Moving the Roots
I used to feel more deeply rooted in this place. My mom is a member of Dartmouth’s second class of women. I used to feel guilty for my status as a legacy child, which made it statistically easier for me to gain admission over the majority of the students here. But four years later, I have finally learned to accept my privilege. I used to hate it when people found out that one of my parents went to Dartmouth, but now I take pride in it. I tell them my mom came here when the patriarchy was even stronger and more pronounced than it is today. I come from strong people.
I came to Dartmouth in a cloud of shame and ignorance, not knowing myself at all. I had just spent four years of high school in a sea of strangers who constantly devalued my identity. I should have fit right into that environment — it was even more elitist than Dartmouth, if you can believe it — but for some reason, everything just felt wrong, and I left that place feeling very impoverished.
When my mom dropped me off at the Choates three and a half years ago, we got into a fight. She left, and I was overcome with a horrible sinking feeling that I had lost my mom forever. I called her immediately and asked her to come back, so I would not have to start my time at Dartmouth with such a dark antagonism festering inside of me. She immediately returned, and we agreed that the argument was silly. The conflict was resolved, and I felt able to continue on to a Dartmouth that would surely welcome me with opens arms.
My sister, who graduated two years ago, helped me pick out good classes for freshman fall. My parents did not need a map to find my dorm when we got to Hanover, because they had been here many times before. This place was familiar to me before I even called it mine. But its role as other people’s homes, people who I loved and with whom I shared a home, made me imagine it as a place that could be my home and that would want to be my home.
I spent a lot of time being lonely on campus, but freshman year definitely takes the cake. My elite secondary education deprived me of the space to question my gender and sexuality, so at Dartmouth, I spent my first months still not knowing how to do just that.
It’s been three years, and coming out is still the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It’s not just admitting you are different. It’s not just learning to own a part of you that a large part of society deems perverse or disgusting. It’s also having to admit to people you like and people you love that you have withheld a part of yourself from them, despite wanting to share with them everything that you are. It’s having your voice and identity being shrouded, sometimes even by the ones who are trying to help you.
I came out at the end of my freshman year to my friends and at the end of sophomore year to my parents. It didn’t happen over night, because coming out is just one way that you come to terms with your identity and learn to accept yourself for who you are. I would argue it’s an abnormally challenging example, but it’s just one example nonetheless.
It’s ironic but not uncommon for people to feel very strongly attached to places where they have experienced trauma. At times, I have felt entirely rejected by Dartmouth for who I am. Accepting my sexuality involved a tremendous amount of pain. But Dartmouth is still the place where I have done the most important learning of my life.
I used to resent the way that my legacy status at this school marked me as privileged and constructed a false sense of belonging. I was shocked by the moments when I felt that Dartmouth did not want to be my home, and I was devastated by the pain that I felt here when I realized that everything I was pretending to be was an attempt in vain. Sometimes I feel like I missed out on creating community engagement for myself, because I was too busy trying to figure out and accept who I was.
I did not squalor my academic opportunity here, and I do think I have made an impact on some people’s lives. But my quest for an ability to accept the central elements of my being is what makes this place mine. It is a physical space that has been my sanctuary, the place where I have been the most vulnerable. I used to feel more rooted here, because I used to consider it more the source of my values and intellect. Now, that seems like an exaggeration. My life changed while I was at Dartmouth. But I’m not entirely sure that Dartmouth changed it. I spent a lot of emotional energy during my time here, but I would not accuse Dartmouth of draining that energy from me. I was lucky to find a strong support system here, but I also forced myself to remove the veil of denial I had so desperately clutched onto before coming here. And for that, I give myself credit.
There are certain parts about this place that I will miss, and there are many others that I will not. My satisfaction from my time at Dartmouth is not going to come from the doors of success it opened for me, but from my knowing that I came here and gave this place the deepest part of myself when I felt more vulnerable than ever. And it has been my struggle to have that part of me be a part of Dartmouth that made my time here meaningful.