They looked, she thought, oddly bereft, as if they had secretly taken comfort in the notion of baking cookies for the admissions officers, and now this option had been rudely stolen from them. It was an illusion, of course. These kids were far too sophisticated to try something so crass.
"But here's the main thing," Portia told them seriously. "The cardinal rule is: Tell the truth. You may say to yourself, They can't possibly check every single fact in every single application. And you know what? You're right. We can't. And we shouldn't have to. Because Princeton has an honor code, and we expect honor from the very first moment of your relationship with us. If you lie about your record, will we find out? Probably. And when we do, I can promise you that bad things will happen. Does anyone remember a little situation we had about ten years ago? This is probably too far back for them," she said, looking over at Roden.
"Johann something," he said immediately.
"Yes. Before my time, too, actually, but we admitted a student who wrote eloquently about his life as a shepherd out on the high prairie. How when the little sheep were asleep at night he took out his copy of War and Peace and read by the light of the stars, and how he wanted to study Freud as a philosopher, and write nonfiction with John McPhee. Only there was very little nonfiction about him. One day during his sophomore year, a student from Cornell recognized him at a football game. They were from the same hometown, it turned out. In Florida, which last time I checked didn't have much in the way of prairie." The kids laughed, but uncertainly. They were not quite certain whom the joke was on. Not that they really cared, as long as it wasn't them.
"He had a record for mail fraud, and an outstanding warrant, and he was thirty-something years old. So he had to drop out of Princeton and go straight to jail. Bad for him and certainly bad for us, but how could we have known? There is ample opportunity for fraud, as Johann discovered, because we have trust in this process, and the trust is mutual. You trust us to treat your application seriously, and with an open mind, and I can promise you that we will do that. You trust us to read it carefully—which, again, I assure you, we will do. We are going to give your request for admission very thoughtful, very respectful consideration. But in return, we trust you to tell us the truth. To write your own application. To take your own SATs. Any questions?"
No questions about that, at any rate.
Then, a hand in the back, from an Asian girl, her black hair secured tightly in a scrunchie. "Yes?"
"Yes," said the girl. "I wanted to ask about how much it matters if your parents went to Princeton. It's easier for you to get in if they did, right?" Portia considered. There was now palpable tension, almost hostility, in the room, which undoubtedly held more than the one Princeton legacy she had already met. In fact—and it would come as no surprise to anyone here—it did make a difference that an applicant's parent went to Princeton, even though the university bore little resemblance to the old boy network it had once almost exclusively been. Walking the tightrope between Princeton's sense of tradition and its outreach to the best available students from any and every background was one of her most serious charges, but it required calibration.