Going to School in the Woods

by Blaze Joel | 5/28/15 7:31pm

Flashback to Wednesday, March 30, 2011 — college acceptance letter day for the Class of 2015 and the day I found out I was accepted to Dartmouth (contrary to popular belief, I did not apply early decision). It was about 9:45 at night. I had just finished playing a lacrosse game in a hailstorm that left me cold, wet and tired. I got into my parents’ car and checked my email, and after sorting through emails from various other schools, I finally came to one from Dartmouth. I got the news I wanted, but it was bittersweet. My parents then told me that my grandfather had just been readmitted to the hospital.

I didn’t want to commit right away and didn’t until almost the last day possible. Dimensions really sealed the deal for me as one of those classic random moments that have come to define my Dartmouth experience. Some new friends and I decided to go stargazing at the BEMA late at night, and it was there that I realized that Hanover was where I was meant to be. As a legacy, I had been coming to Dartmouth for years (My family has photos of my dad and me on the same tree stump in the BEMA from every time we came up.) That night, while gazing up at the stars, I realized that this was what I envisioned college being.

So I matriculated. As a kid from a small town in south central Pennsylvania, I was the first person from my high school to ever attend Dartmouth (fun fact: my guidance counselor spelled it “Darthmouth” the first time I mentioned it) and one of three students from my area code at the College. During my time here, I’ve done a number of things I never would have dreamt of when I was in high school. I joined a fraternity and served in six officer roles, including president; I wrote for and edited my school newspaper; I played on the club hockey team and I started a club. I spread myself around campus and quickly developed a diverse array of friends.

My grandfather, who passed away just after my high school graduation, always used to ask me, “Why would you want to go to school up there in the woods?” I used to laugh and say something that would make the admissions office proud — small class sizes, opportunities for research, relationships with professors, et cetera. After four years here, I would still say all of those same things, but the first thing that would jump into my mind is different. If someone were to ask me that question again today, I would say that the community and the people have been the best part of my Dartmouth and will be what will stick with me the most as I leave the College.

Next to my desk I have Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness. One of the squares says, “Friends: One to three is sufficient.” Throughout my time on campus, I have been extremely blessed to shatter that number. Dartmouth facilitates knowing a lot of people, and my time here has exemplified that. My first night on campus after Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips, I hung out with three varsity football players and a varsity women’s lacrosse player (I clearly peaked.) I was then assigned the women’s ice hockey beat while working at The Dartmouth and became close with a number of the players and even traveled to Fenway Park with the team and got to attend their party for family and friends afterwards. I know people in every Greek House, every class year and most corners of campus. I’ve been thinking more and more, however, about those I’d call my true “friends” over the last few weeks.

I came to Hanover knowing that I was moving away from where I went to high school and coming to a new state, not really knowing anyone who would be in my class. Because I realized I would not be going back to south central Pennsylvania that frequently, I embraced the College as my new home away from home — a place for me to meet the people that would be my friends for life. In hindsight, this realization allowed me to have the Dartmouth experience that I’ve become so fond of over the last four years. I threw myself into my classes, my extracurriculars and my relationships, trying to make the most of each and every day I had here. Along the way, I met some amazing people that have helped to shape who I am. I thought my friend group after freshman year would not really change. In fact, however, it has done nothing but change. Each year (if not each term), I’ve met someone here who has changed my life for the better and who has impacted my Dartmouth experience to the point where I can’t imagine my life without him or her.

You never know where you’re going to meet the people who mean the most to you, and that’s the beauty of Dartmouth’s randomness. Your closest friends can come from anywhere and everywhere — the girl you meet at Dimensions who’s an engineer, the people you meet through mutual friends at a random breakfast in Collis or FoCo, the guy down the hall on your freshman floor who likes chemistry and Rubik’s Cubes, the two girls you happen to sit next to at your first news SAM, your fellow officers in your fraternity who you bond with over hockey, politics, fantasy football, music or whatever, the guy who you see at a sports SAM wearing a Red Sox hat and a Patriots shirt, the girl who likes to study in the same place you do, the girl in your astronomy class you decide to sit next to one day on a whim, the girl who walks into The D’s open house as you’re about to leave and says she wants to write about sports. These people, who I actually met in these very different and random ways, are my family here and I will carry them and our memories together with me for the rest of my life.

Last spring, I walked into the living room of my fraternity and found some fortune cookies that were left from someone’s takeout Orient earlier in the evening. I opened one up and received my fortune, “Enjoy Life. This is not a dress rehearsal.” At the time, I thought it was sage advice for the finals period, so I tacked it up on the corkboard in front of my desk. Over the last year, I slowly realized why it stuck with me so much — it wasn’t just advice for the future, it was, I had realized, how I lived my life at Dartmouth.

The grim reality of my senior status has not fully set in yet, and I’m not quite sure when it will. But, as I sit in one of my favorite spots on campus — the Sigma Nu roof — staring at the stars and writing this, I keep coming back to the question that I was asked countless times as a child. “Why would you want to go to school up there in the woods?” I think I finally have formulated an answer after the last four years: “Why would I want it any other way?”