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Evolution. It’s the reason why we’re here. It’s why we stand on two legs, why most of us get our wisdom teeth taken out, why we have five fingers to clasp our morning coffee. Evolution, in both the scientific and the lay sense, permeates every aspect of our lives, from modern medicine to forensics (DNA testing) to computer science (algorithms that compete against each other).
So you come into freshman year, and you think, “New Dartmouth, new me.” You stroll down the intersecting paths of the Green that are disorganized and rocky, unlike the future you have planned for yourself over the next four years. This plan happens to include a full-time commitment to the triathlon team, auditioning for the Sing Dynasty, weekly Dartmouth Outing Club trips and, of course, a four-course term.
Before new students arrive on campus each fall, they are emailed a link to fill out the housing preference survey. This survey, which often comes as a relief to students whose friends at other schools got their housing information weeks prior, allows students to describe their housing and roommate preferences. Students can rank different styles of rooms, opt into living on a substance-free floor and even describe their potential roommates’ ideal levels of cleanliness, but there is another important choice they can make: they can choose to apply to a Living Learning Community.
Dartmouth is home to a thriving ecosystem with a variety of flora and fauna that fill its environment, ranging from friendly canines to historic pines. Among this biodiversity, there is one animal of chief interest to the modern zoologist: the Dartmouth student. The Dartmouth student is a peculiar species with a distinct four-part metamorphosis. While the full life cycle of the Dartmouth student can take a variable amount of time, each stage comes with its own specialized skills and behaviors, marking the slow transition of a Dartmouth student into an adult alumnus.
Ryan Calsbeek is a professor in the department of biological sciences. He specializes in natural selection and studies evolution in reptiles and amphibians. Professor Calsbeek is teaching Biology 27, “Animal Behavior,” this fall.
From the outside, academic departments may seem like established, unshakable institutions. It is easy to take them for granted, to view them as givens. But behind the clear-cut acronyms, they are constantly evolving.
Your freshman year at Dartmouth has a special kind of glow. There will be moments in which it feels like the best time of your life — when you make friends with people from all across the country, when you experience the magic of four distinct seasons, when you uncover opportunities for learning whose existence you never fathomed. Dizzy with thoughts of friends from places like Taiwan and North Dakota, jewel-colored leaves and classes on everything from human-centered design to catastrophe and human survival and the ethics of reproduction, you will at times lose your breath to wonder.
“Hi. How are you?” “Hey. I’m great — what about yourself?” “Great!”
Unlike many other incoming first-year students, when Emma Chiu ’19 arrived at Dartmouth in the fall of 2015, she had previously heard the terms “flitz,” “FSP” and “BEMA” but only because she had watched a YouTube video of Conan O’Brien’s 2011 Commencement address at Dartmouth and heard him name-drop several examples of campus vocabulary.
Hanover is 1,815 miles away from my hometown of Watauga, Texas — a tiny suburb just outside of Fort Worth. A quick internet search shows that the drive would take a solid 27 hours, though I’ve thankfully never had to test that out for myself. By air, the journey from Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport to Boston Logan International Airport takes three to four hours, not to mention any time spent in the airports themselves or the three-hour Dartmouth Coach trip waiting for me when I land.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY FROM FRESHMAN YEAR?
22s, you’ll soon come to realize that at Dartmouth, we’re all hungry. Hungry for knowledge, success, friendship, and above all else, food. As far as eating is concerned, Dartmouth Dining Services, better known as DDS, has us covered. There are plenty of options to satiate our biggest cravings, from fresh salads for when we want to pretend to be fit to gooey cookies for when that sweet tooth occasionally (read: often) pops up.
Of all the wisdom imparted during my freshman orientation week, one suggestion resonated most. This wisdom was offered up during the Twilight Ceremony by a student on the eve of her senior year who stood in the BEMA, short for Big Empty Meeting Area before the corralled Class of 2021. She spoke of time at Dartmouth — how jam-packed schedules rendered the days short, how a 10-week term can feel like a single month and how lucky we were to be on the cusp of four entire years in this magical place. Her advice? Simple and concrete: each day, when the “Alma Mater” rings from the Baker-Berry Library Bell Tower at 6:00 p.m. each evening, pause and listen. Be present for those 30 seconds. Look up from the textbook in Blobby or from the phone in your hand as you cross the Green toward the Collis Center for dinner. Take a second, even glance up to the bell tower, and allow yourself to remember that you are here.
English and creative writing professor Peter Orner recently joined the College.
If you are not struck by love upon your first step on the Green, first Collis smoothie or first run around Pine Park — no fear. It can be a slower kind of love, a kind of love that you don’t notice until you’re sitting in your 9L, daydreaming about hitting the green, not hitting the stacks, after class.
Autumn. Leaves shift from their summer greenness to vibrant shades of red, orange and pink. As they span the color spectrum, aging steadily into a crisp brown dryness, the leaves abandon roots and fall one by one to the ground. For some, this scene merely signifies a climatic shift, a transitory phase between summer and winter. For others, it heralds what we have long called “sweater weather,” prompting them to fill their closets with clothes that are too thick for the heat, but too thin for the cold. In that short span of time between both seasons, even our closets become transient.
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.”
Peter Orner is a new professor in the department of English and creative writing. Orner has authored acclaimed story collections and novels and edited various oral histories over the past two decades. He most recently released a series of essays and memoirs called “Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Reading to Live and Living to Read,” which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Orner is teaching Creative Writing 10, “Writing and Reading Fiction,” and Creative Writing 40.06, “Uses of Fact,” during the fall term.