TTLG: Lucky Enough to Make It Work
Over the last two weeks, as I’ve logged on to Zoom to watch some of my closest friends wrap up their Dartmouth careers with thesis presentations (and one sweet radio play), my brain has had ample opportunity to play evil comparison games. I often feel like I didn’t get the things out of my Dartmouth career that I wanted going into it, and it’s hard for me to remind myself to treasure what I did get out of the past four years. But when I truly take the time to give myself credit where credit is due, I’m able to notice that for each bullet point I missed, I gained my own experience of friendship, care and perseverance.
In reverse order, the first missing box is that I didn’t do a thesis. This is a complicated problem for me. For starters, I honestly didn’t know when the deadline was to apply to do one, or how exactly one would go about proposing such a thing. I also did not pursue my major track (government concentrating in comparative politics) with a whole lot of cohesion — I sort of just took the classes that looked interesting to me. On top of that, I spent four years letting my social anxiety keep me chronically absent from my professors’ office hours, except on the few occasions when a visit was mandated to talk about a final paper or presentation. The idea of choosing an advisor seemed like a 500-foot wall looming in front of me, so I didn’t bother.
Next mistake: I never studied abroad. That, of course, would have required recommendation letters from professors. Which would have required office hours. Nope, not for me, thank you very much. It also would have required a moderately OK grade point average, which I had rapidly pushed off a cliff by my second term, and which would only get worse until I took my sophomore winter off to reorient myself.
Further cowardice: I never led a First-Year Trip (although I was holding out hope for this fall). Same as above, being a trip leader would have entailed a whole lot of putting myself out there, which has never been my strong suit. Even though I felt that I had a lot of lessons to pass on to incoming students (as I will explain), the idea of being solely responsible for a group’s entertainment was cringe-inducing at the very least.
Finally, the missing resume items: First off, no one has hired me for off-term employment in any field that I’m interested in pursuing (no offense to the lovely people in the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort dining room). Sure, I’ve gotten to pursue a few things that I do care about and am interested in exploring — I edited the opinion section of The Dartmouth last winter and worked for a non-profit in Oakland last summer — but they were all unpaid positions. In other words, choosing to have me around was a low-risk option. It took until this term, what was ostensibly going to be my senior spring, for me to get accepted to a program that I applied to. I hadn’t gotten a “yes” since my Dartmouth acceptance, and honestly it was starting to wear on me. Secondly, aside from social organizations and a work-study job, none of my extracurricular activity goes back farther than two years. While my peers were able to join clubs early on and gain executive positions as they became more experienced, I didn’t give myself the chance for sustained engagement because I was just too nervous to go to those meetings and make myself known. Aside from my fraternity, I didn’t hold a position on any sort of executive committee until my senior winter — and even that only lasted for one term.
So, it might sound like my time at Dartmouth was quite the failure. To be sure, failure has been a consistent thread in my story. But in rebounding from each failure, I have learned more than I ever imagined about being a human, about loving myself mistakes and all, about the support networks that allowed me to survive and about why I believe that every person deserves to have the same possibility for renewal and growth that I was able to enjoy. My experience re-finding myself after losing it in a cloud of anxiety and helplessness not only helped me figure out what kind of relationships I want to have with my friends and communities, but has also helped me better understand just how nuanced and essential the issue of equal access to support and empowerment is.
I think of the chaos of life at Dartmouth as a medley of academic, social and career competition that weigh on each student differently. I’ve been able to survive because of the various systems of power and care that prioritize my interests, or the interests of someone like me. First off, I have parents who accept every last one of my imperfections and were willing and able to find and fund resources to support my mental health when I needed them the most. Thanks to my very un-sparkly grades, I didn’t get into any of the internship programs that I applied to — but my family could afford to find me housing and fund my expenses while I volunteered for a non-profit, where I finally felt a sense of purpose. I never got to study abroad, but I traveled to plenty of places with my parents growing up and now I’m able to go visit friends and family on different continents more often than many would ever dream of. I never led a trip, but incoming freshmen certainly aren’t starved for middle-class white male role models. I spent my first two years on campus digging a hole for myself, but luckily for me, the world is built so that people like myself are always able to find a ladder out of there, if not a golden escalator.
The important part is not that I didn’t deserve any of the support I received while my college career was falling apart before me. The lesson I learned — above and beyond any personal question about my character or habits or ambitions — is that everyone should have access to the second chances that I was given. I believe that the privileges that I enjoy don’t have to come at the expense of others’ well-being. We live in a world with unprecedented wealth and development, and a huge percentage of Dartmouth students will go on to control those resources. I can only hope that we don’t mistake our own good fortune for deservedness, and that my peers join me in ceaselessly looking for ways to lift others up.
Teddy Hill-Weld ’20 is a former opinion editor of The Dartmouth. He served during the winter of 2020.