Princeton University Careers

#TellUsTigers 2018: Tiny tales of Princetonians reflect big experiences

What does it look like to have more than 175,000 people worldwide read about you, simply by scrolling through their Instagram feed? More importantly, what does it feel like — to be heard, to be seen, to be cheered on by virtual strangers and, in turn, to inspire some of those strangers?

Now in its third year, Princeton’s #TellUsTigers Instagram has been sharing stories of Princetonians — 2,200 characters at a time, once a week.

  • An undergraduate whose senior thesis will track her experience training a diabetic alert dog (this post broke our ceiling of 10,000 “likes” — who doesn’t love a puppy?).
  • An alumnus who found lifesaving help from his classmates at his 25th Reunion.
  • A staff member who has been working on a novel for 10 years to capture the African American experience in the 1930s South.

These and other stories open up inner worlds and celebrate what it is to be human.

Below, we invite you to scroll with it — and enjoy a good story with these recent posts from Princeton undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni, told in the first person. Click on each photo to view comments. Follow us on Instagram, @princeton_university. The series is also shared on Twitter and Facebook. Members of the University community may submit suggestions for future #TellUsTigers posts via email at pusocialmedia@princeton.edu.

#TellUsTigers: "In 2008, the economy was really bad, people were losing their jobs. There were rumors where I worked at the time that we might be laid off. I wondered how do I stop thinking about that? I reached out to my higher power & I thought maybe I'll write something. I started writing a suspense novel about two African American young women in the 1900s in West Virginia who go to Paris & one gets murdered. They want to go to Paris because where they're living right now is hardship. They see a lot of lynching, racism. In their early 20s, they go. One falls in love with a French man & one falls in love with a French woman who's married to a mean, crazy chef. One day he didn't like one of his workers so he chops one of his fingers off. His wife & the black woman have this connection — they know what it's like to live in hardship. They get caught by the husband, who beats the black woman to a pulp. Her friend nurses her back to health & says, 'We didn't come to Paris for this, we came here to be artists & get away from this.' The French man she's in love with invites her to see Josephine Baker sing at a party. The chef is at the party. He sees the back of the black woman, thinking she's the one he had beaten up, but it's really her friend. He kills her outside the party. That's where I am right now. What excites me the most about the story is the twists & turns. I'm off Saturday nights, so I write a few pages. My biggest dream is to see my novel published as a book, then to see it on the big screen. Before #PrincetonU, I worked at ShopRite in Montgomery. I took the bus down Route 27 & changed buses at Palmer Square. I remember sitting on the bench. I looked across the street & thought, 'It would be an honor to work there. I would contribute something. I don't know what or how, but I want to do something big.' I kept applying & I started working here last February. I'm an older black woman without a lot of education but I read books about philosophy, Nietzsche, Socrates. I download free books on my Kindle. I love to read. Reading you can use your own imagination." — Margaret Campbell, retail food service worker, @princeton_dining. ? by @EvaMenezes #Princetagram

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#TellUsTigers #Princetalove edition: “Quinton Beck and I met as first-year members of the @Princeton_Nassoons (an all-male a cappella group.) The four members of our class — Alan, Krishna, Quinton and I — were good friends from the beginning, but after the Nassoons’ 2012 spring tour to Germany, Quinton and I decided to try dating as well. We shared much in common, particularly our involvement in the Nassoons and other Princeton singing groups (e.g. @princetongleeclub), but we were also different in many ways (for example, Quinton’s more traditional and I have more…experimental tastes in art, music and literature.) The early years of our relationship were filled with ups and downs, but also a lot of shared experiences and compromises that brought us closer together and deepened our caring and love for each other. After we graduated in 2014, we spent a year apart as Quinton taught English in Tajikistan as a Fulbright scholar (@the_fulbright_program) and I began my career in software and tech consulting in northern Virginia. The time apart in no way challenged us, however, as the saying held true that, indeed, absence makes the heart grow fonder. In 2015, we moved in together in Arlington, Virginia, and have been living there ever since. After six years together, the decision to get married could hardly be called rash. At #PrincetonReunions in 2017, we were both singing in the Nassoons' alumni show when in the middle of the group’s classic love song 'I Will Be Here,' I got down on one knee and asked Quinton to marry me. It only made sense to share this moment with our friends who had been there since the beginning. Planning for the ceremony, we knew the Princeton University Chapel would be the perfect setting, given Quinton’s weekly singing there in the Chapel Choir while at #PrincetonU & the impressive beauty of the space. We are excited & completely without doubt or apprehension to begin the next chapter of our lives together. Wherever we may be at whatever point in the future, we could not be happier with the knowledge that we will always have each other." — Ryan McCarty (left) '14; photo by Noel Valero '82 *86 #Princetagram #marriageproposal @princetonalumni

