Beechert: Searching for Stability

by Michael Beechert | 9/10/13 10:00pm

There will be a lot going on in your lives for the next few weeks. New classes, new people and a new setting will make for an experience that might be refreshing for some and unsettling for others. As you throw yourselves into your new environment, Dartmouth will throw plenty of things right back at you things that, when added together, can be difficult to wrap your head around. Some people thrive in this chaos; others become lost and overwhelmed. Everyone, it seems, has a different reaction to starting college. And that's okay.

Dartmouth, perhaps more than anything else, prides itself on being a happy place and, for the most part, it is. Most students learn here, enjoy learning here and have plenty of fun outside the classroom. As incoming freshmen, you will come to expect to be happy, which is largely a good expectation to have. There is, however, a bit of danger when you assume that you will be happy immediately after stepping foot on this campus, and for all your time here thereafter. And if you aren't, you might feel the pressure to put on a mask of sorts a facade that shows everyone else just how thrilled you are to be here at Dartmouth, and how you are having the time of your life.

So as you walk around campus your first few weeks and meet your new classmates, you will encounter a legion of seemingly content freshmen. Many of those people will be sincerely enjoying the beginning of their time at Dartmouth, and with good reason there is plenty here to enjoy. But some of your new classmates, I would say most of them, will have erected facades of varying degrees of strength. Understandably, they want to leave positive first impressions on their new friends and professors. They want to be seen as happy, comfortable and at ease even if that is not always the full story. These same people miss their friends, family, pets and teachers. When confronted with an alien environment, it is normal to miss home.

If you do happen to be one of those people, do not feel, for your own sake, that there is anything wrong. Do not think that you should have jumped out of your parents' car, or stepped off the Dartmouth Coach, and felt totally content. There will be, for most of you, some kind of adjustment period while your senses settle into a different routine. It might last days, weeks or months. It will be gradual, and when you have finally achieved a state of genuine comfort at Dartmouth, you will probably not even realize it you will just know that you are happy. That point will come. Do not rush to get there.

But you can certainly take steps, at your own pace, along the way. Immerse yourself in your course material you are here, after all, to be educated. Join clubs, performance ensembles or sports teams. Talk to people whom you do not know. You will undoubtedly be urged, during Orientation and beyond, to "step out of your comfort zone." This is good but incomplete advice. It is perfectly fine, and probably beneficial, to hang onto a few things that you are already familiar with. If you did theater in high school, acting in a play might provide for a safe, stable anchor of sorts while the rest of you ventures out into the Dartmouth unknown. Be sure to keep in touch with your old friends while making new ones. This type of balance, you will discover, is good to strive for.

So, do not allow your happiness at Dartmouth to revolve around anyone other than yourself. For all the advice and guidance that you will receive during your first few weeks, do not lose sight of the simple things. Each one of you knows what makes you happy, what makes you uncomfortable and what challenges you. Be sure during the first few weeks of upheaval not to lose sight of your own identity, and be sure not to allow anyone else to change who you are. As long as you promise yourself this, there is nothing here to be afraid of, and plenty to love. Relax, and enjoy the ride.