TTLG: Don’t Forget to Look Up
Former editor-in-chief Emily Lu ’23 used to live life putting one foot in front of the other. Now, she encourages students to dance off the path.
Source: Courtesy of Emily Lu
This article is featured in the 2023 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
When I graduated from high school, my graduation cap featured a painting of famed cartoon character Peppa Pig leaving footprints in the snow, headed towards a jumble of green trees — along with the quote “one foot in front of the other.”
It was a representation of, among other things, the motto that got me through the gruel of those four years. If I put my head down and focused on the task at hand, one step at a time, I could do anything my high school self came across. Anything big or overwhelming felt just a little more doable when I broke it down to exactly what I knew: putting one foot in front of the other, and doing that again.
Not much changed when I left Texas for Hanover. It worked for those past four years, it would work for another, I told myself. While I switched my Chacos and shorts for fleece-lined leggings and Bean boots, I continued down the same path. I inched out of my comfort zone every once in a while to attend a DOC feed here and there or grab a meal with someone new after class. But after finding friends during O-week and stumbling upon a niche study spot early on in the fall, I felt like I had everything figured out. Head down, straight ahead — that would be my formula for success.
And so I got through a couple of hasty sprints — known as 10-week terms here at Dartmouth — doing exactly that. But there’s a problem with living in the future, when nothing about the future is certain. At the end of my freshman winter, as the Dartmouth Coach I was on pulled out of Hanover, I received a fateful email about how the first half of spring term would be fully online. Then it was the rest of spring term, and maybe the subsequent fall, winter and spring again, depending on how lucky you were with snagging housing. I lived on Zoom in limbo. I could no longer rely on my trusty strategy of putting one foot in front of the other when there was nowhere to go.
The thing about keeping your head down is that it is easy. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day and let a term sweep you away without being intentional with your time. You don’t have to think much about it. I think Dartmouth teaches us to operate this way; with the drastic change that comes with the D-plan every term, added to it a global pandemic, students are often starved of stability. We hold onto every little shred, and for me that meant sticking to a planned routine. Being whisked away to take online classes from my childhood bedroom was not part of the plan, and it did not make things easy.
So, with nothing else to do, I took time to think and feel for myself. I wallowed in my sadness, anger and privilege. I journaled, letting my tears splatter against the still smudgy ink — the drama was not lost on me. In a hazy entry dated July 2020, I promised myself that I would savor every moment I had left as a student of this special place.
This promise wasn’t exactly revolutionary, but returning to Hanover my sophomore winter and spring, it was fresh on my mind how precious time was. It started with saying yes to neighborhood rollerblading trips and late-night baking extravaganzas. Living in the now also means saying no to extracurriculars and research projects I did not actually feel fulfilled by. It was easier said than done, but I remembered to look up and be critical of my once steadfast endeavors. The homework and essays would always be there, and it doesn’t hurt to dance off the path every once in a while. It’s those excursions that will be the most memorable.
On some of the most challenging days of my life, where it felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day to get my work done, taking a beat still helped. Many of those were spent in Robinson Hall working on this very paper. At the end of the night, when walking three minutes to my bed felt like scaling a mountain, I reminded myself to look up. There were more than a few nights where you could’ve found me standing in the middle of West Wheelock street, just appreciating the moon and stars that dotted the night sky. It was like a sign that everything would be okay, because life is so much bigger than what we deal with everyday. Enjoying the moment is almost more important in the thick of it, regardless of how impossible that can feel.
But that brings me to where we are now. Just a few weeks shy of graduation, and I’m feeling all the excitement and nerves that come with a major transition of leaving the place I’ve called home for the past four years. I’m soaking up this last term and counting all the lasts that are bound to happen over these next few weeks. Add to that: I have no idea where I’m going next.
When friends are searching for apartments together and figuring out their commute to work, my road is a little different. I stretch each day of my senior spring saying yes to Ice Cream Fore U runs and river dips, and also squeezing in as many cover letters submissions as the day permits. The next part of my path is unmarked. It pains me that imposter syndrome is creeping back into my life, when I recently started winning those battles. In my younger years — and on days now where I feel more insecure — I might ask myself what the point of my Dartmouth education was if I’m likely graduating with no job and no certain path ahead. At least putting one foot in front of the other in high school got me to Dartmouth; now, I don’t have anything to show for it.
But I’m reminded that all the little detours and side quests from my intended path were exactly what made me who I am today. They helped me grow and not only accept the unknown, but embrace it. The point of my Dartmouth was learning to believe in myself, to value my worth and interests enough to know what I want. And that kind of learning was harder and more important than any assignment I had.
This place is far from perfect, but if you look hard enough, there are precious moments and people tucked in every corner. There is too much to do and learn and experience here for Dartmouth just to be something to get through. For all of us who like to shoot for the moon, there’s nothing wrong with setting goals and working towards them; just don’t forget to look up while you’re headed there.
Emily Lu is a former editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth and a member of the Class of 2023.