Woodward: Oh Dartmouth, My Dartmouth

by Aylin Woodward | 6/1/15 6:38pm

I am fortunate to have the privilege of writing the closing column on the last day of publication of this academic year and my college career. Unsurprisingly, it took me quite a bit of time to figure out what I wanted to say — what kernels of senior wisdom I sought to impart, what deep reflections or advice I could disperse. I feel, however, that making readers peruse 1,000 words of my stream of sleep-deprived, nostalgic consciousness is selfish. Senior staff members have already published such farewell pieces in last week’s Mirror, so I will not presume to bore you with that banality here.

What I will muse on is a philosophy whose merits I hope we can all, if not adopt in some way, at least reflect on. It’s one I have arrived at after four years of living in the Dartmouth community — a philosophy of cognizance.

We must never forget what a privilege it is to be here. Whether your time at this school has been the best years of your life or the worst, we must remember to be humble in the face of our own fortunes. I imagine there are those who would give their right arms, or sell their souls, to come here — to experience this institution that so many of us, in our day-to-day struggles to finish problem sets, write papers or plan our next social gathering, often seem to take for granted. We owe it to ourselves, and our Dear Old Mother, to be cognizant of that reality — that attending this school, for better or worse, is an opportunity available only to a select few. And what we do with our time here should reflect that cognizance.

Embedded in the fabric of that perception should be the notion that Dartmouth is more than the sum of its parts. She is more than the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” initiative, more than College President Phil Hanlon, more than Greek life, more than student protests, more than grade inflation and academic rigor. In our quests for our own individual purpose on campus, we often forget that we belong, by virtue of our attendance here, to something greater than ourselves — an institution and community that is almost 250 years in the making.

We chose to come here, to offer up our strengths and weaknesses on the undergraduate altar, and it is only fitting that we repay Dartmouth’s fostering of those strengths and weaknesses in kind. Whether we chose to spend our time here railing against administrators or the extant social status quo, leading campus groups or simply minding our own academic businesses, we should do so in a manner that is modest and self-effacing. We should be conscious that, at the end of the day, the College gave us a place to do all of those things. She gave us the time and the space to grow — to explore new realms, to stand up for what we believe in and to grow as intellectuals, friends, collaborators and leaders.

I’m not saying Dartmouth is perfect — because she isn’t — though I won’t deny that I’m probably a more zealous advocate for her integrity than most. But I urge you all to not let the ephemeral pieces of Dartmouth — the hard alcohol ban, our dysfunctional meal plans, the ad hoc committee on grading practice and grade inflation’s criticisms of our extracurricular activities — overpower your perspective. Don’t let those elements of narrow-minded, fallacious thinking color your experience beyond any semblance of optimism. Every negative thing we’ve experienced on this campus is outweighed by countless more positive ones.

We’ve all experienced, and will continue to experience, Dartmouth differently. Some may leave with a sour taste in their mouths about how these past four years have played out, others with a sense of gratitude and unflappable belief in the virtues of a Dartmouth education. I won’t presume to pass normative judgment on which is the better end of the spectrum. Surely it is just as valuable of a trait to be critical and reflective as it is to be optimistic and idealistic. All I seek to do is remind us all of the value of our experiences here, and of their relative rarity in the grand scheme of things. As it is that humbleness, that awareness in the face of great privilege, that lends great credence to our pursuits, whatever they may be in this life.