Simineri: Your Dartmouth

by Nicole Simineri | 8/11/16 10:30pm

Welcome, first-years, to the Big Green! As I type this, it is only now really hitting me that it has been a whopping four years since I wrote my own college applications. Yet the passage of time has not dulled my memory of how grueling the process was, so thank you for your hard work and congratulations!

It can be difficult to decide which colleges to apply to, let alone which to ultimately enroll in. In that regard, Dartmouth has a leg up on the competition. After all, Dartmouth makes many promises to its students: one of the country’s highest quality educations, the ability to conduct research with world-renowned professors, a multitude of study abroad and off-campus programs and access to internships and, ultimately, careers anywhere in the world. And it’s true; you can definitely find these opportunities and more at Dartmouth, and I hope you find any and every experience you are looking for.

Within this “unique” experience that Dartmouth offers, there are also plenty of opportunities for fun, including first-year trips, Homecoming, Winter Carnival and Green Key, not to mention countless sports teams and extracurricular organizations. There are also many traditions, such as Winter Carnival’s “polar bear plunge” and the “Ledyard Challenge,” among others. With so many things to do and so little time, however, it can be easy to develop a fear of missing out, or FOMO — a feeling that I assure you many, if not all, Dartmouth students are familiar with.

I know I am. When I decided to skip sophomore summer, the supposed pinnacle of the Dartmouth undergraduate experience, to go on a language study abroad program to Japan, I had second thoughts. The doubts, the FOMO, that had been looming in my head since the moment I made the decision grew ever larger as my peers excitedly discussed their sophomore summer plans — swimming in the river, hiking the local trails and making frequent trips to Ice Cream Fore-U — until I earnestly considered changing my mind.

But I didn’t. I boarded a plane in June and headed to Tokyo, marking my first time ever leaving the United States, and I am so glad that I did. I got to explore new places, meet new people, eat new foods and learn a new language — and I almost gave all of this up for sophomore summer. I almost sacrificed the Dartmouth experience that I wanted in favor of the one that Dartmouth sells.

There can be intense pressure to not only partake in but to also thoroughly enjoy Dartmouth festivities — the events that supposedly distinguish Dartmouth as special. Between the people who proclaim that they have become best friends with their trippees and the hype surrounding Homecoming, you may begin to feel this pressure even in just your first few weeks at Dartmouth, and this pressure to have a Dartmouth experience to write home about will crop up time and time again.

So when reality doesn’t live up to your expectations — when you don’t click with your trippees or when you discover that Homecoming just isn’t for you — it can feel like it’s your fault. After all, Dartmouth has created all of these opportunities for you — if you’re not enjoying them, it’s because you’re not trying. And when you fail, when you don’t make varsity or when you don’t get into the theater group you auditioned for, it can feel like you’re not good enough.

But, here’s the secret: that is not true. You being here is proof that you are more than good enough, and you are not to blame for any negative or disappointing experiences you almost certainly will have at some point during your time here. Dartmouth paints an idyllic image of the “college on the hill,” but, just like anywhere else, there are both good and bad things about Dartmouth. I hope you find only the good ones; but know that the bad ones are not as uncommon as they seem, and they most certainly are not your fault.

It’s just that, sometimes, what Dartmouth sells and what you get — and sometimes, what you really want — can look very different. Perhaps your first-year trip will be unforgettable fun, or your sophomore summer will be your favorite term ever, as Dartmouth promises they will be; perhaps they won’t. All experiences — all your experiences — are valid. You are valid.

So whether you are feeling the pressure to do 120 laps around a raging bonfire or to join a Greek house, know that you are not alone and that whatever decision you make is perfectly okay. Your time here doesn’t have to look like a typical Dartmouth experience, because, truthfully, there is no such thing. By virtue of having been accepted and enrolling at Dartmouth, you are an “archetypal” Dartmouth student, and your experience is a “Dartmouth experience,” even if it doesn’t include first-year trips, sophomore summer or anything else we are told is stereotypically Dartmouth.

Make the decisions that work for you, whether that means doing the polar bear plunge every single year or not at all. Join the organizations that matter to you, even if none of them end up being varsity sports teams or Greek houses. Study the major that grabs your interest, whether it is “marketable” or otherwise. And choose the D-Plan that makes you happy, even if that means you might miss a whole year of Dartmouth to travel, a decision that I made and one that I would make again in a heartbeat.

They say that starting college is starting a new chapter of your life, and it is — so write what you want in it and don’t worry if it isn't perfect or doesn’t look quite like the next person’s. Your story is enough. You are enough. And I truly hope that Dartmouth becomes a place that you can call home, whatever that means to you.