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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Behold the Man, and Bewar(y)

In his recent column titled, "Ecce Homo," [The Dartmouth, Oct. 28] Abiola Lapite '98 depicts Dartmouth as a school (at least partially) full of unthinking sheep -- a herd of wool-licking, self-satisfied vacancies that require only a "padded resume" and a "good job" to remain comfortable in our trivial, mediocrity-ridden lives.

Unfortunately for us, it seems, we are not Abiola Lapite.

For if we were, we would, aside from presumably making vast advances in the fields of literature, music, science and business, be reveling in our keen insights, patting ourselves on the back for unraveling complicated issues in mere paragraphs, and engaging in what he calls "right thinking." We may even take some time to address the sheepish public, but, of course, only out of the selfless motive of further promoting the glorious pursuit of "excellence." Don't think for a moment we would ever receive pleasure from having our words read by many, and even praised by some -- no, no -- that would simply not be in-line with the pursuit of excellence.

Please.

In my three and a (rapidly approaching) half years at Dartmouth, I have never felt more disappointed by a column than I have in reading this most recent one. So much so that I have decided to write one of my own.

It is indeed true that a few sheep manage to wander through the matriculation ceremonies (and even make their way to convocation without sheering off some wool). And it may be even more true that Dartmouth doesn't routinely churn out Newtons, Dostoyevskys and Mozarts, but, then again, there can only be so many Newtons, Dostoyevskys, and Mozarts in the world. Yet, this aside, Lapite makes the mistake of equating such "excellence" and "achievement" with worth. In the same way that some students attribute too much of their own worth to their ability to grab the coveted jobs, score the highest GPAs, and join the most sought-after social societies, so too does Lapite attribute too much worth to his vague notions of "excellence" and "greatness" (which, it seems, fall nothing short of ushering in a new historical age). Lapite takes the alarmingly elitist stance that only earth-shattering excellence and achievement are worth anything -- that anything less is a "third-rate" acceptance of popular opinion and mediocrity.

Dare I say that every quiet, non-earth-shaking, even conventional person out there is not a mindless cow? Of course I dare say that. I also say that some of the wisest people in the world would gladly be passed-over in the history books of the future, knowing full-well that personal greatness can exist in something as simple as raising a family, or nurturing a good relationship, or, even, working at a bank. And I know some of you aspiring Nietzches will roll with laughter at this, deeming it sentimental, poorly-thought-out drivel, but isn't the true pursuit of life to be happy with life? Yes, happy. A simple word that often seems to disappear when people begin talking about supposedly grandiose ideas. Excellence is a fine aspiration, but it is so that we can enjoy life that we aspire to excel. If not, our dedication to excellence feeds only on itself. Look at Nietzche -- a brilliant, "excellent" man who led a tortured, lonely, and isolated existence.

True, happiness should not exist at the expense of knowledge, an idea dating back to Socrates' famous claim that an "unexamined life is not worth living," but a grave mistake is made when a college student makes the assertion that he and his group of "excellent" friends, whomever they might be, have a monopoly on the understanding of the world. I find it both disappointing and disturbing that a student would make such a claim, and it is precisely this sort of intellectual elitism that hinders, in the same way that sheeply ignorance hinders, the possibility of true discussion and understanding at Dartmouth.