Here’s to Our Freshman Year
Reflecting on a year of growth, joy and turmoil — and the lessons learned on the way.
This article is featured in the 2022 Spring special issue.
It’s funny, isn’t it — how the moments that you once thought you’d never forget slowly begin to fade from memory.
Left behind are shadows of the real thing, blurred at the edges and filtered through the warm, yellow nostalgia that seems to accompany all past memories. Suddenly you can’t seem to remember that night in October when you heard the sharp crackle of a stray flame fleeing from the bonfire, landing a tad too close to your face. Perhaps the warmth of these past days have masked the memories of the once-bitter numbness felt during nights of subzero temperatures spent dashing across the snow banks of frat row. Certainly the sizzle and sting of your near-frozen fingers as you run them under hot water would be memorable, wouldn’t they? But just as you’ve forgotten the rest, you will soon too forget the current feeling of being drenched from the rain of an April shower. It seems these things just fade, passing us by, mere whispers of all the things once shouted.
Occasionally, though, they’ll return in all of their glory, such as on the first day of true spring sunshine, which I spent sprawled on the Green with my friends. We had just grabbed lunch and taken it to eat picnic-style under the sun. As I looked around, I came to the conclusion that seemingly the entire student body had done the same. It was beautiful, and as I sat listening to the nearby music, I felt nothing but a sense of lazy contentment. There was something — whether it was the sight of the students scattered across the Green or the warmth felt deep in my bones of sunlight long forgotten — that reminded me of a similar scene back in September.
Once again I’m back on the Green — and while the grass is as green as ever, the circumstances are completely different. It was the evening of our move-in day, and the Class of 2025 had spent the morning standing under the sun and waiting — waiting for our initial COVID test, or for our room key, or for directions or simply for our parents to stop making mortifying small talk with the parents of our future classmates.
Above all, though, we seemed to be waiting for what would only gradually find us — the realization that what we had left behind, our former ways of life and the “knowledge” that we had used to guide them, was about to be upended. Perhaps in an effort to resist the cacophony of emotions, we spent the rest of the day allowing ourselves to be swept away in the hustle of exploring Hanover — the unfamiliar place that we had found ourselves in — with the hope of understanding our new home just a little bit better.
And so our day progressed, with the noise of thousands of people paying homage to the end of one era and the beginning of another. The air was filled with the chatter of families, and similarly with the wails of hopelessly-bored younger siblings and overly-emotional parents on their fifth round of goodbyes.
From there we were shuttled from floor meetings to crowded auditoriums and, finally, to the Green, where we were met with loud music and hundreds of upperclassmen dressed in maximum flair. They were screaming in our faces and waving around hastily drawn posters in an effort to greet (but realistically to intimidate) the incoming freshman class with the kind of welcome that only Dartmouth can give. We were then sorted into our First-Year Trip groups and first laid eyes on our fellow trippees — the other ’25s that we would spend the what-seemed-like foreseeable future with.
What ensued were the tentative beginnings of many friendships as we spent the rest of Orientation getting to know one another and the College and town. With time, this way of life became our new normal, and as these strangers turned into friends, we began to associate these spaces with memories of the best and worst of times.
It is important to recognize that the Class of 2025 was given a gift that previous classes were robbed of. This gift was that of enjoying Dartmouth in all of its glory — the one that so many have known and loved — for a full year. With the lifting of many of the COVID restrictions that plagued prior years, the ’25s were given the opportunity to freely socialize, explore and immerse themselves in the magic of Dartmouth.
As a class, we spent the rest of the fall, and all of the winter, up until now, imbuing our time here with meaning. We started building new lives for ourselves, and day by day grew accustomed to what it means to be a Dartmouth student. We learned quickly that it was demanding, and that often time seems to elude you. We learned that — if you let it happen — the very seconds of your life may no longer be yours, but instead become subject to the myriad of responsibilities that we face everyday. As the year progressed, we continued to grow, learning notions of high political and economic theory, the complexities of English literature, the inner workings of molecular structures or perhaps even the quirks of the Russian language.
But ultimately, we learned how to understand the little things that make those closest to us special, and better yet, how best to celebrate them — which I would argue is the most important thing. We learned that love lies in the smallest actions, such as when you pick up an extra seltzer from the Hop for a friend who really loves them, or when you tiptoe in the dark of your room to not wake up your napping roommate. And it continues in moments where you teach your friend a couple words in a language that they really want to learn, or in the hours spent devoted to crafting the perfect birthday itinerary for a friend, or when you stay up longer than you should, gorging on pizza and laughing, for hours on end, with friends on the ancient couches of your dorm’s common room.
I’ve found that the key to falling in love with Dartmouth lies in these moments — of sunshine and snowball fights, of anticipation for the weekend plans ahead. And despite the days of malady, of heartbreak and frustration and the looming certainty that everything I’ve grown used to will soon change, I can’t help but be grateful for the past year that I’ve spent nestled away in the woods.
As for the moments I’ve forgotten, I’m grateful to them as well, for I know that in another moment of time they, too, held a certain significance. Nonetheless, I hope with all of my heart that this year — for whatever it was and whatever it will be — left you with the same sense of peace it did me. Perhaps it even left you with a better understanding of who you are — and more importantly, who you have the potential to be.