Tilghman on tour: A postcard from Hong Kong

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A view of the Hong Kong skyline. (Photo: iStockPhoto)

Former On the Campus columnist David Walter ’11, a Princeton-in-Asia fellow at the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong, sent this dispatch to PAW after attending an alumni gathering last week.

HONG KONG — The Feb. 1 event was billed as a celebration of the Aspire campaign, a chance for Shirley Tilghman and trustees to thank Asia alums for contributing to Princeton’s most recent endowment drive.

But in light of Tilghman’s September decision to step down as president, the reception at Hong Kong’s JW Marriott Hotel couldn’t help but feel like the first stop in a season-long farewell tour.

“I’m doing nothing else all spring, practically,” Tilghman has told the Daily Princetonian, speaking of the Aspire parties planned for Hong Kong, London, and seven U.S. cities.

It’s easy to see why Tilghman made the trek out East. Hong Kong is Asia’s financial hub, and Asia — if you haven’t heard — is the future. Even today, contributions from the Asia-Pacific region made up $49 million of Aspire’s $1.88 billion fundraising total.

In typical Hong Kong fashion, when alums on Friday weren’t reminiscing about the good old days or pulling Tilghman aside to express thanks, they were talking shop:

“Exit price is not the same as entry price…”

“What happens in China is what everyone wants to know…”

“And, eventually, I went into finance…”

Money is global nowadays, and so too are universities. In addition to boosting Princeton’s capabilities in neuroscience and environmental studies through Aspire, Tilghman also increased the school’s engagement with Asia through programs like the Bridge Year, which sends students abroad for service projects in four locations, including one in India and one in China.

“We compete for students and faculty worldwide. And we collaborate with institutions all over the world,” Tilghman said Friday.

Indeed, Tilghman had just arrived in Hong Kong from Shanghai, where she attended the first Princeton-Fung Global Forum. Created thanks to an Aspire gift from trustee William Fung ’70, the forum brings Princeton faculty to a different city each year to work with international experts around a given theme. The focus in Shanghai was “The Future of the City.”

As for Tilghman’s future? “I’m excited to get back to teaching more,” she told alumnus after alumnus.

While president, Tilghman led a weekly freshman seminar on genetics. One of her former students, Alan Southworth ’14, was on hand in Hong Kong to perform with the Princeton Nassoons. “She was a fair grader, always even,” Southworth said. (Grade deflation is another Tilghman legacy).

Tilghman is an honorary Nassoon, among other accomplishments. She joined the group on stage for the Nassoon theme, “Perfidia.” Together they crooned the song’s final words:

 “Good-bye, good-bye, g-o-o-o-o-d-b-y-y-y-y-e…”