Casler: One Year Later
Coming to Dartmouth was one of the best decisions I've ever made. When I think back to where I was exactly 12 months ago, I am still amazed at how much I've changed. This school has challenged and taught me more than I ever thought was possible. So, for what it's worth, here is my take on Dartmouth after three plus terms in residence.
I arrived on campus for my DOC trip last September as that freshman, the one who thought he knew everything. I had rabidly torn through the Freshman Issue of The D and tried to soak up every Dartmouth factoid and stereotype so that I would be uber-prepared to conquer the campus during 10F. When my trip leader quipped in a blitz that I was really a '12 disguised as a '14, I chuckled, but started to get the message I was acting like an upperclassman without any idea of what Dartmouth was really about. In reality, I had no idea what I was in for.
Classes and extracurricular activities during freshman Fall were a nightmare, to say the least. I made the horribly misguided decision to take Chem 6 because I thought I wanted to double major in chemistry and economics. I was in so far over my head and it cost me, both academically and socially. I was spending my time holed up in the library instead of exploring Dartmouth. I got cut from Ski Patrol in the first round and was accordingly devastated things were spinning out of control. I felt totally alone and extremely inadequate. I was swimming in work and hadn't made any real friends. I had gone from coolly confident to a shell of my former self in the first month of Fall term and had no reason to believe that things would look up.
But then they did. I can't pinpoint at what time last year I started being happy again. All I know is that I fell in with a crew of fantastic friends who I suddenly felt like I had known for years. I got involved in music and volunteering. I learned that Dartmouth was going to demand more from me intellectually than I ever could have imagined, but somehow, I started to figure out how to balance studying and fun more equitably (still a work in progress). I began to see that college is about so much more than going to class it's about finding your center through the sort of growth and experiences that will probably only happen once.
So what has Dartmouth taught me so far? First, that rejection is a fact of life and one of the best ways to learn about yourself. Perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with in life is being told that you're not good enough. Dartmouth students are privileged to have such a range of opportunities, but tryouts and applications accompany a lot of them. Many of us are used to being big fish in small ponds, but at a college full of talented individuals, some will inevitably be disappointed. I wouldn't have understood that at this time last year. I foolishly expected to arrive here and continue to "win at life." When things didn't go according to plan, I had to pick a new direction and I am absolutely happier for it. As Conan O'Brien said so eloquently at last year's Commencement, "It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique." Translation: Don't panic. Make mistakes and seize the opportunity to find yourself.
Second, don't take Dartmouth too seriously. It's easy to get swept up in the mania of extracurricular activities and the absurdly superficial social hierarchy that we have constructed. But to a certain extent, you have to be "over" Dartmouth to be happy here. Appreciate the bonds that you've formed because those are what matter above all else. You'll remember the conversation you had with your best friend at 3 a. m. when you were both supposed to be studying, but probably not the grade you got on the subsequent exam. Take a step back and see past what's A-side or B-side or who-cares-what-side. Once you've found a spot in the landscape, all that matters is your happiness. Dartmouth is like a puzzle: It's how, not where, you fit in that will make the experience truly your own.