Simineri: For the Love of Learning

by Nicole Simineri | 8/21/15 6:11pm

Welcome, first-years, to the place I hope you will learn to call home! After all your years of hard work and sleepless nights, you have finally made it to the refuge after the storm of college applications, so congratulations!

When people ask what college you attend, from now on you can confidently reply “Dartmouth College.” The ability to do even this comes with a sense of pride. But when you see people’s impressed reactions, when your friends from high school begin to identify you as “the one who goes to Dartmouth,” when your parents begin introducing you to friends and relatives as a Dartmouth student as if it has become a part of your name, the anxieties can begin to pile up.

This might not be your experience. For some students, going to Dartmouth has simply become a routine in their family. But for students who come from families like mine, with few college degrees and no Ivy League diplomas, the pressure that normally comes with attending a prestigious institution like Dartmouth to major in something practical and find a high paying, prestigious job after graduation can escalate.

It is partly because of this pressure that I decided to be a pre-medical student when I first enrolled and got started right away by diving into the notoriously difficult Biology 12 course my first fall. To my dismay, however, I slowly realized that I was not enjoying the class as much as someone who is about to dedicate the next 12 years of their life to studying medicine should. But every time I saw the tuition bills that my parents were spending their life savings to pay, I ignored my own feelings and kept at it. With all that my parents were sacrificing for me to be at Dartmouth, how could I disappoint them? And the student loans I knew I would have to eventually pay off also pushed me toward medicine, toward being marketable, toward money.

Yet during a year of pre-med courses and neuroscience research, my discontent only grew and I realized I was becoming one of those students who complains about their major daily – but I wanted a major that I could fall in love with. The person who had been in Intel and loved Science Olympiad had confused being good at science with liking science. When surrounded by so many other subjects that interested me eons more, I simply could not be that person anymore, no matter how hard my parents urged me. For those with the privilege of having them, parents always have your best interests at heart – but sometimes their take on what is best make the understandable mistake of equating your happiness and mental health with the size of your post-graduation wallet. Now, I am an Asian and Middle Eastern studies and history double major, and I am much happier for it.

I understand that the high price tag of a Dartmouth diploma makes the pressure to make yourself “marketable” intense. As I have discovered, however, to do so and neglect other possible paths because those majors have been deemed impractical or risky is to do an injustice not only to the College but also to yourself. The College is known as one of the best colleges for undergraduate teaching, and with good reason, so to limit yourself to safe and practical majors means that you will only get to see a tiny fraction of this school’s magic – which would be unfortunate considering that it is in the courses that have the flexibility that come with having been deemed impractical by corporate society where the College truly shines.

It is all too easy to neglect what you love in pursuit of safer alternatives – an understandable choice. While there is financial privilege in having the freedom to choose whatever major you want, however, there is also a privilege that comes with going to a college whose reputation truly precedes it. This means that no major at Dartmouth is ever useless or even impractical. I still do not know exactly what I want to do with my degree, but that is okay for I know that my degree will be respected anywhere I go, and having Dartmouth’s name attached to me can and will open doors I have yet to imagine. Besides, you can get practical and safe anywhere. One does not go to Dartmouth to reach the norm – one goes to surpass it, but how can one do that if they hate what they do?

As such, my advice is to choose a major that comes naturally; a major that you cannot get enough of; a major where you cannot decide which course to take next term because they all sound so tantalizingly good; a major that you find yourself discussing in normal conversations because it is that important to you; a major that just naturally evolves as you make choices that focus not on the size of your wallet in the future but on your happiness now; a major that you love. You would not choose to spend your life with someone you hate or can only tolerate – treat your major, treat your career, treat your life the same, with the understanding that it is never too late to change your mind. And remember: you are not your parents’ investment.