Princeton traditions, old and new: the Class of 1986′s “video yearbook”

The Class of 1986 was a ‘historic’ class, so the freshmen were told: they were the first to begin their Princeton years in the new social system of the residential colleges. According to their Class History in the Nassau Herald, however, the students carried on as the generations before them. “We worked hard and we partied hard. This blend of continuity and change, of tradition and transition, would characterize our four year stay at Old Nassau.” The ‘video yearbook’ featured here, in itself a reminder of the “class films” of the 1920s and 1930s, is an expression of that experience. A fast-paced arrangement of videotaped snippets capturing campus events and student life, the 26 minute film is a celebration of both old and new.

The video yearbook, produced by “Ground Floor Video,” a group of students under the direction of Glenn Picher ’86, was filmed during the class’ junior and senior year. Meant as a complement to the print yearbook, according to the Prince, the film contains selections from some thirty to forty hours of videotape, accompanied by original music composed by Peter Curtiss ’86 (other music credits can be found at 25:55). The film is divided into seven chapters: Student Life (1:03), Academics (5:33), Sports (7:08), Holidays (10:39), Campus issues (15:09), Spring (17:15), and Graduation weekend (20:50).

The sports and spring scenes, along with the Graduation weekend events were already traditional elements in the class films of the 1920s. Incoming freshmen were introduced to other Princeton traditions in the Special Class of 1986 issue of the Daily Princetonian. Some of those traditions are captured in the “video yearbook” featured here. They include the bonfire on Cannon Green after a major sports victory–in this case the football team’s “Big Three Title,” the first since 1967 (9:44, compare with the bonfire of the Class of 1923); House Parties (19:29; compare with the class film of the Class of 1939); and “Arch Sing” (12:48), reminiscent of the tradition of “Senior Singing” as seen in the Class of 1928 footage. The footage in the  “Graduation Weekend” (20:50), capturing the P-rade, the breaking of the pipes on Cannon Green, and the commencement ceremonies is very similar to the films from six decades previous depicting the graduation of the Classes of 1921 and 1928.

Additionally, more recent traditions featured here include the “Nude Olympics (12:00), and the party activities of “blow pong” (3:35 and 4:47), and what is assumed to be the “Trees and Trolls,” the annual rumble between the over 6 ft tall and the shorter members of the then still all-male eating club, the Tiger Inn (4:23). Both activities were accompanied by copious amounts of beer. During 1986′s freshmen year the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21, making senior year the first year that most students could legally drink alcohol.

Of particular interest for the topic of “traditions” is the address of Sally Frank ’80 at the Woodrow Wilson School on November 20, 1985 (16:28). Earlier that year, Sally Frank had won her lawsuit against the all-male eating clubs of Cottage, Ivy, and Tiger Inn, which she had filed in 1979 after they refused her a chance to bicker due to her gender. Additional issues addressed in the section ‘Campus protests’ include the blockade of the entrance to Nassau Hall on May 23, 1985 to protest Princeton’s  investments policies with respect to South Africa (15:09) and the Women’s Center sit-in of May 1, 1986 (16:52).

Within the video a few other faces have been identified as the following.

  • English professor John Fleming is shown lecturing (5:39)
  • The late art historian John R. Martin (5:56)
  • President Bill Bowen (6:32, appears again 19:05).
  • The late art professor Jerry Buchanan critiques a student’s work (5:42).
  • Harold Medina ’09 is seen riding in a golf cart (21:20)
  • Dr. Ruth Westheimer makes a brief appearance (22:41)

This VHS tape is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 1324).

The 1962 Orange Key Society film: please tell us more!

Since it was posted on Princeton’s Campus Life channel, “An Undergraduate View of Princeton University,” produced by the Orange Key Society in 1962, has received unexpected attention. In the film, which is staged as an instructional meeting for Orange Key guides, Charles W. Greenleaf ’63, vice-president of the Keycept Program, discusses what distinguishes Princeton from other universities, with emphasis on teacher-student relationships and opportunities for individual growth. Created several years before rebellion and reforms swept the campus, the well-scripted film is an interesting artifact.

The film includes extensive footage of faculty and campus. Subjects discussed are: faculty and the preceptorial system (with professors John Turkevich (chemistry) and Eric Goldman (history) 3:30); independent research projects (with Professor D.C. Hazen (aeronautical engineering) 6:52); research at Firestone Library (9:13); freshman advisers (11:29 and 13:44); the honor system (15:33); financial aid (17:23); dormitories (18:02); extracurricular activities and sports (19:30).

Documents within the University Archives reveal very little about the context in which the film was produced. We therefore are calling on alumni who participated. Can you tell us anything about the making of the film? Who wrote the script? What was the audience, and how long was the film in use? We look forward to your comments!

This 16mm film is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 0091).