Whenever I’m asked to discuss my favorite part of Dartmouth, I always end up talking about the friends and mentors that I’ve been lucky enough to meet. But when I sat down to write this column, I found myself thinking about places that have defined my time here. I first recalled a moment during my initial visit to campus. My dad and I were listening to our tour guide, and I remember imagining myself lounging on the Green, FoCo cookie in hand, after a morning in the biology class that my tour guide described.
Four years later, I’ve spent many afternoons on the Green, embarked on a pre-med track that was derailed after a spring in Bio 11 and eaten my fair share of FoCo cookies. But those aren’t the places that came to mind as I wrote this column.
I first think of Robinson Hall, whose steps I hiked every day after class last year as an editor of this paper. In Robo, I learned to question norms, push people for the truth and think critically about the College. In Robo, I read stories that made me cry and others that made me laugh. It was there that I reconsidered ideas that I had once taken for granted. The hours I spent in Robo were my most difficult but also most rewarding hours at Dartmouth, and they taught me more about myself than any other experience.
I also think of countless mountain trails — Cardigan, Moose, Cube, Lafayette, Holt’s — where I spent hours alone with one or two or five other people. On those trails I realized that I don’t need an athletic pursuit to spark adrenaline or feel strong. Standing on a mountaintop at sunrise or in the snow can do that.
I think of Europe, where two friends and I realized that if your train arrives 18 minutes early, it’s probably not your train, but you might luck out and end up getting to Venice in one hour instead of three. I’m a compulsive planner, but a term in London is where I realized the value of spontaneity. In Europe, I ran frantically through the airport to catch a flight (barely), became lost in the streets of Verona with no ability to speak Italian and wandered the National Gallery of Art alone.
I also remember other places — the porch of North Mass, where three friends and I drank an entire gallon of orange juice on a sophomore summer night; Mink Brook, where only in the last month have I perfected my running route to end at the river; and the comforting smell of Raven House, where I’ve spent the past four years working for a professor.
Like many students, I’ve been asked my favorite place on campus, and always say the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge (which I admit is a cop-out, since it’s not actually on campus). But I cannot think of Dartmouth without thinking of Moosilauke, since I’ve visited the Lodge every September of these past four years as a part of DOC First-Year Trips. I can track my journey through college with those visits — excited and nervous before freshman year, newly confident before sophomore year, nostalgically sad for the end of summer before junior year and feeling old but optimistic before senior year.
Lately, I’ve been thinking back to a sunrike I helped lead as a trip leader this past summer, when I fell into step alongside four ’18s and found myself answering their questions about classes, extracurriculars, social life and me. In those answers, I found myself always beginning with the setting — those places I described above.
I’ve read these columns every year since my editors in the Class of 2012 wrote theirs, but when it came time to write mine, I wasn’t sure if I would partake in the tradition, since no earth-shattering advice came to mind. But in the past month, I’ve thought a lot about this same time four years ago, when I graduated high school as a three-sport varsity athlete, unsure of where I’d fit in without a team. My high school didn’t have a newspaper, I hadn’t gone hiking since I was in middle school and my only “abroad” experience was in Canada.
All of those places that are my Dartmouth — Robo, mountain tops, Raven House, London — they weren’t present in my imagined Dartmouth world during that first tour. It’s not that I didn’t think I would frequent these places — I simply hadn’t imagined them. So the best piece of advice I received four years ago was to leave some of high school me behind, and try things I had never encountered. It was the unexpected places and serendipitous experiences that shaped me and introduced me to the people whom I describe as my favorite part of Dartmouth.