Reevaluating the Victory Lap

Success shouldn't end after Dartmouth.

by Phil Rasansky | 6/9/18 2:10am

I remember the first time Dartmouth felt like home. I remember the day — Jan. 3, 2015. I remember my outfit — a recently-bought wool sweater littered with pretzel crumbs. I remember where I was sitting — about halfway back the Dartmouth Coach in a window seat. I don’t remember the movie playing, but I do remember the screen was right above my head and I do remember the Coach’s headphone jack didn’t work.

Most clearly, though, I remember the feeling—jitters. Butterflies. That funny feeling when you know you’re excited without really knowing what you’re excited about. We turned left off Park Street and headed west down Wheelock. With the Hopkins Center for the Arts’s bus lane only feet away, however, we steered away from our destination, cruising past Dartmouth Hall, Baker Tower and McNutt Hall as we paraded around the Green before finally returning to the Hop. I refer to this glorious procession as the Dartmouth Coach Victory Lap. Anybody who’s ever taken the Coach should know exactly what I’m talking about.

I imagine different people at different times have had different names for my Victory Lap. But at that moment in time, it served as a sacred reminder of just how lucky I was to be a Dartmouth student. It made me proud of my past achievements. With the rush and confusion of freshman fall in my rearview, I finally felt ready to trailblaze my own path through Hanover. H-croo welcomed me home the first time I stepped foot on campus. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t until a few months later, on my first Dartmouth Coach Victory Lap, that I finally welcomed myself home.

This home of mine is so special in so many ways. Its Mission Statement begins, “Dartmouth College educates the most promising students,” as if we’re America’s best and brightest. For the most part, I have been thoroughly impressed by this community and those who also call it home. No matter how much I hope to be proven wrong, I may never again be surrounded by as many intelligent, talented people as I am at Dartmouth. At times, however, I have also been thoroughly unimpressed — with myself as well as with other community members. Dartmouth students can be both extraordinary, sure, but we can also be extraordinarily ordinary and astonishingly mediocre. We can be ignorant and unkind. We can be childish and fickle. Sometimes we can even be straight up stupid. I cringe at the claim that my very being here makes me a more impressive individual than those whose feet and talents and achievements grace other campuses.

The Mission Statement goes on: “Dartmouth College educates the most promising students and prepares them for a lifetime of learning and of responsible leadership.” Our success at Dartmouth, then, relies just as much on what we do as alumni as what we did as students. All too often, we get caught up in the triumph of simply being at Dartmouth without accepting the expectations that come with it. Being at Dartmouth is a success worth acknowledging. It is not, however, a success worth celebrating. Success at Dartmouth can only be celebrated in hindsight, with proof that you have lived up to your promise and engaged in a lifetime of learning and responsible leadership, in all the varied forms this may take. So, while I still let myself relish the Dartmouth Coach Victory Laps, I can no longer do so as innocently as I did during that glorious one over three years ago when I first called Dartmouth home.

I rolled into my senior spring on the Coach per usual. As that massive steel carriage stewarded me around the Green, I let the pride of my past achievements bring a smile to my face. I will wear a similar smile when I walk across the Commencement stage on Sunday. But this new smile is deeper and more accepting than the one I had freshman year. I smile not only because I am proud of my past achievements, but also because I am eager to see my future ones. I look forward to the expectations that come with a Dartmouth degree, and someday I hope to complete yet another Victory Lap with the hindsight of having met these expectations. I’m not quite sure what that’ll look like, but I am sure that smile will be the biggest and most fulfilling of all my Victory Lap grins.

To all graduating seniors: May that diploma be neither your last achievement nor your biggest. If changing the world sounds like too ambitious a goal, perhaps aim to change somebody’s world. That’s where I’ll start.

Philip Rasansky ’18 is the former publisher of The Dartmouth.