I Wish Dartmouth Love

by Maggie Rowland | 5/22/14 5:07pm

Love, that ineffable, marvelous, painful, beautiful surge of emotion that may strike us at the most unexpected of times and in the most unexpected of places, is not perfect. I remember feeling the sensation of love at first sight pretty keenly in October 2009, when I visited Dartmouth for the first time. As I drove past Leverone Field House and saw the brick of the gym, I felt a wave of excitement followed by a deep conviction that this was where I should be a student. I feel lucky, firstly, that I had the precious opportunity to exist in this world that is Dartmouth, and secondly, that four years later, I get just as excited when the Dartmouth Coach passes Leverone.

My new favorite campus activity is to sit on the steps of Dartmouth Hall with my best friend and talk while watching the world go by on the Green. A sense of calm and quiet comes from sitting on those cool stone steps, and the natural beauty of the College is easily appreciable from them. The scene on the Green, the different activities that people engage in — reading, talking, napping, playing frisbee, studying — and the mixture of faces that I see there, some familiar, some not, also make me smile. These faces remind me why I love this place. When you ask Dartmouth students what their favorite thing is about Dartmouth, they don’t always say the classes, the environment, the clubs or the opportunities. These are all reasons why they might have chosen to come in the first place, as I did. But hands down, the vast majority of the time, when you ask a Dartmouth student what makes this place special, they say the people, above all else.

When I arrived at Dartmouth, I described it as the perfect place for me to anyone who would listen, and many of my classmates did as well. I am grateful that I can still call it the perfect place for me, though I now comprehend that it is not, nor will it ever be, objectively perfect as perhaps I once thought. I recognize that now, four years later, many people feel less positively about this place than when they arrived, and I certainly don’t blame them for the change in sentiment. Dartmouth, like any other institution, has various real problems that very much need to be addressed, and it is evident from the high administrative turnover rate over the last four years that very few of those in power are actually interested, willing or equipped to deal with them. With all the negative press, protests, backlash against protests, the actual problems themselves, the misconceptions about the problems and the problem of addressing the problems — well, let’s just say that the level of vitriol present in the campus climate may well be justified, but it can certainly cause someone to forget his or her initial love for dear old Dartmouth. Pragmatically speaking, it is certainly worth remembering that whether you love or hate it here, the day you leave this place, you will have more doors open to you than the day you arrived. To claim any different is naive and ignorant to the point of being ungrateful.

When I wake up each morning, I try to remember this love. I watch the Dartmouth “Happy” video or Conan O’Brien’s commencement speech for the Class of 2011, I take a walk around Occom Pond and marvel at the natural beauty, I get KAF with a friend, I go to a class that I am excited about. There are many ways to remind oneself how to love. I only have a little time left here, and I want to appreciate each moment. I want to be grateful for it, reflective on it and humbled by my opportunity to experience it. Dartmouth is an imperfect place, and I am an imperfect person, but neither of these precludes my ability to love it. As human beings, we love one another despite our imperfections, and we help each other grow. We support each other in our times of need, and we are kind to each other.

When we fail at these endeavors (and this is inevitable), we try again, and we try harder. We promise to do better. My capacity to love and appreciate an institution such as Dartmouth doesn’t play by different rules. In some small way, perhaps I have helped show Dartmouth its weaknesses as it has shown me mine. This process has been gentler at some stages and rougher at others. I may not wear my hardships on my sleeve, but they have drawn dark circles under my eyes, branded memories into my vision and written stories of tears. Dartmouth has caused some of these and soothed others, while giving me the fortitude to make peace with all of them. Whether or not we are responsible for each others’ hardships, I believe that both Dartmouth and I have the right intentions: we simply try to make each other better. Just as I need people to love me, honestly and despite my flaws, Dartmouth needs people to love it. I am a daughter of Dartmouth. We will both be weaker without the love of others, and perhaps first and foremost, without the love of ourselves. I try my best to love myself and Dartmouth, in spite of both of our imperfections, and I believe that we are parting ways better for this love. You get out what you put in, I think.

The subject of our love is never quite perfect, yet its imperfection makes it no less compelling and no less meaningful. If anything, it makes our love that much sweeter, for it shows the incredible capacity of the human heart to recognize that which is imperfect, that which might even hurt us, and love it anyway. To persevere in bettering it with our love, and to accept that an imperfect love is ever so much better than none at all — this is my hope for Dartmouth and those who remain here.