TTLG: My Dartmouth Five: Lessons Learned

Former executive editor Reilly Olinger ’22 shares the top five lessons she learned in her time at the College

by Reilly Olinger | 6/12/22 3:30am

Source: Courtesy of Reilly Olinger

This article is featured in the 2022 Commencement & Reunions special issue. 

It’s an unfortunate truth that the older you get, the more you understand the way older people think. As I sit here in the midst of grinding through essays that I promised myself I wouldn’t procrastinate and munching on the measly scraps of food left in my senior apartment, I’m reminded of something my friend’s dad said to me years ago — the days go by slow, but the years go by so fast. It’s among many of the “old people'' sentiments that I used to roll my eyes at, but that now hit a bit harder than I’d care to admit. When I listen to “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac or catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror to see a smile that looks a lot like my mom’s, I realize I’m starting to get it. In the haze of getting through the term, the week or the next class, I feel like I haven’t really stopped to think or reflect on these feelings — but what better place to reflect than the Mirror section?

I learned a lot at Dartmouth — more than I’ll discuss in this paper, for the sake of having a good ‘Top Five’ list. 

Lesson one: Living in the woods has its pros and cons. The sky full of stars over the golf course is almost beautiful enough to make me forget that I couldn’t hack it in a full-time wilderness life. I took diligent mental and physical notes during First- Year Trips leader training, trying to equip myself to protect my new children against the wild forces that could await us during our walks around the Organic Farm. Luckily for my ’25’s I didn’t have to purify any water or fight off any wildlife besides a few curious squirrels. A few weeks ago I mistook a bear sitting outside a dumpster at my work as a dog and tried to catch it. I haven’t been able to live it down — but in my defense, black bears look a little like Newfoundlands if you aren’t wearing your glasses (which I was not). 

Lesson two: Take pictures (even if they’re ugly). Freshman year, teeming with self loathing, I hardly let anyone take pictures of me. What exists in my camera roll are the products of an awkward Foco photo shoot, unflattering frat bathroom selfies and some blurry Green Key pictures. Unsurprisingly, I look completely fine in each photo, and I love having them — especially the stupid candids. 

Lesson three ( still deeply in progress): Ask for help when you need it. Dartmouth has really been the best of times and the worst of times — but, in all honesty, there were a lot of times that I made it worse than it had to be. I’m eternally grateful for the friends who kept checking in on me after I went MIA for a week, the professors who understood without many words what I meant when I said that the “past few weeks had been kind of tough” and the incredible nurse who picked up the phone when I called the crisis line at 1 a.m. — I honestly don’t know if I would be here without you. If I could roll back the clock, I would be more honest with people, including myself. My ego led to the end of friendships with people I canceled on one too many times without explanation and panicked week eight emails to some of my favorite professors who I had finally worked up the nerve to admit my failures to. Looking back, I feel like I’ve been afforded too much kindness — but I’ve genuinely appreciated every ounce of it. 

Lesson four (this one’s a little trite): Fake it until you make it. Looking back on 17-year-old me, I’m actually really proud of myself. I was incredibly shy in high school — my gummy earbuds almost permanently sewed into my head, blaring the loudest screamo music I could find in an attempt to ward off small talk. If I could meet my teenage self, I imagine she would be shocked to learn that I not only chat with strangers, but that I actually enjoy it. I participate in my classes, even when I’m not 100% sure of the answer. Most importantly, I don’t actually mind if people don’t like me. I no longer feel the need to manufacturer a sort of prepackaged personality to appeal to new people — I’ve found wonderful friends who don’t just mind my extended analysis on the Fast and Furious franchise or my love of stupid puns, but actually seem to enjoy it. 

Lesson five: It's okay to be wrong. Beyond these lessons in character, I’ve learned a lot in the classroom too — what a regression is (something I think about more than I expected to), how public schools are funded (something I have way more opinions on than I expected to) and what a Bildungsroman is (something that I probably would have never learned if not for the LIT distributive requirement). In a way, a lot of my beliefs have become a bit weaker, convictions I once held so strongly muddled by new experiences and perspectives. But I think it’s a good thing. I wonder how I’ll reflect differently on my college experience four years from now, if I’ll look back on this.

While I technically still have to complete one more term at Dartmouth (my D-Plan, like many, complicated by COVID-19), I’m excited to walk across the graduation stage on Sunday.  The last four years, as difficult as they sometimes were, are something that I’ve really treasured. The late nights in Robo editing this paper, the early morning Novack study sessions and the daily dips I took into the Connecticut River this spring have brought me so much joy — and brought me closer to the wonderful people that I claim the privilege of being friends with. I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve met here. And while I’m ready to leave Hanover for whatever lies ahead, I hope that I can keep some of them with me. 

Reilly Olinger is a former News Executive Editor of The Dartmouth and a member of the Class of 2022.