Back at Dartmouth, New to Campus
Members of the Class of 2024 look forward to their first term on Dartmouth’s campus.
Students gather in lecture halls to attend their in-person classes.
The pandemic disrupted the lives and college careers of all Dartmouth students, but the class of 2024 is in a unique position. ’22s and ’23s remember pre-COVID-19 Dartmouth and ’25s are entering at a time resembling normalcy — but ’24s are established students without any experience of a normal Dartmouth.
Many ’24s, including Ben Traugott ’24, chose Dartmouth for reasons that couldn’t shine through on Zoom. With their first term of in-person classes, the freshman class is finally experiencing these qualities.
“At any school, but especially a school like Dartmouth, you’re excited to be in a place that is very academically engaging,” Traugott said. “Coming here for my first full year and not feeling that was very disheartening. Finally, feeling like I go to a real school is pretty great.”
A big component of Vy Nguyen ’24’s decision to come to Dartmouth was the purported faculty-student connections, which were diminished in Zoom classrooms.
“In high school, I liked talking to my teachers, and I was looking for that same connection at Dartmouth,” Nguyen said. “On Zoom, I was able to connect with some of my professors, but it was still really hard. Here, it’s been so much easier to get to know them during office hours and to feel more comfortable asking for their help.”
But while the return to in-person learning is providing the full Dartmouth education the members of the Class of 2024 craved, it doesn’t erase their troubled freshman year. Nguyen is an international student mentor with OPAL and she had to warn her ’25s that she would only be able to help them with the academic side of Dartmouth, as she hadn’t experienced the social side.
“In that way, I still feel like a freshman, or even a senior in high school, because that’s when lockdown started,” she said. “I’m in a liminal space, socially.”
Traugott, however, feels secure in his identity as a sophomore. This might be because he was on campus not only all school year, but also in the summer.
“I definitely feel integrated into the Dartmouth community,” he said. “Being in the Cords [a cappella group], being in Ledyard, the upperclassmen friends I made here in the summer… I don't have that feeling — that energy — of being the new person anymore.”
While some people, like Traugott, had the opportunity to form friendships and build their identities as Dartmouth students while on campus, not everyone had this same experience. After spending the entire year at home in Vietnam, Nguyen said she doesn’t “feel that sense of class community” Traugott described. However, for students like Ruby Donaghu ’24, being on campus was not the positive experience she hoped; in fact, she said it was “impossible to be happy.”
“I feel like almost every single ’24 was actually ill, which is reflected in the fact that some of our classmates died,” Donaghu said. “The class of ’24 is resolute in believing that that was partially the administration’s fault.”
Last fall, Dartmouth cracked down on COVID-19 violations and sent home the students who broke the rules. Donaghu spoke of the lose-lose situation that the ’24s faced last year; she said it seemed like those who were breaking the rules were actually making friends and meeting lots of people, but they were also the ones who would get sent home if they were caught.
After a year of remote college, it isn’t easy to adjust to an in-person social life. Nguyen said that she has to go to sleep early sometimes after the exhaustion of constant socialization, but it’s a relief to regain the social opportunity of in-person classes.
“When I was in online classes, I would almost never reach out to someone in my class and be like, ‘Hey, let's get dinner,’” Nguyen said. “This year, you meet them in person and you're like, ‘let's hang out.’ I just feel more confident in myself.”
This social confidence sparked by in-person classes is sometimes coupled with lower academic confidence.
“I don't think I had any imposter syndrome last year, so I was really successful,” Donaghu said. “This year, I have very bad imposter syndrome. I’m like, ‘I don’t deserve to be here.’”
Nguyen had a similar experience.
“Discussions freak me out a little now,” she said. “It was very easy to participate in Zoom discussions. I would unmute myself, say my piece and then I'd mute myself again and that was it. In person, I'm much more aware of all eyes on me.”
But these challenging adjustments seem to be outweighed by the benefits of in-person learning. Nguyen said that group work is easier and more enjoyable in-person than online. Twice a week, she meets with a group of GOV 10 students in One Wheelock to work on their problem sets.
“Sometimes it genuinely just feels like a group of friends just sitting there on the sofa drinking tea or coffee, just chatting while we go through the problem sets together,” she said.
Traugott is relishing in the small things, like talking to a classmate beside you during class, as well as the invigorating stress of real classes. He said that he didn't even realize he was craving the excitement of being cold-called in front of his peers, but that it makes his experience more meaningful.
In addition to looking forward to in-person classes, the ’24s are excited to experience some of the countless traditions that lie at the heart of the College. Traugott said that he is looking forward to catching up on all of them this upcoming year, namely going on tour with his a cappella group and attending Ledyard formal.
Donaghu is looking forward to fulfilling the expectations she had for Dartmouth before she even attended.
“I wanted to go somewhere that's going to make me feel like I was doing something that people weren’t doing at other schools,” Donaghu said. “Yesterday, I sat in Foco for an hour having a logical argument about the concept of camp. I was like, this is why I came here: to do stuff like this that isn’t in class and that I don’t have to do, but I want to do.”