Ellis: Keeping in Touch

What is the best way to keep in touch with friends from college?

by Simon Ellis | 11/10/17 12:15am

As I head into the lobby of Baker-Berry Library before the 2A rush, I stop into KAF to peruse the seasonal drinks. The “tea of the day Palmer,” my self proclaimed secret drink, is no longer in season. The squeak of my boots is a familiar sound, one I haven’t heard since I last wore them in the thick winter mud. I try to find an open table, determined to work but fearing that without motivation from the groups of tours passing through, I would just binge-watch “Stranger Things.” An acquaintance sits down next to me, the kind that asks what I did last night and if I hooked up with anyone but doesn’t remember where I live or the name of “that group” that I’m in. “You’re taking next term off? You don’t know what you’re doing? Good for you!” Their congratulations seems unearned, as if taking a break is some sort of defiant and unusual practice. But that’s just it: At Dartmouth, the constant conditionality at the College, from your daily schedule to the KAF menu, puts things into perspective, for better or worst.

The conditional can be seen in every sphere of Dartmouth life. We schedule new classes every 10 weeks, which requires us to change when we sleep, eat, socialize and party. It demands that we be flexible, able to change our habits with the click of an “add to course schedule” button. Students who like to develop a strict study and class schedule might find themselves struggling to keep up with changing habits and the ever-ominous possibility of an x-hour. I have found myself altering my schedule often, with a class as early as 8 a.m. one term and as late as 6 p.m. the next.

In forcing students to be flexible, Dartmouth selects for a particular kind of person. Those who thrive here learn to pull their laptop out and add valuable paragraphs to a final essay in a matter of 45 minutes, work on organic chemisty problem sets at the gym or finish a reading during their downtime at work. If multitasking is not yet an endorsed skill on your LinkedIn, you can most definitely expect to achieve it by your fifth or sixth term.

Conditionality often extends beyond the realm of the classroom and into that of the bedroom. With the D-plan, finding and maintaining a relationship is often difficult. You may meet someone in the winter, when you two are forced together by the bite of the cold and the crowded frat basements to seek refuge in your room. The next term, he might be abroad doing research in Costa Rica or studying art history in Rome. He could come back only to find that you’ve jetted off to study German in Europe or intern with a bank in New York. This best friend, who you may have leaned on for the entirety of the last two months, can disappear in the blink of an eye, forcing you to adapt with the loneliness.

The conditionality that exists at Dartmouth explains why it’s such a defiant statement to declare that you “don’t know” what you’re doing; to declare that you don’t have a job or an internship lined up; to be fine with either changing, or staying the same. The kind of conditionality that exists at Dartmouth is a false one, one hinged on the fact that you will change. It asks you to consider every possibility and to constantly change the ways in which you juxtapose your life. That is why it is truly unusual — and truly despicable — to be fine with changing, or not.

Your best friends might always be your best friends, but that doesn’t change the fact that you wont see them for the next three months of their FSP. You might like to study in Fairchild, but that doesn’t change the fact that you don’t have time to study there between your classes this term. Dartmouth was built for the conditional student, the one who you’ll say hi to every day on the way to class and then not see for the next two terms; the one who will return from an off-term able to blend into a new friend group, a new extracurricular. My advice is to fight this conditionality and to keep the bonds that make you feel at home here.

Call your friends abroad; sleep in even if it means missing class so that you can keep your normal schedule. Schedule classes based on your schedule, not the other way around. Don’t be afraid to not know what your doing. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to unconditionally form relationships, to hold on to a relationship you believe is worth keeping.