What three of the smartest students at Princeton have to say about beer, salsa, and sleep

What are the lives of Princeton’s highest academic-achieving students like?

Every year, during Princeton's Opening Exercises for freshmen, Dean Dolan and President Eisgruber present a handful of students with the George B. Wood Legacy Junior Prize, the Freshman First Honors Prize, the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize, and the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award. These awards recognize the highest-achieving students during the past academic year.

We had the chance to interview three of the recipients this year:

Kyle Michael Berlin: Recipient of George B. Wood Legacy Junior Prize

Sally Jiao: Recipient of the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award

Grace Sommers: Recipient of the Freshman First Honors Prize

Kyle is a Spanish and Portuguese language and cultures major. Sally is a chemical and biological engineer. And Grace is an aspiring physics major.

Running through the pews of the Princeton University chapel during the first freshmen gathering were questions like "oh my gosh how do they even get that smart?", "do they sleep?", "do they have friends?".

So we asked them.

The short answer is yes, they have social lives and they sleep. But they are also different in their passions, their approaches to Princeton, and their outlooks on lives.

What first struck us about this group is that none of them knew what the award was before they won it. One might think that someone awarded at this level of prestige would be the type of person to work all their life for an award. However, all 3 stated that "it just sort of happened" or that it was just "a bonus to what [they] love doing". Ironically, some couldn't even remember what the award was when I asked. The point was never winning it or getting an A in a class; good grades and awards were just bonuses to what they already love doing.

"I don't put that much importance in the award itself, just that I’m here to be a student and I want to be a good student and I want to learn and I want to read and I want to write," Kyle said. He believes that so many students would be so qualified for this award and considers the fact that he won it to be a serendipity.

And surprise- they all sleep (in their own ways).

On the topic of sleep:

Sally is not the kind of person who can just be so engrossed in her work that she forgets to eat or to sleep, we learned. Yes, she needs to sleep and to eat. She has only pulled an all-nighter once and never plans to do so ever again. She usually gets 7.5 hours on average, and 8.5 on the weekends. That's above the average 6.9 hours Princeton students usually get.

Kyle will not pull all-nighters. He is a firm believer in the power of the nap. However, he will put away sleep for something he enjoys doing. For one, he will never cut off a conversation he enjoys because he needs to sleep. For him, sleep is relative to what he is doing at the moment. It varies from 4 hours to 10 hours.

Grace has never been awake at 3am. She needs her sleep, and she needs a lot of it, so she manages her time in a way that lets her put her rest first.

Do they have friends? Do they go out?

Sally is in an eating club- Colonial- and loves her time there. She did say her social life is integrated into her academic life, because the people she's close to have helped each other academically and were also there for each other emotionally.

Grace, on the other hand, didn't enter Princeton with the intention of having a social life, but she did want to join a variety of clubs.

Kyle would never sacrifice the opportunity to have an experience with other people for his studies. He'll gladly go to a salsa party in the Spanish department.

Where will they go from here?

Sally hopes to attend graduate school and pursue chemical engineering in the field of molecular stimulation.

Kyle isn't 100% sure, but he just hopes that whatever he does, he is useful in a way that allows him to make a positive and lasting contribution to the world, in ways small or large. He originally thought he would attend graduate school, but has been reconsidering and plans to take some time off from academia after he graduates.

Grace hopes to attend graduate school, get a PhD in physics, and become a professor. She is unsure of what particular field of physics she would like to specialize in.

Towards the end of our interview with Kyle, he recited a little excerpt from a poem, "know that I've admired in others only the fraught straining to be good."

"What will matter at the end of the day will be that, and how you tried to be good and the relationships that you built with other people," he said.

Princeton University