Reliving Dartmouth past
During First-Year Trips, like most Dartmouth students, I wrote myself a letter. Unlike many of my peers, I wrote this letter quite seriously, pouring my soul out to my future self who would receive it six months from then. The letter is imbued with a sense of excitement and fear and hope; I was about to begin becoming my Dartmouth self, not my high school self. As I watched my trip leaders, I was so sure that by senior year, I would be as confident as they were, as settled in the community.
During senior year, I led a trip and once again wrote myself a letter. The contrast between the letters is stark — much more than I expected it to be. As I wrote, I felt no more certain of where I stood. I was still searching for something, and stumbled over the idea that I was now qualified to lead ’20s into the woods and make them promises about their Dartmouth experience.
Yet in both letters, there is a sense of yearning, of promises not yet filled. Each year at Dartmouth, I have been chasing something — forever looking forward to the idea of what should be and chasing that myth. Freshman year, it was the idea of Dartmouth and a hope for comfort in the discomfort of change. Sophomore year, I chased the example of new upperclassmen friends, the sense of truly belonging to the community at large and the promise of Dartmouth for those who finally “knew what they were doing.” Junior year it was the notion of adventure, a break from Dartmouth, the discovery of off terms and new places. Now senior year, the reveal of Dartmouth is largely done and I have doubled back, beginning to chase myself and the past. It has been a year of seeking out the moments that were never realized and reaching for the moments that were so good I long to relive them over and over.
While the reliving often centers on the iconic moments of Dartmouth, these moments often pale compared to the ones that no one promised me during Dimensions, that Trips never sang about, that don’t merit mention on campus tours. My cravings are focused on the late nights with friends when I should have handed my paper in five hours ago, the blissful solitude of sitting in Sanborn watching it snow with a good book and a cup of tea, the joy of finally escaping campus for dinner and singing the whole drive there and leaving the library late at night to walk the golf course under the stars. These moments feel so mundane, part of the everyday, yet these are the moments I won’t forget. It is hard to recognize them as potential “lasts” and thus accept them as something that may never happen again.
Yet, senior year has forced this realization. The harder I have tried to replicate these moments, the more I have realized how liminal they are, tied to the joys of a unique term and time. It is strange to live a year of lasts that you recognize, to love a place so much yet on some level be ready to leave. We as a class are in limbo. We run after the memories of Dartmouth past, fill in the gaps of what we feel Dartmouth should have been and was not, try to recreate the moments we wish to never forget. We turn to the timeworn traditions of the “Dartmouth experience” — hiking Mt. Cardigan, the polar bear swim, Ledyard challenging, the tradition of big weekends — to try and freeze Dartmouth, to distill it to its essence. Yet, we will fail. We will never be able to fully capture this place.
As I travel down my bucket list — attempting to replicate the sober 15X Tuesday night Ledyard challenge in the pouring rain or trying to give a sophomore the joy of the 4 a.m. conversation a senior had with me when I was a sophomore — the truth keeps creeping in. It is not the specific experience that matters; we cannot replicate the moments we wish to relive through formula or replicating tradition. Gather the same group of friends together on the dock senior week to skinny dip with that you skinny dipped with freshman year and everything else will be different. Four years here has marked us, forced us to grow up, built friendships up and torn them down. Even if the bodies and the setting and the timing are the same, we are not.
So instead of a time to relive the glories of experiences past, senior year has become a time of recognition and reckoning; it is not the experiences that matter so much as the emotions they generated. And these emotions, this sense of community and love, can be replicated. While a memory will always be irrevocable, and our experiences will no longer be tied to Dartmouth, the sentiment experienced in these moments can be replicated, triggered by a new experience. To move forward, we must let the lasts of Dartmouth fade into the firsts of a new frontier. In this, perhaps goodbye becomes even just a bit easier.