In the strange bubble of New Hampshire where “flitz,” “S.W.U.G.” and “facetimey” are used in everyday conversation, it is not surprising that the theory of “the X” has cemented itself in Dartmouth culture. Students seem to latch on to ideas and phrases that separate them from the outside world, more firmly solidifying and celebrating how quirky and different they are. The X is a rumor describing social power throughout one’s time at Dartmouth. It theorizes that freshman girls arrive on campus with peak social status and appeal, and then they gradually lose this appeal and become less desirable throughout their time at Dartmouth. In contrast, freshman boys are thought to begin their time at Dartmouth at their lowest social point, slowly gaining prominence on campus as they navigate college, and finally graduating at their peak. The term is used jokingly for the most part, chastising girls for descending along the X too quickly when they show up to parties in sweats and t-shirts or nodding knowingly when freshman girls flock not to their floormates or lab partners, but to the senior boys on campus. The X is denounced, promoted and questioned, but no one seems to take it too seriously. The interesting part of the X, however, lies in a more basic assumption it makes: that throughout students’ time at Dartmouth, there will come a moment when they cross over from one side of life to another.
In the classic interpretation of the X, sophomore summer is when the boys surpass the girls in influence. However, as sophomores continue to disprove this theory and age like fine wine, a deeper truth in the theory of the X comes to light. Though sophomore summer may not be when all girls retreat to the woods like hermits and all boys step out of the shadows as the heroes campus deserves, this summer does mark a transition for the Class of 2020 as individuals. The X of social power may be a myth, but the X of adulthood is dauntingly real. Freshman and sophomore years of college urge students to step out of their comfort zones. They are expected to experiment with classes, join unexpected clubs, audition for performance groups and meet new people in the hopes of using these experiences as tools with which to shape their futures. The latter part of college, however, is about honing these interests and planning for the future. Futhermore, upperclassmen, are tasked with leaving their little bubble to study abroad, interview for jobs and familiarize themselves with the outside world after so much time in the woods.
As an underclassman, it is easy to think that this transition happens naturally. Students outgrow their childish ways and suddenly emerge as young businesspeople, waking up one morning not in last night’s flair with a bad hangover but in a modest skirt or blazer with a copy of The Economist in hand. The truth is, the transition is anything but seamless, and sophomore summer represents the struggle to reconcile the present that students love deeply and the future that they have no idea how to tackle.
The dichotomy of this special term at Dartmouth lies in the two contrasting pressures that students face. The first is to take this term as their last — and best — summer ever. It is expected that every day should start with a “sunrike” and end with a trip to Ice Cream Fore-U. Students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones again as they did during the first few years of college. If you’ve ever played Just Dance, go audition for Shebalite! If you sing in the shower, you may as well audition for a cappella! Take a break from pre-med to learn about anthropology or studio art! If you’re not doing the most, you’re not doing sophomore summer.
Contrastingly, sophomores also begin to feel the tug of the real world. Shebalite will give you killer moves and quite a workout — after auditioning, I still can’t walk without limping slightly — but if you want the job at Goldman, you better spend all waking hours at recruiting events. Now isn’t the time to branch out, but to hone in. Time is running out to prepare for the competitive world awaiting outside of Camp Dartmouth. There’s a thick feeling of stress as students work their way through technical interviews and pages and pages of case studies in order to try and cement their plans for the following term, the following summer, the following years. This is when it hits that it isn’t about snapping one’s fingers and magically waking up with one’s life planned out, but is instead about making the sacrifices and putting in the work to create the future that one wants.
So, which should students choose? Is sophomore summer about enjoying a term with our peers and appreciating all Dartmouth has to offer? Or is it about taking life seriously and using this summer as the opportunity to learn how to exit the Dartmouth bubble? I’d like to think there is a balance between business casual and flair, between working hard and enjoying the people around you, between caring about one’s future and caring for oneself in the present. It’s easy to laugh off the thought of declining in social capital — I’ll live in sweatpants if I want to — but not as easy to laugh off the thought that one is doing sophomore summer wrong. Am I spending too much time at corporate recruiting events? Am I spending too much time learning to throw pottery and hiking the Appalachian Trail?
It’s a scary time and a stressful time, but that shouldn’t limit sophomores from viewing it as an amazing time. Students should stop and smell the flowers, stop and play the pong game, stop and enjoy the Baker Tower bells. While the summer may not be all about fun and glory, it doesn’t mean students are “failing” at sophomore summer. Sophomores deserve to try new things to enjoy another side of Dartmouth. That being said, they also deserve to put in the work that is necessary for jobs and classes and planning without feeling as though something is wrong. What’s important is thinking critically about how to reconcile what sophomores want to do, what they should do and what they can do. Then, they can appreciate life however it twists and turns.