Through The Looking Glass: Thanks For Saying Hi

by Alma Wang | 4/25/18 2:15am

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Source: Courtesy of Alma Wang

By some mishap I’ve ended up here: senior spring, less than seven weeks left until I lose student discounts and access to the Cube and the Onion — not to mention other trivial points, like lifelong friends and alumni connections and what not. Every day since the realization of my impending graduation hit has been a day of mild existential crisis, where my own identity and impact here feel like a philosophical question that even Aristotle or Socrates would break down at. In the midst of one particularly existentially stressful day, a friend-acquaintance whose friendship thus far has been limited to a single climbing trip passed by me and gave me the highlight of my day: a smile and a “Hey!”

I know, logically, it’s not hard to say “Hi.” How could one syllable be more stress-inducing than explaining concepts as a Teaching Assistant or writing an essay? How do I reply to the constant complaint that people on this campus don’t say hi to each other? I’ll agree that’s a problem, but I don’t think I’m brave enough to solve it.

Understanding my “Hi”-related stress requires an introduction to a different version of myself. Young, pre-Dartmouth me could have been the main character of a cliché high school movie where nerdy mathlete meets angsty teen, who then becomes the popular girl’s pet project and has her life transformed. Except this is real life, and a stereotypical nerd walked away from her time in high school not with a higher sense of self-worth and great hair but instead more lonely and self-conscious than before, her self-image shaped by the gum-covered floor she stared down at while rapidly shuffling from classroom to classroom. I was never bred to be friendly; rather, I’ve grown up trying so hard to avoid interactions that I still tense up in an instinctive fight-or-flight response within nanoseconds of making eye contact.

When I showed up to Dartmouth, weighed down by too much personal baggage, the biggest culture shock wasn’t the drinking or the wealth or the incredibly skewed ethnic breakdown of the student population. It was the chorus of “Hi!”s that filled this campus in that special, Dartmouth, small-school way. Genuine “Hi”s that not only acknowledged my existence, but also intentionally included me as a candidate for XYZ’s friend or acquaintance at the very least. The more Dartmouth students I get to know, the more I’m convinced that every student at Dartmouth, regardless of background, has an incredible story and perspective just waiting to be told. And somehow nervous, ordinary me gets the honor of being sewn into the conscious fabric of that person’s life — granted, as a thin thread of a hello, but that’s still a meaningful thread to me. 

There was the moment when my DOC First-Year Trips leader said “Hi” to me, and I fell off my bike. And the numerous times I’ve tripped saying “Hi” back to a friend, once walking into a wall. The enthusiastic and mutual “Hi” of a quality friend after over 24 hours apart. The numerous “Hi”s that assuaged my fears of if he or she remembered me from our one introduction. The “Hi” of a friend whom seeing in person reminds me of pleasant memories past. The drunken “HEYYY” and bear hug on a night out. The “Hi” that turns into long meaningful conversation or the “Hi” that just leads to small talk. And then the most common of all: a “Hi” from a friend in passing, a reaffirmation that I’ll see him or her again.

I am said “Hi” to, therefore I am — I am a part of this campus and as such have the ability to carve out a place for myself. I’ve built my own Dartmouth using that awareness that I have some ownership over this space. For me, this school is a mix of my love for academics, the outdoors and Tuesday (not Wednesday) Collis trivia. It’s the time I took over my sorority’s kitchen to make mochi with my non-sorority mix of friends. Or the Tuesday nights watching Rick and Morty on one of the big TVs in the Cube, the high level of procrastination loosely hidden by whiteboards surrounding the TV. It’s even the sense of impending doom from scrambling around lost on the top of Mount Cube in complete darkness and sub-freezing temperatures during the Fifty. Now older, wiser and definitely crustier, I feel capable of, at the bare minimum, mustering up the courage to say “Hi” to those that lie somewhere in between stranger, acquaintance or friend, passing on that good juju that I know gets me through a bad day — and sometimes gaining a friend in return. 

So to the person I forgot to tell my name to as a TA, the person who passed me on roller skates, the person I met at a Women in Computer Science meeting, the person I played trivia with at a Collis event, the person I met that one time via that one thing (you know who you are) and pretty much anyone else, thanks for saying “Hi.”