The Dartmouth Experience
I've never been on the rope swing. I hate fraternity basements. I think I played part of a game of pong one time sophomore year. I've never been in the river on an innertube, even though I was on campus for two summers, and I haven't been to Moosilauke since my freshman trip. I hate Food Court, and I've never skied at the skiway. I've never taken a class in the History or Government departments. I think the Salty Dog Rag is dumb. I've never ordered Hop fries or been to the AD lawn on Green Key. "You're missing out on Dartmouth," people have told me.
Is there one, standard Dartmouth experience? Is there some underlying value or occurence that defines the last four years for every last one of us, from Accurso to Zrike? Do we all share a more common bond that goes deeper than just our presence here today?
Surely the Dartmouth experience is not a checklist. "You've played frisbee (sorry, disc) on the Green? You've forwarded the blitz about Bill Gates giving out $1,000 for forwarding e-mail? You own t-shirts from every big weekend you were on campus? Yep, you've experienced Dartmouth, congratulations!"
"But you, you've never ordered breadsticks from EBAs after midnight. You haven't been to the requisite number of a cappella concerts. You didn't drink enough frat beer in the last four years. I'm sorry, you really won't fit in at our 50th reunion."
"The Dartmouth Experience" is an administrative catchphrase that comprises a union of intellectual and social life and applies only to students living in the unofficially named "supercluster." I didn't have that Dartmouth Experience. I probably didn't have a "typical" Dartmouth experience, either. I spent more time in Robinson Hall than my dorm room. I spent the last two Green Keys in the library. But I don't think anyone would argue that my choices make my Dartmouth experience any less valid.
Regardless of whether we all sled down freshman hill (I did one time freshman year) or streaked the Green or the Reserves (I most definitely did not) or pulled all-nighters for papers (I never did, although I had some late nights), we all have our own special memories of our experiences at Dartmouth that will always make us close our eyes and smile softly. Those rare times when you and others shared a particular moment that impacted all your lives and made you feel truly happy to be at Dartmouth. The remembrances forever ingrained in your memory -- the feelings of sheer happiness, that which really matters in the long run.
We all have at least a few of these memories. Although they are what make each of our Dartmouth experiences unique, it is the fact that we all hold dear to us a few magical moments at the College that unifies our experiences.
Most of my important moments are trivial in nature. They are just time spent with friends that somehow evoked feelings that will leave an indelible mark in my box of memories.
Freshman year a friend and I made cookies and delivered them warm to everyone on our floor while they studied for exams. My best friend and I spent an entire weekend making a tape of songs that symbolized our freshman year, all the while sorting jelly bellies and eating pints of Ben and Jerry's.
Sophomore year, my roommate and I used to watch stupid made-for-TV movies and drink bottles of Caffeine-Free Diet Coke from Topside. I once stayed up all night sitting on the futon of my room eating gummy worms with someone special.
I spent the fall of 1997 in Spain, getting lost a lot and taking the wrong trains with someone whom I sometimes think is exactly like me. Although the whole term was amazing, I missed Dartmouth something fierce. The rest of junior year was spent in Robinson Hall, but hard work and laughter were combined in such a way that every memory trace that remains of those long hours makes me smile through and through. Even the time I got a pie in the face. I'll admit it now, a year later. It was funny. And it makes me sad to know I'll never get to say the word "inappropriate" as many times as I did in 1998.
This year has been an entirely different experience. New people, new pasttimes, new laughter. Sitting around discussing the future of the College, late-night talks on the beanbag chairs, Friday lunch at India Queen, eating wonderful meals created by a fellow senior and world-class gourmet who has impacted so many lives this year, deep conversations with new friends who somehow make me feel like I've known them all along. Perhaps the depth of this year and all the new connections that have been established between people stem from the fact that we all know it's coming to a halt.
Two weeks ago today, I went to a lovely little dinner party with about 15 friends and acquaintances. We dined outdoors, with the sun setting around us, enveloping me in the deepest, most serene sense of peace. "This is what it is all about," I thought to myself. "This feeling. Knowing that this moment will remain with me forever." I could see the Green and Baker tower in the not-so-far distance, a reminder that the memorable moment was inextricably connected to Dartmouth.
Whether you're happy to finally get out of here, so attached you're staying here next year or have already planned a return visit, or, like me, leaving with a complexity of mixed feelings, I hope you can remember the special moments, and feel a sense of fulfillment with the Dartmouth experience you created for yourself.
Looking back, I have no regrets about the things I didn't do. I experienced pretty much everything I wanted to at Dartmouth. Just like everyone else, I reached up to the shelves of the College and put my choices in my shopping cart. Yes, there are a few things I wish I could turn around and put back on the rack. But there is nothing more my cart needs to be full.
I don't have a clue what comes next for me, but I'm leaving satisfied, and I hope you can say the same.