TTLG: Reminiscing On The Dartmouth That Never Was

by Peter Charalambous | 9/11/20 2:15am

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Source: Courtesy of Peter Charalambous

This article is featured in the 2020 Freshman special issue.

I miss school.

Let me clarify that — I miss the things that made Dartmouth some of the most formative and meaningful times of my life. I miss my sole purpose being the enrichment of my own knowledge, that ability to singularly focus my time and attention on the understanding of one or two topics. I miss being able to not only find purpose in my extracurricular work but also enrich friendships which I am sure will last a lifetime. I miss the boundless opportunities before me. I miss those seemingly minor yet memorable moments that burn into my memory as the things that make college more than just a few classes abutted by meals and sleep. Sharing food and carrying a conversation that carries over to the next meal period, an endless night in the common room with friends and perhaps one too many embarrassing stories shared, the one-hour study session in the library that turned into four as the laughs ventured into the night.

“I miss those seemingly minor yet memorable moments that burn into my memory as the things that make college more than just a few classes abutted by meals and sleep.”

When I speak to other alumni, and they speak about how their four years in Hanover were the best time of their lives, I am sure they think back to similar memories, as if the magic of time has washed away all the not-so-great things that occurred between those unforgettable moments. I’m only a few months out since graduation and a few weeks into a nine-to-five job, and I can already feel this exodus of bad memories, leaving behind a shining four years of exuberance and joy. Perhaps Bruce Springteen’s “Glory Days” deserves more merit than only its charming music video. 

If you are an incoming student reading this article, I would argue that a large part of your expectations about college are based on stories heard about the kinds of memories described above. Once you got your acceptance letter, a good number of you shared the exciting news with family and friends, were told that you “have to watch Animal House” because it was based on Dartmouth and were regaled with tales of your friends and family’s glory days at college. If matriculation is like confirmation into Dartmouth, the congratulatory remarks and fun stories are the equivalent of your baptism.

Even in the most normal of years, these stories create such a high standard for college life that they will likely never be fulfilled in your own experiences. For some unclear reason, in their recounting of their college years, people rarely mention the impossible balancing of grades, sleep and social life, losing sleep over stress, the endless fear of missing out and all the other anxieties that accompany college life.

So when I say I miss school, I don’t miss those parts of school. I don’t miss waking up in the wee hours of the morning to complete my assignments, so early that the library is yet to open and the only study space available is the dark grayness of an unopened Novack cafe. I don’t miss the stress created by the impossibly large and time-consuming impending assignments that would set in on Sunday nights. I don’t miss the regret of taking on one too many things and the idea that I may have toppled over my life’s balance in that mistake. I don’t miss the uncertainty that came with such an unsettled and unclear future. I don’t miss being done with all my work on Friday, only to be so tired that the retreat of my bed seemed more appealing than any kind of social event planned for the coming weekend.

Beyond that, these stresses seem like nothing compared to the stresses of some of my peers — those who had to worry about sending money home, whether they’d find a place they feel they belong, how they’d scrape together the money to get home at the end of the term or how they would be able to squeeze in enough work hours to pay bills while also completing all their assignments.

At this point, you might be wondering why I took the time to write this column to dampen the mood of any reader, especially with the already mediocre circumstances of the partially in-person term. I wanted to write this to clarify what to expect in the coming term — something I admit I am not fully qualified to do given my brief three months with remote learning.

You should fully expect all the wonderful things that come with a college education — all of those incredible things you’ve heard so much about from friends and families. Even with the circumstances of a remote term, you will not only derive meaning from the challenge of it all, but eventually things will also come back to normal, and you’ll be able to have the normal experience you expected when you applied to Dartmouth. 

Beyond that, you’ll have one hell of a story to tell your kids in however many years, especially compared to the exceedingly average “I went to a few cool parties” and “my classes are fun” type of stories students usually tell during their Thanksgiving holiday to their families. Moreover, you’ll be able to compete with that grandparent who would bemoan their miles-long commute to school uphill in a blizzard. 

While you’re unable to have wonderfully normal experiences immediately, also keep in mind that those experiences were never fully accurate depictions of college. Even in the most average of times, there were enough crappy experiences to pass around. I am sure that given the challenges of higher education in the times of coronavirus, you will have even more crappy experiences than normal, but it is not like the picturesque image of college you envision was robbed by a pandemic. That image never actually existed, as much as crusty alums like myself would like to convince you that is the case.

“While you’re unable to have wonderfully normal experiences immediately, also keep in mind that those experiences were never fully accurate depictions of college.”

So for now, let’s be united across classes by the not-so-great things we will all try to forget. Let’s recognize that the Dartmouth we like to hold so dearly never was what we claim it to be, especially so we can empathize with the current situation. And maybe there’s even value to be derived from the challenges that embody what was once average life, as well as some newfound sweetness in those good memories. 

Eventually, things will come back to normal, and you’ll be able to enjoy the memories of college we cling to for years to come. But in today’s time, we will recollect the bad things, hold each other through the challenges and cling to these memories we might want to already forget.

Charalambous is a member of the Class of 2020 and a former managing editor of The Dartmouth. 

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