and hopeful, while striving to do my best within each situation."
"They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and being away from campus has definitely made me cherish the little things (like the many run-ins in this spot outside Firestone after a Small World break) that made our ca
mpus a home—couldn’t be more excited to round out senior year in the best damn place of all!" -