DID YOU READ…? YOUNG ALUMNI TRUSTEE AKU AMMAH-TAGOE ’11 TELLS US WHAT’S WRONG WITH PRINCETON, WROTE A KANYE-FUELED THESIS, IS AN “OLD PERSON”
Name: Aku Ammah-Tagoe
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
Eating Club/Residential College/Affiliation: Terrace/Forbes RCA
What was your initial reaction when you found out about your selection?
It was the Thursday morning of Reunions, and I was sitting on the Dinky platform at Princeton Junction as it slowly filled up with alumni getting off the train from New York. I wasn’t allowed to talk about the results yet, so I couldn’t do anything dramatic, but it was cool to sit there surrounded by so much of Princeton’s past and present, knowing that I’ll get to impact all of their lives now in tangible ways. At that point the election process had been going on for what, two and a half months? So I felt more relieved than anything else. But I definitely got excited as the weekend went on.
Who’s your favorite Princetonian, living or dead, real or fictional?
Adoley Ammah-Tagoe ’14, my little sister! She actually makes Princeton sparkle.
What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in Princeton?
Dinner at Prospect House at the English Majors Colloquium my junior spring. I don’t actually remember what we ate, but the Majors Colloquium is one of my favorite things about our department, and the company — juniors and seniors in the department, our favorite professors — was perfect.
In one sentence, what do you actually do all day?
Read and write (and read and write emails).
What is your greatest guilty pleasure?
Lately, one of my Pandora stations, TLC Radio. It’s so 90s! And you get a lot of girl power, “Independent Women Part I”-style songs that are ideal for, um, cruising through your childhood suburb in your parents’ Toyota.
What do you hope to accomplish as a YAT?
My two main constituencies — the residents of McCosh Hall and the Forbes Addition — have been asking a lot about renovation plans. But mostly I’d like to become the type of person who should hold Princeton in trust; I’d like to listen a lot, learn as much about the University as possible, and make informed decisions that are in its best interests.
Could you briefly describe your thesis?
It’s an exploration of cosmopolitan identity in contemporary transatlantic fiction. I look at characters and authors moving in uncomfortable ways between Africa, England, and the United States, and identify coping mechanisms that spring up specifically through writing, or text. It’s called “Out of Place,” for two reasons: it’s about subjects who feel constantly out of place, and it’s about the ways in which identity is tied to, or rises out of, nations and other places.
Do you know all the words to Old Nassau?
I’m set on the first verse and chorus, and I think (fear) that there’ll be endless opportunities to learn the rest.
What is your biggest fear?
See above? But also, cicadas. They’re back in 13 years!
What do you hate most about Princeton?
In order to be most engaged with Princeton, you often have to tune out the rest of the world. That’s partially a matter of location, but as an undergrad it was sometimes hard for me to just keep up with the news, or with my own writing, because I was expected to commit so fully to campus life. I guess I dislike the bubble, in its various forms.
I have a second pet peeve that’s hard to explain briefly, but I’ll give it a try. There’s a tendency among undergrads to always see ourselves as standing outside of privilege in some way–to imagine that there is a “typical” Princeton experience, to equate that experience with various forms of privilege, and then to focus on the ways in which we’re not part of it. While there is plenty of serious social marginalization at Princeton, the fact remains that we are all already part of this place simply by virtue of being here. We’re always inside Princeton/privilege. And instead of shirking that, I sometimes wish people would talk about what to do with it: how to use those labels for good, and also how to change what those labels mean.
What’s your drink?
Small World chai.
What makes you laugh?
Cristina Luzarraga’s Twitter.
What makes you cry?
The thought of taking the GRE in August.
Where do you do your best thinking?
Usually on walks way down Prospect or to the Institute for Advanced Study.
Embarrassingly early now; I don’t want to talk about it; I’m an old person.
What’s your personal anthem?
A lot of Kanye in the late stages of the thesis …
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Did you read…?”
Who is your mortal enemy?
Simon Fox Krauss ’11, the ultimate computer science major to my consummate English major.
What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve done in the past year?
I went to Ghana and England to do thesis research last summer, which shouldn’t have been dangerous, but I actually did get malaria and ended up in an isolation ward in London for a week. But that led to one of the most delightful experiences of the year: a free upgrade to first class on the British Airways flight home.
In 25 years, you will be …
I would like to be well-traveled and content, but I will definitely be writing. And I will probably still be hanging around Princeton.
What makes someone a Princetonian?
The realization, usually during Reunions, that for the next fifty years you too will be strategically hoarding orange clothing to wear once a year.