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As I look out across Dartmouth’s campus each day, I see hundreds of high school students and their families trailing a tour guide across the Green. These students will undoubtedly hear about all of Dartmouth’s “hidden gems” — the Shakespeare’s First Folio that we keep in Rauner, the “take your professor to lunch date” that turned into a research opportunity, the awesome concert at One Wheelock with a finalist from “The Voice,” and so on. But most of those students will never get to experience the real hidden gems of Dartmouth.
In the strange bubble of New Hampshire where “flitz,” “S.W.U.G.” and “facetimey” are used in everyday conversation, it is not surprising that the theory of “the X” has cemented itself in Dartmouth culture. Students seem to latch on to ideas and phrases that separate them from the outside world, more firmly solidifying and celebrating how quirky and different they are. The X is a rumor describing social power throughout one’s time at Dartmouth. It theorizes that freshman girls arrive on campus with peak social status and appeal, and then they gradually lose this appeal and become less desirable throughout their time at Dartmouth. In contrast, freshman boys are thought to begin their time at Dartmouth at their lowest social point, slowly gaining prominence on campus as they navigate college, and finally graduating at their peak. The term is used jokingly for the most part, chastising girls for descending along the X too quickly when they show up to parties in sweats and t-shirts or nodding knowingly when freshman girls flock not to their floormates or lab partners, but to the senior boys on campus. The X is denounced, promoted and questioned, but no one seems to take it too seriously. The interesting part of the X, however, lies in a more basic assumption it makes: that throughout students’ time at Dartmouth, there will come a moment when they cross over from one side of life to another.
During an especially introspective stretch of time, my 15-year-old self jotted down several quotes that fell within the boundaries of what I perceived to be profound. One of the first to appear was the phrase, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing,” derived from something Socrates may or may not have once said.
A writer for The Dartmouth once joked that staffers only know two things about me: that I’m from Hawaiʻi and that I have consistently arrived late to campus each term. While the second point did not always happen by choice — some of my flights back to the east coast really did get delayed, guys — the first bit of information is certainly one that I conscientiously shared with everyone I met at Dartmouth.
College is weird. Part extended summer camp, part boarding school for semi-grownups, part elitist neoliberal institution, part academia machine, college means different things to different people, but no one really knows what it’s going to be like until they’re there. My first impression of Dartmouth was of miles and miles of trees. On the drive up, my mom and I felt like we were headed to the middle of nowhere — coming from dry, dusty southern California, I had never seen so many trees in my life. It felt like I was entering a different world.
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.
When I was looking at colleges, I asked current students a lot of questions. Their responses were plentiful, varied and usually helpful. But when I asked Dartmouth students what stood out about their school and why they seemed to love it so much, I got one answer over and over and over again: they loved Dartmouth because of the people.
When I walked away from my parents on Robinson Hall’s lawn for Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips, laden with a heavy backpack leftover from my father’s Eagle Scout days and several items of mild contraband, I knew that I wouldn’t be talking for a while. Faced with the prospect of introductions and icebreakers, I contemplated how I could survive the next few days saying as few words as possible. When faced with the opportunity to make a bad impression or a good impression, I tend to split the difference and do my best to make no impression (at all).
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 don’t remember when I first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. I can picture the nine-volume paperback box set, each cover a different pastel gingham, sitting on the lower left of the downstairs bookcases as if it has always been there. I know that the first book in the series, “Little House in the Big Woods,” was read aloud in my preschool group; I would ask my mom for two “Laura braids” when she did my hair in early elementary school. Wilder’s childhood and my childhood are woven together, zigzagging across two centuries and the continental United States.
For those of you who haven’t heard of “duck syndrome,” it is a concept often applied to college students who appear calm on the surface but are frantically suffering underneath. At Dartmouth, students can struggle to juggle numerous commitments and expectations. So many seem to do it all and still have their life together. Dartmouth students pride themselves on the ability to “work hard, play hard,” but are we happy?
This column was featured in the 2018 Winter Carnival Issue.
Before my first Dartmouth winter, I’d seen snow exactly four times. Five if you count the only time it snowed in my lifetime in San Francisco: Dec. 20, 1998, (the day that holds my first memory). I’m two years old at the park with my grandma (Nana to us, although she tried to convince me to call her Aunt Birdy until I was five) and a few glorious snowflakes fall from the sky.
It’s 9:55 a.m. and you’re dashing to your 10A on a Thursday morning. The clothes you grab from your closet (or your floor) are probably the last things on your mind. When you bought that Patagonia last year, the company’s “1% for the Planet” partnership probably was not your motivation. The fact that it took 4,000 liters of water to produce those jeans you slipped on is likely not at the forefront of your mind during your light jog to class. However, maybe these truths should be.
“Oct. 18, 2016: Worked in the warehouse all morning, sorting winter jackets and shoes. Ate lunch with some new volunteers from Dover who are here for the week. We went into the camp this afternoon to distribute shoes — it was super cold and chaotic as everyone wants shoes before the demolition of the camp. There is sadly no way to give everyone everything they need. We are trying to distribute as much as possible before the demolition so we didn’t leave the camp till sundown (6:30 p.m.). Another tiring day but again surprised by how Care4Calais has formed relationships and trust within the Jungle.”
This column was featured in the 2017 Homecoming Issue.
Bzzz. I feel the familiar gentle vibration in my hand. “Your Uber is arriving now. Your driver will wait two min before leaving. Enjoy the ride!” Surely enough, the gray Honda Civic turns in from the corner, lighting the dark street with its blinding headlights like a lighthouse in the dark sea.
It’s sunny. It’s relaxed. It’s camp. It’s misunderstood by high school friends. It’s the pinnacle of Dartmouth traditions. The months-long cold has finally lifted and here we return – smiling, no less – to summer school.
This column is featured in the 2017 Commencement & Reunions Issue.
This article was featured in the Green Key 2017 Special Issue: "Awakening."