Through the Looking Glass: The "Dartmouth Experience"
There is a certain atmosphere of paranoia that comes with your senior fall at Dartmouth. After three years of accepting this place as your home, you suddenly feel like you've been strapped to a time bomb, ticking away the precious seconds until someone hands you a diploma and your life explodes. This stress manifests itself in two ways first, you start to look back, reflecting on your time at Dartmouth.
Did I make the most of my time here?
Did I live up to my potential?
Would I do some things differently?
Would I do everything differently?
Second, you start to look forward to your final year, trying to fill in the gaps left by the last three. You make a bucket list and write down all those "must-dos" at Dartmouth that you haven't gotten around to yet.
See the sunrise from Moosilauke before Lodge breakfast.
Drink scorpion bowls at The Orient without questioning what's in them.
Drive to Montreal and pretend to understand French.
It's a last ditch effort at adventure your last chance to make the memories that will last the rest of your life. After all, you've only got three terms left. You've got to make them count.
Somewhere between these two reflections lies your "Dartmouth experience." Despite how often this term gets thrown around, I've always found it a bit odd. It's as if we've sanctified our time in college as a sort of holy pilgrimage from Trips to graduation, a journey laid out by those who have come before us. It is like saying the Dartmouth experience is how you become an adult. It is how Dartmouth changes you. The Dartmouth experience is a machine. It takes 18-year-old kids and spits out the men and women with the people skills and intelligence to succeed. It is a cliche that college is where you become the person you will be for the rest of your life, but that seems especially true when everyone is trying to fit in the maximum number of life-changing experiences before we're whisked away into the real world the cruel, old stepmother of the limitless Dartmouth experience.
For the past few years, I've been trying to chase after the Dartmouth experience, with varying degrees of success. I was a shy kid before I came to Dartmouth and had a tendency to shun big groups and people I didn't know. I had a group of people I enjoyed spending time with and activities that I did well and that was where I focused my efforts.
But this is not how the Dartmouth experience is supposed to go this is not how my Dartmouth experience went. The Dartmouth experience forces you to change and grow. You meet a thousand people from all over the world and become their friend in a week. You take classes in departments you didn't know existed, and for exactly 10 weeks, you become an expert on postmodern French literature before moving on to the endocrinology of the human body. You bounce between clubs and activities, trying to find a community that fits your own particular idiosyncrasies. You keep going and going and going, because every moment wasted is a second of your precious Dartmouth experience that you'll never get back.
Sometimes I've been able to live up to what I have come to think the Dartmouth experience is supposed to comprise. In my efforts to break out from the shyness that defined me in high school, I have certainly become more extroverted. I've made friendships here that I treasure above all else. Most importantly, I've had adventures that high-school me would gawk at, all the while crossing items off my own bucket list. That being said, whenever I am not doing those activities, I can't help but feel guilty. Whenever I turn down an adventure or stay in for the night, I feel like I'm squandering the gift of Dartmouth. After all, what's the point in coming to Dartmouth without having a Dartmouth experience?
I remember running around the bonfire as a freshman, sweating from the heat and envying the upperclassmen cooled by the night winds a few feet away. However, as one of those upperclassmen on the outskirts of the bonfire this year, I couldn't seem to find that cooling breeze. Instead, I felt the same as I did three years before. I turned to look behind me and saw a group of '11s waxing romantic about their bonfire, their freshman year, their Dartmouth experience. Behind them stood an older man with streaks of gray in his hair, standing on the edge of the bonfire's warmth. He wore a forest green sweater with the year "1978" stitched proudly across the front. I started to wonder what his Dartmouth experience must have been like all those years ago. It must have been so different from my own. Yet here he was, wearing the same colors as me, feeling the same heat.
Maybe this is why senior year feels so odd. We are caught between the youth of the underclassmen and the adultness of the alumni. We're afraid of the end of our Dartmouth experience, the end of our chance to have this college and community to help us grow. However, as we get older, our relationship with Dartmouth doesn't end it just changes. As a senior, I finally have the benefit of hindsight. I now understand that it's your struggle to find the Dartmouth experience that shapes you into who you are. You take the good, leave the bad and somehow not only change yourself, but also change the Dartmouth experience in your own image.
By the time the '13s cross the stage this June, every single one of us will have both lived and defined the Dartmouth experience on our own terms.
When the time bomb on our college years finally goes off, it won't be the death of Dartmouth. Dartmouth will always be here for us, as will the lessons we learned along the way. As the first term of my senior year draws to a close, I'm not worried about how I'll make the most of the next two terms. Rather, I'll just do what feels right for me and let the "Dartmouth experience" adjust accordingly.