Past Spotlight Features
Meet FLI Alum Margaret Russell ’79!
Margaret Russell ’79 (or as her friends from Princeton know her, Peggy) grew up in Philadelphia. Even though she was just a short trip from the Orange Bubble, she recalls that Princeton always seemed distant. “No one I knew, no one at my school had any affiliation with Princeton,” she recalls, “I first heard about it in a pamphlet that came by snail mail with my PSAT scores.” Peggy did not visit campus until after she was admitted, but walking on campus on a beautiful spring day convinced her that this was the school for her.
During her first year Peggy lived in the annex of Princeton Inn College (now known as Forbes College). The following year she lived in Wilson College before moving to live up campus. Ms. Russell was involved in Whig-Clio, served as an RA, and was a peer-counselor for Student Health. When asked about her extra-curricular experience she notes, “I didn’t do a million things because back then I didn’t have to do everything the way current students have to. I didn’t have to be perfect, I could just have a life.”
As a member of the Great Class of 1979, Peggy was a part of one of the early classes of women to graduate from Princeton. Having been riveted by the Watergate hearings in high school, she arrived at Princeton with a strong interest in the intersection of current events and politics with history. She reflects on her undergraduate experience with a keen sense of historical memory. Along with fellow alumnae such as former First Lady Michelle Obama and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Peggy was part of the first push to diversify the student body at Princeton. Beginning her undergraduate journey in this era, she quickly learned the most important lesson Princeton would teach her: “In my very first precept I learned that people from wealthier and more privileged backgrounds are no smarter than I am.” She wishes current SIFP fellows can keep in mind a similar lesson: “You can do it; you can prevail.” Her hope is that students will recognize the importance of contributing to their world and will remind themselves throughout their journeys to cherish their abilities and their fortitude.
A History major with a certificate in American Studies, Peggy worked on her thesis with Professor Eric F. Goldman, a former special adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson. This project focused on the contentious Democratic National Convention of 1968 and the trial of the Chicago Seven.
Looking back on what she enjoyed most at Princeton, Peggy speaks highly of her coursework (“Except my Econ classes!”) and of her friends. She credits Princeton for bringing her together with many individuals from a variety of backgrounds with whom she keeps in touch. Though many of these friends were in the Wilson School and knew that they would eventually head off to law school, Peggy did not decide until junior or senior year that she wanted to go to law school as well. Thus began a long career in the legal profession that led her to her current position as a Professor of Law at Santa Clara University.
When asked about one thing she would change about Princeton, Peggy hopes that Princeton will continue to combat elitism on campus and in the world: “It would be a much better place if it ratcheted down the attitude of ‘Princeton is the best place on earth.’ Princeton is so committed to diversity and generosity and so I think this attitude should change.”
Peggy is happy to communicate with SIFP fellows in the future, especially those who feel as though they struggle to adjust when they arrive at Princeton. “I hope that I symbolize in part anyone that thinks ‘I don’t really fit in.’” To her, uniqueness is a strength when viewed in the right light and she hopes to help empower current students to see their strengths too.
At a Glance: Margaret “Peggy” Russell ‘79
Major: History with a certificate in American Studies
If you could be any building on campus which would you be and why? Nassau Hall – I’d be there for every student takeover.