Princeton, 1996: Campus Headlines From the Year the Class of 2018 Was Born

This week, Beloit College’s annual Mindset List noted several interesting tidbits about members of the incoming Class of 2018: Since most were born in 1996, their lives never overlapped with those of Tupac Shakur or Carl Sagan; the terrorist attacks of 2001 happened when they were in kindergarten; and they’ve never known a world without The Daily Show.

clintonBut what was happening at Princeton when the Class of ’18 was still in diapers? Quite a lot: 1996 is the year when the Tigers upset UCLA in men’s basketball and said farewell to Pete Carril; President Bill Clinton delivered the Commencement address as Princeton celebrated its bicenquinquagenary (250th anniversary); and alumnus Richard Smalley *74 shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of a novel type of carbon molecules.

The Pyne Prize that year went to Derek Kilmer ’96, now a U.S. Congressman from the state of Washington, and Daniel Walter ’96, who went on to earn a Ph.D. from Princeton’s physics department. Kilmer’s Congressional colleague Jared Polis ’96 also was on campus. PAW wrote a column about his ambitious course load, which included 25 classes in his first two years (just over six per semester).

Princeton fans at the football team’s final game in Palmer Stadium. (PAW Archives)

Princeton fans at the football team’s final game in Palmer Stadium. (PAW Archives)

Getting into Princeton had “never been tougher,” PAW reported in May, noting that just 11.3 percent of applicants were admitted to the Class of 2000. (The Class of 2018 also had a record-setting admit rate: 7.28 percent.) The trustees approved increases in tuition and fees, raising the cost of one year at Princeton to $28,325; the endowment reached $3.9 billion, fourth largest in the nation at the time (at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year, it was up to $18.2 billion).

Princeton’s 1996 men’s lacrosse team won the NCAA title — the first in what would be a three-year reign — while women’s lacrosse lost in the Final Four. Football played its final season in Palmer Stadium, a 3-7 campaign that ended with a loss to Dartmouth.

A campus poll found that Princeton students preferred Clinton to Bob Dole in the ’96 presidential race (60 percent to 26 percent, with 1 percent supporting Ross Perot and the rest undecided). The campaign generated little enthusiasm from undergrads, according to PAW student columnist Jeremy Caplan ’97. “If politics were a religion,” he wrote, “Princeton would be an atheist’s dream.”

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