I have always been familiar with the phrase, “The people make the place.” However, I have never heard it voiced as emphatically as at Dartmouth. After a year on campus, I say it myself with a conviction that my high school self would be in awe of.
Where you go to college, for many, is one of the first real decisions you get to make. Arriving at the place you choose to call your own, there is an obscure awareness that you also chose all the people that come with it, that they chose you. At the very least, there is an understanding that you agreed to spend some of the most influential years of your life with them, even if you never speak to some of them.
In the rush of those first few days on campus, many come across individuals who will become defining characters of their college experience — often referred to as the “best of your life.” These happenstance collisions are part of what makes these initial relationships on campus so special. Sometimes even the entirely random relationships feel predestined. Of all the people who could end up in the same place at the same time, here you are, here they are — and the coincidence seems too perfect to be anything but the work of some divine fate.
For many of us, such as Emma Key ’24, our initial friendships are formed through random housing assignments.
“My freshman year was during COVID, so the only people I was really able to interact with were the ones on my floor,” Key said. “It bonded us in a way and sort of forced my first friend group to be my dorm.”
For Key, these relationships were crucial to figuring out who she was when she first came to Dartmouth.
“I will say they set the standard pretty high. They taught me so much about what I want in friends,” Key said. “When I look at photos and remember all those memories, I’m remembering feeling like I made my first real friends. They made me feel loved when I didn’t even love myself.”
Carson Smith ’23 spoke of his unique experience in the Great Issue Scholars LLC in McLaughlin.
“On that floor in McLaughlin there was a group of us that spoke French, so I made this group chat ‘Franco Friends,’ and throughout our fall and winter term every Sunday we would go to the Hop, or the crêpe place that used to be in town, and would hang out,” Smith said. “When everything transitioned over COVID, we would still meet up at least once a week over Zoom.”
While dormitory relationships are often bred from convenience, it certainly does not subtract from their value. My freshman — and current — roommate and I often thank the “Res Gods” (i.e. Gods of Residential Life) for introducing us. It is because of them I get to play FMK with vocabulary words every night, sleep next to a wall covered in first day of class polaroids and crave Cafe Rio tortillas late at night. We often marvel at our compatibility, crediting our very different lifestyles as one of the many reasons we live so well together. But that’s also why I’m worried about staying friends over sophomore summer when we stop living together.
Freshman friendships have earned a reputation for not lasting as time, living situations, different academic interests and the notorious D-Plan act to separate them.
“Because lots of us joined different Greek spaces, because we now have significant others, different majors, do I hang out with them as much as I did? No,” Key said. “But do I still feel comfortable going up to any one of them or grabbing a meal with them? 100%. It’s not that friendships have a falling out … it’s just the environment.”
“Don’t listen to the people that say they don’t last — those are pessimists, those are glass-half-empty people,” Smith added. “Just be cognizant things may evolve, but don’t close yourself off. Cast as wide of a net as you can, meet as many people as you can and try to figure out who your core friends may be.”
Meanwhile, Brady Chappel ’24 found his first friends on the baseball team.
“I know my freshman year there was the pandemic and all and the school was just trying to keep us safe, but the school had some really harsh rules and it was hard to meet new people,” Chappel said. “So it meant I was spending most of my time, I mean, even more than usual, with my teammates.”
Looking back a couple of years, upperclassmen still fondly remember their first friend groups at Dartmouth.
“I hope they know I love them so dearly and they set my standards for Dartmouth so, so high,” Key said. “My appreciation for them I can’t even put into words. I can’t wait to see what they do with their lives.”
To my own freshman friend group: I’d like to take a moment to admire your spontaneity. The days I’d walk into my room to find one of you napping in my bed, the night we tried to scooter to the golf course but had to stop by the time we reached Geisel School of Medicine because we had melted the wheels from riding too fast. The pyramid of self portraits in our hallway, the tap dance competitions, the singing in the shower, the violent laughter, the sound of my feet sprinting across the hall to my best friend’s room because I had something just so important to tell her. There was something so genuine, so innocent in these relationships that even one year later they feel childlike in memory.
Before I knew how amazing or how terrible this campus could make me feel, I knew you. Though a thousand miles from home, I felt as though I had made a new one between the doors of our rooms.
To all of the friends we make freshman year, thank you.