Here’s to the Sons and Daughters of Dartmouth
A reflection on the ideal Dartmouth student and the pressure to live up to the stereotype.
This article is featured in the 2022 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
At the end of orientation last September, I opened my phone to read the article I had heard about countless times during my first week and a half on campus: Rolling Stone’s infamous “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy” published in 2012. It’s not my place to confirm or to deny the claims made in the article. However, the idea of the “Dartmouth Man” discussed in the piece has stuck with me.
Over the course of this year, I’ve reflected on what it means to be a “Dartmouth Man,” extrapolating, for those of us who do not identify as a man, to consider what it means to be a “Dartmouth Student.” Though many years have passed since the events written about in the Rolling Stone article transpired, there remains an almost mythological, ideal Dartmouth student that exists in our collective campus consciousness. As proof of this, when I listed off the traits of this ideal student to my friends, all of them agreed, and many even finished my sentences for me.
There are more traits of this ideal student than I could enumerate here, but none is more prevalent, or harmful, than the ability to balance. Life at Dartmouth is filled with contradictions. The ideal Dartmouth student is involved in seemingly every club on campus, but also maintains a near-perfect GPA. Without neglecting these extracurricular and academic commitments, the ideal student somehow also still has time to sunbathe on the Green, “daily dip” in the river and, of course, attend every possible party, all while taking hundreds of pictures that later appear in a perfectly curated Instagram post.
This ideal of extracurricular involvement and academic success is theoretically a positive one. In moderation, these are not unhealthy goals to pursue. Unfortunately, Dartmouth is famous for its lack of moderation. I, like many other students on this campus, have been both a chronic perfectionist and an overachiever since I was 11 years old. I already place immense personal pressure on myself to participate in extracurriculars and perform well academically.
The ubiquity of the ideal Dartmouth student only compounds these personal pressures, causing me to constantly fear that I am not over-achieving enough. No matter how many clubs I join or how late I stay in the library, I continue to urge myself to always take on more. After all, in the long run, what’s a few fewer hours of sleep? If seemingly everyone else can balance untold commitments, why shouldn’t I be able to? An inability to balance would only indicate that I am not cut out to be a true Dartmouth student — a failure too embarrassing to confront.
This distressingly negative mindset, unfortunately, is shared by many students. During winter term, I brought up this topic with a friend of mine who is involved in a wide range of clubs, someone who I believe exemplifies the Dartmouth stereotype. Yet, even she expressed the same fear that she is not balancing enough commitments.
This ideal, clearly, remains out of reach for every student. Thus, each of us, no matter how involved, continue to propel ourselves past the limits of what the human body can feasibly balance. At a school containing literally thousands of overachievers, it is physically impossible to win the competition for “biggest overachiever” or “most involved.” But as we drag ourselves through each term only to add on more and more commitments, it seems that we have collectively decided to either win this impossible game, or drive ourselves to exhaustion while trying.
It is easy to recognize that an attempt to live up to this ideal is both unhealthy and futile. In turn, this recognition begs the question as to why we haven’t moved away from it. Why can’t we accept that there is no correct way to be a Dartmouth student, and instead pat ourselves on the back for the effort required to merely make it through each term? The most obvious answer is that for the overachievers — the majority of the student body — this is antithetical to their entire way of being.
But another answer is that we are willing to cling to this impossible ideal because it represents another tradition, of which Dartmouth has countless. Each night, the bells of Baker-Berry toll the alma mater, a song which discusses letting “old traditions” fail. Yet Dartmouth students seem to live in fear of this. From the language that we use to our big weekends and even our pong rules, traditions are celebrated and remain a constant feature of life.
Furthermore, being in on these traditions confers a sense of power. After achieving an elusive Dartmouth acceptance, being baptized in its traditions is a way to feel as though you belong in the Ivy League. Understanding Dartmouth’s traditions bonds you to every other Dartmouth student. No matter how isolated you feel, traditions remain the common denominator.
Ultimately, the ideal of the “Dartmouth Student” persists, despite its unhealthiness, because striving for it serves as a way for each of us to belong. Our exhaustion while attempting to balance every commitment we’ve taken on becomes a uniting experience. When we darty before returning to the library, or get two hours of sleep after running between four club meetings, we can brush it off as “so Dartmouth,” and everyone will understand.
It’s clear that no matter the harms of this ideal, we’ll never entirely abandon it. After all, the lyrics of the alma mater that we have repeated endless times remind us that we are all the “sons of old Dartmouth” and the “daughters of Dartmouth.” The creation of the community echoed in this song both sustains us and also pushes us ever further in an attempt to finally realize an impossible myth: that of the true Dartmouth student.