How To Be A Better Person ... And Dartmouth Student

by Melanie Prakash | 9/19/18 10:40am

So you come into freshman year, and you think, “New Dartmouth, new me.” You stroll down the intersecting paths of the Green that are disorganized and rocky, unlike the future you have planned for yourself over the next four years. This plan happens to include a full-time commitment to the triathlon team, auditioning for the Sing Dynasty, weekly Dartmouth Outing Club trips and, of course, a four-course term.

Yeah, so that could fall apart really soon. And no, this wasn’t me.

Most plans that we make fall apart, especially the futures we plan for ourselves at Dartmouth. And that’s just part of the process of becoming something entirely new. Our plans can be about anything: habits we want to attain, careers we want to hold, professors we want to befriend, meals we want to make, Netflix abstinences we want to preserve. However, it’s worth noting that it’s not a problem if things fall apart. It’s similar to a phoenix, where out of the ashes, a new set of hopes arise.

If we think about change in terms of biology, evolution comes from generations of changes. Something that wouldn’t have been conceived of at one point develops due to the conditions that the environment sets before the species. In our personal development, we have the ability to choose what direction we want to change in. Change happens slowly. We don’t see change in ourselves over the course of a night, because if that were the case, it would be easy.

But anyone can start with making small changes, little tweaks that over time can contribute to development. And if you take a second to look at it, you might find that these seeds of habit can address some of this culture’s biggest flaws. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Actually get a meal with someone: 

No, but really. The whole point of getting meals with people is to escape the confines of your mindset and refresh yourself. Think about it this way: Dartmouth is like an enormous apartment complex, and the only way to get down is to take the stairs. You can either take flight after flight, miserable in the boring blandness of the fire escape stairway, or you can take a few detours on the floors. Knock on a few doors, see how other people are living. What did they hate about class? What did they like about the evening? How did their last game of pong go? Sometimes the best way to grow is to know what other directions there are to grow in, and you can only find out by chatting with someone. (Trick: When you ask people for a meal, stick in a firm date.)

Read something you would never touch: 

At Dartmouth, they make you read everything under the sun as fast as you can while still expecting you to pick out every significant little detail. You are pushed into the corner of virtually hating the English language and every single possible combination of letters by the time you hit week 10. But it’s still possible to try and enjoy reading. You just might need to get a bit creative with what you’re reading. For example, give a book with lots of diologue a shot. If you read deep and heavy classics, try nonfiction, or even an autobiography that gets your inside the life of someone real. Books are another way of communicating with people, and becoming a better person sometimes means just being aware that other people view the world differently than you do. Maybe this means a few pages before bed even when all you want to do is crash, or a chapter of an audiobook when you work out. Maybe this means slipping a novel in your bag so when you’re waiting the KAF line, you have another option instead of checking Taylor Swift’s Instagram. The habit of choosing books you like to read and maintaining a habit of reading during a term can help you set it as a practice. (Trick: How to select a book—Go to a random section of the bookstore or land up on a random floor in the stacks. Turn around the number of years you are and one more for good luck, pick a direction, walk three steps forward and touch a book).

Change up your DDS schedule:

Routines in college are fantastic. They allow your body to adjust to a way of handling itself. And familiarity can be great, especially if you’re a freshman and just want to become more accustomed to campus. But eating at Collis every meal limits the full appreciation of the Dartmouth Dining Services. Maybe try the Courtyard Café today, or walk down memory lane and visit your second freshman home; Novack Café (was that just me?). An occasional DDS shakeup just might give you reason to re-evaluate how you eat in a certain place. (Trick: Make a personal menu for yourself at every DDS location of the best go to foods. It makes each location special to you and gives you something to show off if you take someone there).

Talk to yourself ... in a natural way:

So I’m not necessarily advocating a mirror pep talk, although if that works for you, more power your way. But everyone understands themselves in a certain way; therefore, there are some issues only you know how to address for yourself. Mental health thankfully starting to rise to prominence as an important part of our health. It just so happens that Dartmouth has the potential to be a toxic wasteland of stress, insecurity, sleep deprivation and even breakdowns. It comes from the quarter system, it comes from getting kicked out of adolescence and into adulthood, it comes from facing life with a version of who we are that we simply don’t know yet. Don’t wait for your car to crash when you can just glance at your speedometer and slow down. There’s this strange value at Dartmouth of enjoying the process of self torment, of dragging yourself along the term until you’re smashed, scraped and sometimes unrecognizable. The hope is to achieve results that are extraordinary. To this, I would respond that even though there are only 12 terms, there’s a whole lot of life, and good habits aren’t a gift you get the day after graduation.

Did I eat today? Did I actually sleep enough or do I need to stop homework to get an extra hour of sleep? Was I actually comfortable when my friend talked over my idea during class? Do I recognize that I’m doing my best and am only pushing myself because I want to? Did I recognize that I got a good grade because I worked hard? Am I feeling good about myself? I the answer isn’t what you think it should be, that’s okay. The first step is just figuring out what’s wrong. (Tip: Tell yourself three things you like about yourself every night before you go to bed. And not flimsy things like, “I had a good day.” Think honestly and earnestly. Chances are something is there.)

Say no to something you don't want to do:

No, I’m not saying to skip your organic chemistry lab report because The Dartmouth told you that to become a better person, you should say no to something you don’t want to do. The point is that as Dartmouth students, the question of motivation is always a muddled one. Are you volunteering because you believe in the cause or because you want a bonus point on your resume? Are you grinding through your homework because you want to love this class through the pain or because you think if you drop it now, you’ll be a failure? Are you going on a date with someone because you’re actually interested in them or because you want a night of attention? Are you in a club because you love spending tons of time in it or because if you quit to make more time to do what you love, you won’t feel as busy as everyone else? I’m not saying to say no to everything you don’t want to do. Start with some things. Always saying yes erodes your right to choose what you want in your life. Take a chance and say no. (Trick: Instead of thinking of saying no, sometimes you need to think of it as saying yes to a better possible future.)


One part of the concept of evolution is that as new species learn to thrive, entire populations will often die out via natural selection. It sometimes could just take trying something new, seeing if it works or even just where it takes you. It doesn’t have to be radical, like going on a shopping spree or buying a dog. The thing about evolution is that there is never an end product; it comes about with miniscule changes over large stretches of time that are intended to adjust a species to the conditions of a changing environment. Maybe the key is to remember that becoming a better Dartmouth student doesn’t mean trying to reach some vague definition of doing everything possible — maybe it isn’t to shoot the moon every time. The only thing any of us really want is to be a little bit better than we were yesterday.