Brown: Place of the Mind

by Matthew Brown | 8/14/17 12:05am

This article was featured in the 2017 Freshman Issue.

Sophomore summer has reminded me that Dartmouth is in fact a unique place. Given the many visiting professors and keynote speakers, innumerable summer programs and conferences, ever present free-catered events and a generally campy vibe, Dartmouth has felt like more of itself in every way. This atmosphere reminds me of the intricate reality of this place, and the opportunity it can provide. Regardless of how each of us found our way to the College, we’ve arrived. We must claim our time here, and make the best of our years spent in the woods.

Dartmouth is distinct, for better and for worse. It’s true that Dartmouth has amassed impressive prestige and resources during its near 250-year existence. However, Dartmouth is hardly the only or most elite university in the world, and unquestionably one of the most remote. Many of the pressing issues, tensions and dialogues on this campus are also shared by communities and institutions across the globe. It would be a mistake to think that we are special because of anything that we can point to and advertise.

Dartmouth’s unique condition is not due to its ample resources, per se, but rather because the clutter and consequences present in the real world have largely been removed. You can focus on your personal growth here – on bettering yourself and those around you, on discovering your wants, dreams and passions in a relatively low-stakes environment. This is in many ways a simple and modest place, “a place of the mind” as a visiting fellow recently described it to me. That feature is the opportunity we cannot waste.

The straightforwardness of Dartmouth is reflected in the campus community. This isn’t an ostentatious place; people are much less likely to care what others wear or display here. Brilliant, talented and accomplished people are unassuming here. Unlike other schools, we don’t have a culture of pervasively bragging or bemoaning our achievements. I suspect that the frequent ridicule of Dartmouth Dining Services is more a campus tradition than any meaningful indignation. The average student is more concerned with bettering themselves by working out, reading or studying rather than appealing to America’s latest fashion trend or pop culture craze. People are more content to find enjoyment in hiking, skiing swimming in the Connecticut River and maybe even having late-night talks about their interests, which is a sharp contrast to the high-end entertainment college students feel the need to shell out money for elsewhere.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the caveats to the College’s nature. Dartmouth’s location makes it a bubble, one that is often resistant to change. The thrift of the community is reflected in the grimy, off-beat social scene here, one dominated by Greek houses and only possible in a place that disregards pomp and basic hygienic standards. Some students use Hanover’s isolation and relative homogeneity to remain just as vapid and uninformed about the world as when they arrived. Furthermore, a modest demeanor does not equate to modest means. Our lack of showiness does not mask the effects of inequality on our school. No doubt in our bubble we have also created codes and performances that signal status more subtly than are seen elsewhere. In short, Dartmouth is a chance that is often squandered. It is a chance nonetheless.

The paths we lead through Dartmouth are winding, full of possibilities for growth and change. Many of the experiences we have here will not be pleasant or comforting, but each one will contribute to our time here – time that we will own. It is important, then, that we navigate this place well and seize every opportunity while we can. Amidst that, we shouldn’t forget to enjoy Dartmouth, to revel in the traditions, parties and quirky climate that also make this place a unlike any other.

Dartmouth, as a university, community and location, is very well-fashioned for the cultivation of one’s self. If you can rise above the inanity, the surrealism and the stress, this place can be a memorable and impactful time. Both the good and the bad will manifest differently for every person, something we must be cognizant of as we shape this place during our short time here. Making the best of our experience, however, should be a given. It’s the least we owe ourselves. There’s an energy and opportunity here worth seizing, and a finite amount of time for us to use it in. Don’t waste it.