TTLG: Lost And Living

by Matthew Brown | 5/29/19 2:26am

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My first term at Dartmouth was mostly spent grabbing meals. Like many, I was unaccustomed to, but excited by, the ability to eat at all hours of the day. The Class of 1953 Commons and Collis Café saw much of my DBA in my first few weeks here. More engrossing to me, though, was the chance to meet and talk with people from so many different backgrounds. Hearing my new classmates tell stories of places I’d only once imagined was both exciting and overwhelming. 

This enchantment only grew in the classroom, where I realized the sheer possibility of what a liberal arts education could mean. I fell in love with the multiplicity of this place, of the many inviting futures Dartmouth offered. This promise of reinvention was so appealing because I, like many before me, was unsure of my selfhood before coming to Hanover. I didn’t know who I wanted to become at Dartmouth, but I was sure that I could find a place for myself here. In such a dynamic community, I thought that I’d find a home.

Sometime in the interceding four years, the College’s promise lost its varnish. The many possible futures for students so quickly narrow into a handful of majors and careers. The intensity of campus corrals many into ever-busier, self-inflicted schedules. This campus can be a cruel place, with efforts to better it usually just showing the intransigence and impunity our society affords the most powerful. 

Accounts of Dartmouth’s belligerent party culture, unapologetic classism, obvious racism and sexual violence will be prevalent in my memory of the College. I have at times been complicit in letting many regrettable incidents happen. Maybe that’s just the price of existing here. One of the more disheartening things I experienced in my time at Dartmouth was professors repeatedly confiding to me that their “real” job — rather than fostering teaching and mentoring — was unfortunately to make already privileged students into even more powerful alumni. 

Throughout all of this, I lost my sense of self — and with it, the ability to navigate what is a harsh place. There are many paths to success and happiness at Dartmouth, chief among them finding a community to support you. Between my extracurricular activities, coursework and time spent with friends from across campus, I saw great moments of community. I’ve continued to meet amazing people who are realizing their potential at Dartmouth, often because of the support of others. People thrive here because someone took the time to invest in them. It’s an insight that I wish we at Dartmouth and beyond took more seriously.

I found great support in moments at the College, but never a true mentor. Being aimless has its perks and its drawbacks. Many times, I flung myself into different involvements and studies, not because I found them intrinsically motivating, but because someone else had found value in them before me. Not taking the time to learn about myself, and instead letting this place and others define me, was a great mistake of my time here. Predictably, this strategy was a poor one for finding meaning, community or fulfillment at Dartmouth.

That said, there’s a strange pleasure in meandering from one program and event to another, in learning from many different types of people and being in periodic awe of the scope of what one tiny college campus can offer all at once. That wandering and reflection has turned out to be one of my great joys. One of the reasons why I began writing and editing opinion was because it was the closest proxy I’d encountered to what I truly found inspiring: hearing and telling the stories from those around me. 

Dartmouth is clearly many things to many people: the ultimate playground; an academic monastery; a pressure cooker; a refuge; a prison. As The Dartmouth’s opinion editor, I saw campus through many of those lenses and tried to give each its proper due. Though I did my best to channel these many different experiences, I can only speak to my own. For me, Dartmouth was a place where an unsure and anxious kid was given a safe place to learn and grow. It was an unexpected but needed blessing. For that, I’m grateful.

I doubt that anything in my journey has been something this campus hasn’t seen countless times before over the last 250 years. I’m also positive that much of my transformation would have happened at any university I attended. How fortunate, then, that I made such fond memories in a place with as many stories as here, despite plenty of difficult moments. 

I never found a home at Dartmouth. But I saw many beautiful things and had the privilege of knowing many beautiful people. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the world will offer. 

Matt Brown ’19 is a former opinion editor of The Dartmouth.