From City to Wilderness
One student reflects on what changes when moving to Hanover
If you somehow haven’t noticed, Dartmouth is kind of in the middle of nowhere. There are two national chains — Dominos and Starbucks — and about a billion more trees. The tallest building in the area is an old clock tower whose highest room is closed to students for the majority of the year. From almost any outdoor location on campus, the sun is visible all day. These days, the Dartmouth “Big Green” could more appropriately be titled the “Big Red, Yellow and Orange” as the trees’ leaves change to beautiful fall colors. “Vox Clamantis in Deserto,” Latin for the Bible verse “a voice crying out in the wilderness,” seems like an appropriate motto for our wonderfully rural college.
Eleazer Wheelock chose this motto as an expression of Dartmouth’s beginnings as an evangelical establishment on what was once a frontier of European settlement and the ancestral land of the Abenaki people. Nowadays, the motto is mostly associated with Dartmouth’s rural location, which is one of the College’s more prominent traits.
This isolation has been quite the change for me.
I am from Chevy Chase, Md., a suburb right outside of Washington, D.C., and I went to high school in the center of northwest Washington, across the street from the National Cathedral. I lived no more than a thirty-minute drive from any monument or the White House. I enjoyed the ultimate pleasure of food from any restaurant of my choice with just a few simple keystrokes. I love my city for these and many more of its charming qualities, so why did I — and the rest of Dartmouth’s city-dwellers — choose to attend this remote institution of higher learning? Besides the choices of cuisine, what exactly has changed in my life since coming to Dartmouth?
Before college, I thought I knew everything and everyone worth knowing in my city after living for 18 years in the District of Columbia metropolitan area — which boasts a population of over 5.4 million. How hard could it be to navigate a small college town?
I was so naive. These first few months at Dartmouth have been a whirlwind. Dartmouth has felt like nothing short of a sea of people to me — there are too many amazing people, classes, clubs, teams and jobs. I am just getting started here, and am already overwhelmed with my measly array of commitments — but I love every minute of them. Pushing myself every day to meet someone new and try something new is challenging, yet fulfilling. I am distinctly aware that I will never be able to get a taste of all that Dartmouth has to offer, and that humility has led me to reassess my supposed mastery of the city I call home.
Bringing this newfound appreciation back to Chevy Chase, I plan to bring my family to a new restaurant in a different part of D.C. I plan to use my friends’ and my own new college connections to meet new people. I plan to leave my bubble of knowing, and forget my foolhardy overconfidence.
In a majorly cliche move on my part, Dartmouth has also given me a deeper appreciation for nature. Yes, I know that’s an obvious one. But, it’s more than that. I used to appreciate the outdoors at home — where every hedge and cherry blossom at home was manicured to perfection — but the outdoors in rural New Hampshire is different. Dartmouth’s nature is simple, silent and real. I genuinely take a moment and appreciate a deep breath of fresh, freezing cold air every morning. Something about a five-minute walk between classes, meals or meetings accompanied by music or a friend puts the college grind into perspective. The distractions sink into the dewy grass and the fallen leaves as I bounce across the Green.
Even my heart-and-soul devotion to the Green Bay Packers football team — a devotion that commanded my attention every Sunday at home — has become almost secondary to an afternoon walk around gorgeous Occom Pond. Almost.
In fact, the sanctity of Dartmouth’s almost alien setting has bred new passions. For the first time since maybe freshman year of high school, I am working for my own enjoyment again. All the impending pressures of home are behind me, and I am completely focused on myself. I am learning for me.
I have also discovered the supreme enjoyment that is meeting new people and making new friends, activities that I have never done in such a concentrated amount of time. I cannot emphasize enough how great it feels to be ten minutes late to class because I wanted to catch up with a friend that I hadn’t seen since that party in the Fayesment last weekend. I hope to one day feel comfortable throwing at least a nod of recognition at every person I pass on campus.
At a most basic level, Dartmouth has helped me find beauty in new places. And none of those places are my “For You” page on TikTok.
“Vox clamantis in deserto,” I believe, has come a long way from its intended meaning. To me, Dartmouth’s motto tells of a voice, singular and united but composed of all the diverse individuals that make Dartmouth a shining light in the serene darkness of the New Hampshire wilderness.
To me, the motto is just one reminder of what makes Dartmouth special, and a way to frame all that has changed when I moved to Hanover. We might be a long way from home, but we have built our own city in the woods.