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#TellUsTigers about your #firstdayofcollege: "Meet Koa (@koatheservicepup), a #comfortretriever. The seemingly effortless trust and communication that accompanies a working service dog team is truly beautiful. Next year, as part of my senior thesis research, I'll have a chance to observe this relationship by training Koa to be a #diabeticalertdog on campus. I will teach him how to alert to high and low blood glucose levels before placing him with a Type 1 diabetic. I will also teach an after-school program that teaches middle school students how to train service dogs; the kids will work with Koa. If you see Koa on campus with his service vest, please do not pet or distract. When I was little, I was terrified of dogs. That all changed when my grandma brought home Inukshuk, an 8-week-old #blacklab. Inukshuk is a cairn, or a trail marker, who has guided me on my path to discovering my passion for training service dogs. Working with a dog teaches me new lessons every day. I took a gap year before starting at #PrincetonU to raise a guide-dog-in-training, Derby. One of the most important things he taught me was to live in the moment. He mirrored my mood and if I was stressed about something, his less than adequate behavior was a constant reminder to focus on the work immediately in front of me. (This is a skill that has come in handy at Princeton.) When I dropped off Derby for the test that would determine whether he would continue his #guidedog training, I cried but a huge smile accompanied my tears. I was so proud of him. We had worked so hard for this moment. As part of my work with Derby and his trainer, we entered a busy mall. His trainer turned to me, handed me a blindfold and the leash. A cloud of darkness surrounded me as the fabric pressed against my face. I could hear the trickle of an indoor fountain and children playing down the hall. I felt the gentle tug of leather in my grasp, as I grabbed onto the harness handle. Disoriented, I turned to my dog, trusting Derby, just as he had turned to me so many times before. — Camden Olson, Class of 2019 #Princetagram #diabeticalertdogintraining #t1dwarrior #servicedogsofinstagram #servicedogintraining #collegedog

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#TellUsTigers: "At 2 a.m. on a warm June morning this past summer, I was in my office at Princeton learning a beautiful Ornette Coleman ballad called 'Sadness' in preparation for a show with The Bad Plus at the Montréal Jazz Festival. It was one of those moments alone with one's instrument where the world briefly makes sense and somehow exudes hope and integrity. Three years ago, I would have never imagined that I'd be here at #PrincetonU as director of the Program in Jazz Studies. Finding the balance between my performing/recording life and having the amazing opportunity to steer a jazz program has been a wild ride. It all made sense in those wee hours as I fully realized how lucky and empowered I am to inhabit both worlds. I started playing saxophone when I was 9 years old and was quickly seduced by jazz upon hearing Charlie Parker. I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life but dared not tell anyone until push came to shove. Having Indian immigrant parents including a physics professor father, I knew that this negotiation would require a good bit of strategy. I managed to win them over. At Princeton, I am trying to put #jazz forth as a living art form. This music has a rich tradition that must be offered alongside its contemporary manifestations. On Saturday, Nov. 18, I will be directing Princeton University Jazz Small Groups in a concert celebrating the centenaries of #DizzyGillespie and #TheloniousMonk in Richardson Auditorium. We will perform their work but also showcase their influence through composers who have followed — including student compositions and arrangements. In continuing to investigate contemporary stories, my 16th album 'Agrima' came out a month ago with my Indo-Pak Coalition trio. I am concerned with examining what it means to be an American, especially in these crazy times. Jazz and improvisation have served as an ideal means to express the beauty of this confusion and self-realization while engaging global citizenry, ethnic identity and even national pride. We'll be performing @McCarterTheatre on March 16, 2018. My worlds continue to collide!" — Rudresh Mahanthappa (@rudreshkm); photo by Anna Berghuis '19 (@annabergs_)

