Snapshots From Sophomore Summer

Sophomore summer is always an iconic part of the Dartmouth experience, but it has taken on a new significance as students re-learn the ropes of Hanover post-pandemic.

by George Gerber | 7/30/21 3:05am

by Annie Qiu / The Dartmouth Staff

Before I came to campus this term, I was haunted by several “What if?” questions.

What if sophomore summer doesn’t live up to my expectations?

What if my course load is unmanageable?

What if there’s another outbreak like in the winter?

What if I’m alone?

When I was a freshman, it seemed as though nearly all upperclassmen talked about their legendary sophomore summers. Sophomore summer is one of the most cherished parts of the D-Plan, where halfway through your Dartmouth experience, you get to take classes with everyone in your class year. Those who said that it didn’t live up to their expectations regretted taking extremely hard classes or getting too mentally drained from recruiting. The general advice regarding sophomore summer was this: Live free or die.

I wanted to follow this advice, but with this being the first in-person summer term in two years and COVID-19 restrictions lingering, the guidance of past classes didn’t seem like it would hold. Then, early on in the term, we got an email telling us that COVID-19 restrictions were loosening and that vaccinated students didn’t need to wear masks anymore. Instantly, most of my fears dissipated, and I haven’t looked back since.

The first thing I had to do was meet people. On the first day of sophomore summer, I realized how few of my peers I really know. It’s crazy to think that I know probably less than half of the students in my roughly 1200-person class because we’ve been scattered across the globe for the past year. To be sure, many of my classmates are still taking classes remotely, but I’m grateful to be able to get to know at least some of them in person. There’s just something different about making a connection face-to-face rather than in a Zoom room. I’m also glad that I don’t have to live in fear of being sent home after being “caught” talking with friends in my dorm. There’s certainly something freeing about being comfortable in my own room.

Being here this summer has also made me realize how adventurous I am. Maybe it’s because I haven’t really been able to try anything this past year, but now I want to try everything. Whatever the reason, I’m glad that I can make memories at college rather than in my childhood bedroom. Now you can find me swimming across the Connecticut River or cartwheeling down Blobby in the middle of the night as a study break. I’m also cherishing the simple joys here, like getting late night with friends, chatting in Novack or reading in the silence of the East Reading Room — though Sanborn and the Tower Room are dearly missed.

I have also made more of an effort to pop the so-called “Dartmouth Bubble.” The borders of campus seem to be dissolving more and more every time I get off campus. With access to a car this term, I can finally experience the beauty of the surrounding area and see what makes Dartmouth’s location so special. To get a better sense of the beauty of the Upper Valley and New England, my friends and I have been taking day trips on the weekends. 

So far, we’ve gone as far as Montpelier and Burlington. We’ve tried new restaurants, gone thrifting, grabbed coffee at charming cafes and perused the shelves of used bookstores. I’ve sung along to Joni Mitchell and the Beach Boys on the long car rides and — fueled by a 9 p.m. latte — debated philosophy until dawn.

For the first time in over a year, I think I understand what it’s like to be a college student. This summer has shown me what it means to enjoy Dartmouth, my classes and new connections. I’ve been able to pursue my passions in earnest and engage with the material in my classes with newfound excitement. I know what I’m saying sounds cliché, but in all sincerity, the joy this term has brought me was much needed, especially after a difficult year of being just a Zoom box on my professors’ and peers’ computer screens.

I didn’t quite realize how deprived of the Dartmouth experience I was — it’s startling to think that a majority of my college education has occured online and off campus. Though I’m a junior on paper, I still feel like a freshman. Dartmouth shut its doors and imposed COVID-19 restrictions after my freshman winter, so this feels like I’m finally getting to finish my freshman year “properly” — whatever that means.

My sophomore summer has truly been a wonderful experience thus far, and I’m so thankful for the memories. Though it’s only been six weeks, I can already tell that in fifteen years, this term will feature some of my best memories from Dartmouth. Looking more closely to the future, however, I hope that this is a transitory term that will lead to an even more “normal” fall term and that I’ll remember this summer as the auspicious beginning to the second half of my Dartmouth years.