Li Shen: Dimensions of Dimensions
What is Dartmouth really saying about itself during Dimensions?
This past Thursday marked the start of the year’s first Dimensions of Dartmouth. Hundreds of fresh-faced prospective students descended upon the Green, many of them already committed to the College and some in the process of deciding where to spend the next four years of their lives. One of my two prospective students told me that these two days would make the decision for her; when she returned to my dorm on Thursday night, she gushed about the Dimensions show and After Dark Tours and told me that she felt like this place could be home. My other prospective student seemed a little more skeptical about the wildly enthusiastic, summer-camp vibes surrounding her. It caused me to wonder: is Dimensions truly a realistic representation of life at Dartmouth, or is it merely a marketing tool which paints this school in rather misleadingly rosy hues?
About a year ago, I sat on the hardwood floors of Collis Common Ground, surrounded by college students dressed in garish clothes and armed with ridiculous dance moves. They sang to me about various seasonal traditions, joked around about “reading” and yelled “We love you, Dartmouth 21s!” at me. It was a loud, sweaty mess and I absolutely loved it. The idea that random strangers would spend hours choreographing dances and rewriting lyrics, rehearsing transitions and planning tour routes, screaming themselves hoarse night after night — all for the sole purpose of making me feel welcomed? To me, that idea was as foreign as it was magical. I was enamored, and I couldn’t wait to spend the next four years feeling that way.
The good vibes persisted all throughout trips and orientation week, but reality soon set in. Dimensions made me feel special, valuable, desirable — Dartmouth wanted me, they loved me! But on campus, no one knew my name, my professors intimidated me, and I got lost more times than I am willing to admit. I did not feel like I was participating in enough activities, and after a first round of rejections, I was doubtful I would even be accepted to the clubs and organizations for which I applied. I have cried in multiple locations around campus, I am still a terrible skier, and drafting D-plans always makes me feel like the confused lady in that meme with the math equations superimposed on her face.
So when my prospective students asked me to be honest with them about the true Dartmouth experience, I hesitated. They asked me how I managed my academic-extracurricular-social life balance (poorly), if I knew what I was going to do after college (probably descend into existential crisis), if I regretted my decision to come here (no). Out loud, I answered that balance is not an individual act but a collective one; that I think I might go to law school; that I did not regret it, not even one bit. All sets of answers are true: I would never be able to balance my academic-extracurricular-social life without the help of my friends, I can definitely have an existential crisis and go to law school at the same time and I have always been grateful to be here.
Perhaps Dimensions presents an overly optimistic view of Dartmouth, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. At 7 p.m. last Wednesday, I stood in line at Collis, bemoaning my increasing amount of homework and decreasing amount of sleep. Two hours later, I attended a preview of the Dimensions show, and I was filled with the same sense of magic that had entranced me a year earlier. I know now that the role of the singing, dancing, walking advertisement for Dartmouth is a highly contested one — so many people want to participate in the Dimensions show, even though they know they will have to give up countless hours of their time with no monetary benefit or promise of a resume-booster. There is something to be said about a school that inspires such love and devotion from its students that they cannot help but want to express those feelings to others.
Dartmouth is not without its vices. It is not a perfect place, nor has it ever been such. There are plenty of things that need to change, but there are just as many people willing to effect that change. Though I am still a floundering, mostly anonymous freshman, I know there are people here who would go to the ends of the world for me (let alone to the end of the line at the Hop). I have a professor who is determined to learn the names of all of his students (140 in my class alone, and counting), I no longer get lost on campus and someone even asked me if it was my article that they read in The Dartmouth.
To an extent, events for admitted students will always have a carefully constructed sheen of perfection. Dartmouth is not the perpetually welcoming, fulfilling place that Dimensions makes it out to be — but it can be that place. If nothing else, Dimensions reminds us of the school we are trying to be, the school that we all dreamed of so long ago. Now that we are here, we can transform those dreams into reality.