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#TellUsTigers: "I somehow got this crazy idea to move from Iceland, across the Atlantic, away from all my friends & family, to attend & play #soccer at the top university in the US. All of fall semester my first year I was sure I had made a huge mistake by coming here. My insecurities mostly stemmed from not understanding academic English very well & suddenly having to express my thoughts in a language I never actually had to speak before. One of my first memories at Princeton is sitting in math class when the instructor announced we would be reviewing integrals. I panicked. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. When she finally drew the integral symbol, I realized I had done many of those before. Luckily, with the help of my @princetonwsoc teammates, my friends & the resources Princeton offers, things quickly improved. Being the only Icelandic student at #PrincetonU, after two Icelandic grad students graduated at the end of my first year, has shaped my experience tremendously. I am many people’s first Icelandic friend. It is interesting to see how my nationality went from being completely irrelevant in a homogeneous country of less than 350,000 people, to becoming an integral part of my identity. Every day I am reminded that I am from Iceland, whether it be my friends making fun of my imperfect English, or someone asking me to repeat my name multiple times until they give up & settle for my American-friendly nickname: Goodies. My Icelandic identity is magnified on campus. Whether providing language lessons to actors in a @PrincetonArts production about a painter who exiles herself to Iceland, or showing friends pictures of me in national garb & of Iceland's landscape, I have grown to appreciate this unique part of my identity. Also, it has been valuable for me to interact with people from all over the US & the world, with different backgrounds & opinions. It has been very eye-opening. My Princeton experience has definitely influenced how I see the world & how I interact with those around me, which I know will benefit me in life outside the orange bubble." — Gudrun Jonsdottir '18 (@gudrunvaldis), computer science major, photo by @eganjimenez

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#TellUsTigers: "I grew up in East Orange, NJ, a town I describe as hardscrabble, consisting primarily of African American working–class & low-income folk trying to live their best lives. My father worked as chemical operator in Newark, NJ, and my mother shuttled between working as a cashier or bank teller & stay-at-home mom. Education was messaged as power in our household. Even as my mother suffered through breast cancer and passed at age 33 during my 8th grade year, my parents encouraged me to pursue the best educational opportunities available. Thanks to a generous scholarship, I attended @DelbartonSchool, which was only 25 miles away but felt like another world. By graduation, I was the only African American in the class & one of three in the school. Most students lived in homes with their own bedroom while I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, where my father & I slept in the living room & my sister slept in the bedroom. Everyone seemed to expect they would attend @NotreDame, @GeorgetownUniversity or colleges I had only heard of during college basketball seasons. Thankfully I had a great counselor with high expectations about my college options. I spent the summer between my junior & senior year at the NJ Scholars Program at @LvilleSchool, where I had my first in-depth conversations about college options with peers. I cherish #PrincetonU faculty, administrators and kitchen & custodial staff who showed that they cared about me living my full potential. We shy from using the word, but LOVE was present in their care & guidance. I witness the commitment of my colleagues to make Princeton accessible to students who traditionally are not be expected to be undergraduates based on socioeconomic background or underrepresented identities. Access is a nice buzzword, but programs like Princeton University Preparatory Program, Princeton Summer Journalism Program, Freshman Scholars Institute & Scholars Institute Fellows Program institutionalize the guidance I received by happenstance. These programs empower students to see Princeton as a space in which they belong & own." — Kevin Hudson '97, asst. dir. for college opportunity ?: @chris_fascenelli #firstgen #Princetagram

