Leaving the Buffet Behind

by Ashley Ulrich | 5/28/15 7:29pm

I have been exceptionally happy with my time here. Every day hasn’t been a Disney fairytale a la singing squirrels and dancing blue jays, but most days I fall asleep thinking that this is a very special place. I have been so lucky and privileged to be the recipient of boundless support and love from my parents and brother, but I also think that I have managed “to do Dartmouth right” for me — which I think entailed taking the classes that excited me, joining the organizations that open my eyes to the world and befriending the people whom I care about to the ends of the earth.

Let me backtrack. This is not a how-to guide for being happy at Dartmouth, rather some senior musings on why I think I have been. Maybe this is applicable and constructive for others who are struggling to find meaning in their daily interactions, but maybe not. This is mainly space for me to project my own voice.

First, classes. Reader, you should know that I read a physical copy of the course catalogue from cover to cover with a highlighter in hand during freshman orientation. I didn’t necessarily read every section thoroughly, but there were many that came away with marks, scribbles and exclamation points. Though I left this much-loved course catalogue at home after sophomore year, each term I put the Registrar’s deadlines on my calendar so that I would know when exactly I could find out the next term’s available courses. Then came the lists — notes and notes of which classes I wanted to take, in what time slots, with which professors.

The product of this neuroticism was my taking classes in seven departments during freshman year and unknowingly completing all except for one category of distributive requirements by the end of sophomore fall. More importantly, each term I found classes where the discussions from class continued out into the hallways to Collis lunch or FoCo dinner. Yes, I found my way toward a major, but not until the Registrar required me to file one. Rather, I took classes with bodies of knowledge that excited me — international relations, trade and development; law and justice; modern art and culture; Middle Eastern political and religious history; and literature, any and all literature.

I come away from Dartmouth feeling like I’ve just gorged myself on a buffet lunch special. Yes, there are so many things that I have not been able to fit in, but the classes that I have taken have taught me so much about myself and others and they will inspire me to continue to seek out a lifetime of learning.

In college, I signed up for one club — just one. I sought it out during orientation and was a wholehearted, fervent member until they kicked me out for being too old at the end of this past fall term. Ahem, I mean, new leadership cycled through and I was put out to pasture.

What was this wonderful, challenging, eye-opening club, you ask?

You’re reading it.

Freshman fall I wandered into The Dartmouth’s newsroom with interest but little experience. I wrote sports and arts stories in high school, but I’d never done news interviews. Sports and arts, for the most part, are subjects people want to discuss. At The D, after minimal training, I was thrown into reporting stories that were intensely charged and often personal. Racist and homophobic slurs scrawled in dormitories, Andrew Lohses’s allegations of hazing at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, former College President Jim Kim’s swift exit from the College, a dispute among alumni about whether to “adopt” female transfer students to members of their class were all topics that I covered freshman year.

I love writing, and the challenge of trying to knowledge-up on a topic, get in contact with the relevant sources and assemble interview transcripts in a way that tells the most truthful and objectively reported story is one that I found thrilling. Working at The D made me more comfortable with calling persons on the phone and my helped ease the pressure of composing professional emails. The editors very quickly rooted the passive voice out of my high school writing. Subject-verb-receiving object: my friends make fun of me today for my strict adherence to these precisions.

Most important, working at The D helped me engage with a variety of people and organizations on campus that I likely otherwise would not have sought out nor likely known to exist. Interviews opened my eyes to the variety of opportunities and experiences that people have at this College.

I understand that the paper makes mistakes (it is produced, dear reader, by human beings), but I want to toot its horn for a hot second. There is no other organization on campus with the great hubris to ask students to be involved in producing a product for daily circulation. It is an immense project. Two hundred individuals work on the paper around the clock — from persons who distribute thousands of copies around campus each morning, to business staff selling and formatting ads throughout the day, to reporters working at all hours to research, interview and write their articles, to editors who manage the moving pieces and format all the material for final publishing. Nothing at The D just happens.

And when the paper gets it right, when it gets the scoop on big stories and reports them with vigor, nuance and deep, deep empathy — it matters to campus.

Finally, my friends. I have the best friends. Cobbled together from cross country and track, my sorority, my freshman floor, my classes, friends of friends who later became friends, persons that I can’t remember how they came into my life until they did, and stayed there, and it was great — I have been so lucky. I will miss so many people dearly when I pack up and head off in June, but I look forward to staying in touch and coming back for reunions. I can’t spew enough words in the space of this column to describe the funny, deeply thoughtful and loving persons whom I have had the pleasure to spend time with at this institution. They have made the darkest, coldest days a funny adventure of snowballs, hot cocoa and Netflix streaming, or at least tea and companionship in the library.

Like I said, this is not a how-to guide for how to be happy at Dartmouth. I don’t know what will make you happy in terms of your classes, clubs and relationships. But I know that for me, this has been a wonderful ride. For the little poopheads who still have a few more years here, the best of luck. Fifteens — we are still the best class ever, whether here in Hanover or out in the big wide world.