Through The Looking Glass: Falling In Love, Twice, Sort Of
At work this summer, I was asked to write a card to a client’s daughter. She was about to start her freshman year of college. I was flattered that they considered me worthy of dispensing advice. But as I was writing, I realized I was the one who needed to follow my own advice. It is always easy to offer recommendations to others without actually practicing what you preach. The following is an extract of what I wrote to the woman just a few years my junior: “Remember that you are not alone in your uncertainty. No one really knows what they’re doing! New beginnings are scary. I was so nervous my first day. And some of that discomfort lingers, but growth never happens when we are wholly comfortable.”
This will be my first fall on campus since freshman year, which has made me think about how I wish I knew then what I know now. The past two falls, although I was not physically at Dartmouth, have been the most enriching of my Dartmouth experience. I studied in Havana and Madrid: two vibrant, historically rich cities. Dartmouth, I salute you for allowing me to explore the world and collect university credits along the way. However, freshman fall seemed interminable. Having grown up in the United Kingdom, I experienced a culture shock; after a year out of education, I felt claustrophobic within the confines of an institution. In retrospect, I can see that I spent far too much time taking refuge in the comfort of the four walls of my room in the Choates. It was a constricting and limited way to “do Dartmouth.” I copped out of Dartmouth. I napped a lot. I lazily thought, “I have years here. Why the rush?”
Well, the years have passed at an alarming rate. Freshman year me needed a more optimistic perspective, like that of the prospective student. We could all benefit from tapping into the enthusiasm we once felt while looking at Dartmouth from an outsider’s perspective. This year, I will try to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Dartmouth has given so much to me, and it will continue to do so after my graduation. This education is truly the gift that keeps on giving. In times where I feel myself veering toward complacency and ingratitude, I must remember the joy and pride I felt upon seeing my acceptance and the flurry of confetti on my screen. This year I will fight to resist the stereotype of the “jaded senior.” I refuse to let pessimism or passivity consume my remaining time as a Dartmouth student.
I like to think back to our early days when I first fell for you, Dartmouth. It started in October 2013. You were golden and crisp — how could I not be attracted? The tour guide skillfully glided backwards through the foliage while you boasted your finest colors. I sat in Molly’s sipping an apple cider, dreaming of our future together. I was seduced by your autumnal charm. However, my appreciation was short-lived. I’m embarrassed to admit I had a wandering eye freshman year. Other schools, even other continents, beckoned. But now I know that love is a commitment. If neglected, it will dwindle. In my fourth year of being with you, and of you, I no longer yearn to be elsewhere. Although, truthfully, I still hesitate to say I love you. It’s taboo, isn’t it? To not proclaim that one bleeds green. Hearing others’ boasts of love and adoration doesn’t help. It makes me question why I don’t feel the same way.
Now, I know that it is okay to not always like you. But even when I don’t like you, I am grateful to you. Even if, according to the misogynistic Dartmouth “X,” my value has depreciated, I will continue to appreciate you. I will be appreciative in all your seasons: when you are abundant with amber and when you are cruelly cold. And in my moments of doubt, I will try to tap into the unadulterated excitement I felt upon first driving up to Dartmouth.
Freshman year me was indeed waiting for Dartmouth to happen. I was waiting to love it, regrettably procrastinating my own enjoyment. And it is with that passive sense of entitlement that I let freshman fall slip through my fingers. But now, with a mere 27 weeks left, that is no longer an option. Not being particularly “crunchy” nor “ragey,” I sometimes question where I belong here. Admittedly, I have resisted adapting to mainstream “Dartmouth culture” and have tried to cushion myself. In freshman year, I remember purposely choosing classes that didn’t intimidate me. I would “ease into college,” I told myself. But I have to come to appreciate that discomfort is simply necessary for growth. And so, in my final fall, I find myself doing the opposite of my freshman self: I am purposely committing to new activities. I am seeking out unknown territory. I trust that the verse “seek and ye shall find” will ring true for me this year.
Perhaps it’s the speed at which we are traveling toward adult life which makes me want to clutch at straws and fully indulge in the college experience. But whatever my motivation, or yours, I urge us all to invest in our college experiences. Every day at Dartmouth counts. Study somewhere new, take an alternative route to class or simply go on a walk instead of numbly staring at a screen. I’m doing what I wish I had done three years ago: I am getting involved. It’s never too late.