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#TellUsTigers: "I believe that television is the closest thing that we have to a time machine. With the flick of a switch, it can transport anyone into the past. One of the very first times I viewed YouTube, I used it to show my mother a clip from a children's television program from the 1950s. She's from Northern Ireland, so she hadn't been able to see these episodes for decades. I remember how happy it made her to watch little puppets on a screen, images she hadn't seen since she was little. When I was little, my mother was taking classes at the community college. She’d bring me along & I’d color at the back of the class. One of my proudest memories was the time we attended a lecture on cloning. I was 8 or 9. At the end, I was allowed to ask the professor a question — I was so excited. My dissertation is on the history of science television — who creates science series, why these shows were created & how they've impacted us. I've also learned how TV can bring so much joy. As I researched, I talked to friends, family & colleagues. If I told them I was researching '3-2-1 Contact' or 'Bill Nye, the Science Guy,' they'd sing me the theme song. These shows were so important to their audiences, especially children. I've talked to many older viewers who were faithful viewers of 'NOVA' because it offered them a more hopeful version of reality than existed in their own life. These TV programs offered viewers powerful tools to imagine their own futures. Amazingly, I had the chance to interview a lot of the production staff of these @PBS programs for my dissertation, including two of the early collaborators of 'Sesame Street' who are @PrincetonAlumni, Paul Firstenberg '55 and Sam Gibbon, Jr. '53. I've talked about my research adventures on Facebook, using the hashtag #dissertationdays. #PrincetonU archivist @Dan.Linke kindly helped me livestream my defense. Over 500 people — including my mom in Portland, OR — watched. It's been amazing — friends messaged me to say, 'I saw you! I was cheering you on!' I'm so fortunate that so many people have been supportive and encouraging of my work." — Ingrid Ockert *18, photo @noelvphoto '82 *86 #Princetagram @princetongradlife

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#TellUsTigers: "I had no idea Freshman Week 1978 that Princeton & I would be intertwined years after graduation. I assumed my career that would take me to the pinnacles of my chosen profession: aerospace engineering. However, #dystonia, a rare debilitating neurological movement disorder, derailed my life in 2006. When the symptoms became acute, I retreated from life & was on the verge of skipping my 25th Reunion in 2007 even though we live so close. My wife Dawn ’85 persuaded me to go. Classmates saw my significant distress & sprang into action; through their connections, I saw experts @MassGeneral in Boston, hours after Reunions. My cherished classmates set me on course to get the best treatment that continues today & restored purpose to my life. After my 25th, I came out publicly with my diagnosis to the Princeton Alumni Weekly (@PAWPrinceton). That was the first step in my coping. The response from the alumni community really lifted me up. At our 35th Reunion this June, we celebrated the 10th year of my new life. Princeton is significant in my new life as a photographer & teacher. I started photographing sports at Old Nassau, then performances of student dance groups. Those activities led to @Dance.with.Art.Project, an Instagram campaign where I juxtapose dancers interacting with campus sculptures — as I am doing here with 'Upstart II' at the E-Quad. I just exhibited my project at #NYFW Style Fashion Week (@StyleFW). At #PrincetonU, I help teach Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPiCS) & the Freshman Seminar in Motorcycle Restoration. I see my former students at Reunions every year with ne'er another thought of missing one (I've attended 33 of 35). Princeton gave me my first life & rebuilt my second. My life truly revolves around Princeton & in giving back, I can continue to make a small difference in the lives I touch. September is #DystoniaAwarenessMonth & this survivor asks you to learn about this debilitating disease which makes recluses of its victims. Princeton gave me the courage & the wherewithal to not only battle this disease but to rise above it." — Noel Valero (@noelvphoto) '82 *86, photo by @ChrisFascenelli #Princetagram #dystoniamovesme

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Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications
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