Pak: Make It Yours

Dartmouth's 250th is as much about you as it is about Dartmouth's past.

by Eowyn Pak | 2/8/19 1:50am

This year, Dartmouth is celebrating its 250th anniversary. And at first, I thought it had absolutely nothing to do with me. 

Since its founding in 1769, this quaint little college on a hill has lived through many historical moments to see the light of the present day: Paul Revere’s desperate midnight ride to Lexington, the innovative inventions of the Industrial revolution, two costly world wars, the tenacious fight for women’s suffrage, the moment Robert Frost put pen to paper, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the desolate moon, Martin Luther King Jr.’s resounding “I Have A Dream” speech, the long-awaited legalization of gay marriage and all the milestones in between. And while I can objectively understand that it’s been a long time, I still couldn’t seem to personally relate to it. “Dartmouth” and all the associations that came with it just felt larger than life, and certainly much larger than me. 

So to answer my questions, I did what any student nowadays would do: I googled it. I typed in “Dartmouth 250” and clicked on the first result with hope that this website would enlighten me ­­— help me see what all the ruckus and celebration was about; help me understand smiling alumni under the warmly-lit white tents pitched on the Green; help me get closure on my unsettling alienation from this age-old prestigious community that I wanted to belong to. 

Well, it didn’t. I was greeted by a dramatic video montage and a side caption that proudly read: “Honoring Our Past, Inspiring Our Future: In 2019, Dartmouth marks its 250th anniversary with events designed to capture the College’s unique character, indelible spirit, and rich history. Everyone is invited to join in the celebration!” But even after some poking around and reading about events and initiatives, I still didn’t feel like I was a part of that “everyone” who was invited. Instead, my mind was quick to point out Dartmouth’s problems ­­­­— not out of bitterness but simply because I was far more familiar with them. As I ruminated on our heavy drinking culture, recent scandals and shooting, the initial question I had posed — “What exactly are we celebrating?” — to my dismay, became more difficult to answer. 

Instead, I chose to focus on “remembrance.” I reminisced the small things, like the scent of gooey Foco cookies and the satisfying crunch of fresh powder under my Timberlands as I walked to class in the still of the morning. But small memories lured me into a slew of other ones I’ve made — my first-year trip, stargazing on the golf course with my best friend, enthralling conversations with professors during office hours, late-night talks that left everyone a bit more vulnerable yet closer together, a spontaneous trip to the River at night, lunch after class on the sunny Collis front porch — until I was completely overwhelmed by warmth. 

Dartmouth’s 250th, as magnificent and grand as it’s advertised, doesn’t have to be that big — or at least, your understanding of it doesn’t have to. It starts with some students’ late-night walks down Tuck Drive to Thayer, laps around the track in Leverone Field House or quiet hours in the art studio. Or maybe others choose to remember KAF workers who know that double-shot espresso iced-latte order by heart or the bells that toll to the alma mater. Small memories, I realize, are what brings sweetness to this celebration.  

But Dartmouth is more than just this sweetness — nostalgia is by no means a way to dismiss the problems and issues that come with the good. Dartmouth was the last Ivy League university to admit women into its academic program and once held beliefs immortalized by the Hovey murals that most students now find highly problematic. In light of recent hate crimes, sexual assault litigations, a shooting and the rest of this swirl of turmoil, it’s easy to cast off a loyal nostalgia for a bygone era as an overly idealistic fairytale that subdues progressive change by trapping people in the past. To some extent, it does. The only thing that separates nostalgia from delusion is a thin line of acknowledgement — in particular, acknowledging the bad. And Dartmouth has: The Hovey murals are being relocated to atone for their offense. The struggles women faced as they first integrated into the College have not been blurred by rose-colored lens either — members of this community can see it in the hesitation of alumni to give back to the College in light of recent sexual harassment allegations. 

 The alumni have not forgotten, nor will you. Recognizing that Dartmouth isn’t perfect, despite the myriad of great memories you’ve made from being here, helps fix the problems for the benefit of later generations and students. The effects of fighting these issues can be as tangible and immediate as the new Green2Go containers circulating around campus. The Class of 2023 will never know the wasteful disposable containers that preceded them, but they will experience a better Dartmouth with no shortage of other problems and the cycle will start again. Nostalgia is a form of cognitive dissonance that makes the issues currently at hand more lucid, and it’s these problems that add the bitter to the bitter-sweet feelings of nostalgia. 

And in the same way students today are connected to the future, we are also connected to the past. In my short time in New York, Dartmouth alumni, seeing me donning a Dartmouth crewneck, have come up to me to introduce themselves and ask about my time there. From an elderly trustee fellow of Carnegie Hall to my current boss who graduated 10 years ago to a consultant I came across in the financial district to the young couple I met on the streets of Astor place — they all have their own fond memories of the College. The Dartmouth community, though wide and expansive, is tied by these small memories and along with its senators, celebrities, people around the world and alumni who have passed away, includes me and you. 

In the end, I guess the phrase “Honoring Our Past, Inspiring Our Future,” though grandiose and nebulous, is true: Many of us have bittersweet nostalgia to celebrate and to use to help facilitate change. To those calling Dartmouth home, I invite you to look back on the memories made from the short time you’ve been here and have them inspire you to make more. Know that your efforts, though they may seem small, add to the enjoyment and enrichment of others around you, and prepare you to lead progress around the world. With 250 years of memories and change under its belt, it’s about time to give dear old Dartmouth, and ourselves, a hearty rouse.