Khanna: Beautiful Imperfection

Embrace the bad days at Dartmouth.

by Maya Khanna | 8/30/19 2:05am

When I first stepped off the Dartmouth Coach in early September to begin my freshman year at Dartmouth, I thought that I was dreaming. It was the kind of afternoon that those of us familiar with northern New England’s erratic climate hope to experience once or twice a season. With golden sunshine reflecting off of the rooftops, brightly colored autumn leaves and a bright blue sky set against the silhouette of Baker-Berry Library, Dartmouth’s beauty enchanted me the second I laid eyes on campus. Heaven, I thought, could not be more wonderful than my beautiful new school.

But for all of its beauty, the wonder of any new place soon becomes lost amidst the hubbub of daily life. Classes get tough, extracurriculars get busy and the dynamics of friend groups ebb and flow. The sparkle of novelty fades, and each of us is left with everyday realities of imperfection. A tough class, a falling-out within a group of friends or overwhelming responsibilities can obscure the easy effervescence that frequently bubbles forth during the first few weeks of a student’s freshman fall. Wonder fades, and in its absence, disappointment often festers as students realize that the reality of life at Dartmouth is not always the picture-perfect image that the school may have first presented. This realization hits different students at different times, but eventually, most come to realize the impossibility of sustaining a pristine reality consistent with the College’s glossy brochures.

Past the first few weeks of freshman fall, it is unlikely that you will ever again experience Dartmouth through rose-colored glasses of wonder. Yet in recognizing the impossibility of living out the “perfect” Dartmouth experience, we gain the freedom to create a life at the College that is entirely our own—a life that will inevitably be splintered into some of the best moments of our lives and the worst moments, and all of the variety that exists between those two extremes. Thus, it becomes necessary to not just rely on moments of perfection that come few and far between, but to find smaller sources of personal fulfillment among the routine. 

On some days, fulfillment might mean searching for small snippets of everyday joy nestled among the chaos of Dartmouth’s 10-week terms. Bursts of happiness found in good dessert nights at Class of 1953 Commons, laughing with friends or appreciating the magic of the first snowfall of the year can add up quickly if we take the time to notice the unexpected joy these moments can evoke. Fulfillment does not necessarily need to remain predicated on joy, either. Instead, we can realize our desire for fulfillment by expanding our definitions of achievement. Learning a new skill, finishing the first draft of a paper or trying a new activity may or may not bring joy in the traditional sense of the word, but all are likely able to evoke a sense of achievement that can go a long way in creating fulfillment.

This is not to say that simple kernels of positivity in any situation can overcome a student’s very real disappointment, loneliness or hurt. A poor grade on a midterm, two weeks of below-zero weather and difficulty adjusting to college life — these are just a few of the challenges many students face during their first few months at Dartmouth. These challenges are very real and can be extremely painful for many students. Sometimes, it becomes nearly impossible to perceive even a smidgen of happiness at these low points, and students often embrace the dark clouds that lie beyond any attempts at silver linings. However, even in times of struggle, it is often still possible to retroactively perceive small moments of fulfillment. A hug from a good friend, a lesson learned or even just the recognition that bad things happen and life still goes on can mean as much upon reflection as a day in which everything went perfectly. Those dark moments have the capacity to teach.

Nearly a year has passed since I first stepped off the Coach for the first time and into my new life here at the College. I have long since given up my belief in the fairy-tale perfect institution that awed me when I arrived. Yet, in place of that awe, a love for the very real and imperfect place that Dartmouth is has arisen. The nuanced nature of life at Dartmouth has allowed me to appreciate the one million and one moments worth living for in each day and the people who make all those moments possible. In the space between perfection and rock bottom, there are all of the everyday adventures that characterize life in all shades of grey here at the Big Green. 

When you arrive on campus in the fall, ’23s, and are filled with wonder as you gaze out at mountains alight with fall colors and the golden sunshine reflecting off the roof of Baker-Berry, appreciate that moment. Know, too, that even as you begin to experience the inevitable reality of “bad days” here at Dartmouth, there is still much love to be found here. The best, the worst and in everything in between — these are the realities that have transformed Dartmouth from “my beautiful school” into the small corner of the world that I am now proud to call my home.

This article is a part of the 2019 Freshman Issue.