I have found myself wondering as of late why every other class here got so much free swag. Backpacks? iPods? I like both of those things. iTunes gift cards are nice too. And a range of mugs with slogans that pertain to events taking place here during my Principia career would not hurt: one for each year that I have been here. As far as I’m concerned, college has always been about swag. Be it weekend gardening sessions, lazy summer evenings, or keeping warm on a winter stroll, I always looked up to older people in the community who wore their scruffy college insignia with casual pride.

One comes to college to get a degree, pursue a passion, enjoy the company of one’s peers, or a host of other reasons. But somewhere in the back of my mind was always the desire to have baseball caps, sweats, and ragged T-shirts emblazoned with the words and symbols of my alma mater. Maybe it’s an elitist thing, a symbol that I did the smart thing and pursued higher education. Perhaps it is a sign of endurance: I survived four (and a bit) years at Principia College. Perhaps it is simply the desire to be part of something, a kind of herd instinct if you will.

I hear a lot of complaints about Principia. It is an easy place to complain about, in part simply because we measure its success against such high standards, in part because we do have some pretty serious problems, but more often than not because we just like to gripe. So where does my swag problem fit into this jolly triumvirate? I am quite certain that the high standards to which I hold Principia (and indeed to which Principia holds me) are completely unrelated to how much swag I get.

While the lack of free swag in my closet/iTunes library does not seem to fit into the category of pretty serious problems, I think it may actually be related. Giving students baubles to pique their interest or in exchange for their continued attention seems like a hollow substitute for providing solid programs that pull students on their own merits. Pouring money into marketing efforts instead of program development is by no means sustainable. When you have nothing left to market, your only remaining customers are the ones who know not what they want. The reversal of the “swag for students” trend I think represents an acknowledgement of this fact.

So then, my gripe really is just that: a hollow gripe. My college experience is not about how much free stuff I can load into my car when I graduate. And if I really need Principia swag for those lazy Sunday afternoons of lawn-mowing and hedge trimming, if being a part of that culture is truly important to me, I can buy a baseball cap.