TTLG: Up North
Andrew Sasser reflects on his journey Up North.
This article is featured in the 2023 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
I find myself in the midst of a swamp — a bog, if you will. The sun was beating down overhead, and everywhere I turned my feet sank into knee deep water. The path I had been following started as a trail, but the trail I had followed became rougher, steeper, fainter until it faded out of existence. Even though I only had a vague idea of where I was going, I trudged along all the same. I was heading Up North.
My path to Dartmouth — to the moment where I am now, on the cusp of graduation — was similarly arduous. Coming out of high school, I was on top of the world: Dartmouth had always been my dream school. That dream shattered, however, a mere six weeks after high school graduation when my mother lost her battle with esophageal cancer.
In the days following the funeral, I felt empty, sick. My mother was the decisive guiding force in my life, always caring for me, from the moment I cried at my first day of preschool to when I cried over my first college rejection letter. She had dreamed that I would get into a school like Dartmouth one day, and without her, I suddenly found that dream became an enigma. I was moving to New Hampshire — a state that I had only ever been to once before, with no family or friends that I knew of within 200 miles. I contemplated taking a year off to regroup and spend time with family as we tried to cope with the unimaginable.
Despite all the emptiness I was experiencing, I felt that I had to put myself out there and go. If my mother was around, she would push me to go — after all, it had been my dream school. In the weeks that followed, I came to see Dartmouth as an opportunity for a fresh start, a chance to find a new community, even though I had no idea what I was getting into.
Six weeks later, I was boarding a Southwest Airlines flight to Boston. I again found myself worried and concerned; at that time, Hurricane Dorian was forecast to make landfall in my hometown while I was on my First-Year Trip. Still, I pushed forward, knowing that I shouldn’t let something out of my control dictate my path. Going through Trips not knowing if I was going to turn on my phone to find my hometown destroyed was stressful; seeing that the hurricane turned away brought me a sigh of relief.
I find myself back in the bog. Even though I have a vague sense of where I’m going, I wonder if I made the right choice, going at this alone, to push my limits and my comfort zone. Yet, I trudge on, hoping to see a glimpse of my destination.
Once I got to the first day of 19F, I thought my path at Dartmouth would become clear — I would take a lot of awesome classes, join clubs, make new friends and find a clear community. And for the first two terms of my Dartmouth career, I found something I had been looking for: stability. Sure, I pushed myself a little further than I should have — CHEM 57, “Honors Organic Chemistry” in freshman winter taught me what it was like to be absolutely humiliated by a class — but despite everything, I had a sense of what was coming. Then came the emails. So many emails.
Just as I thought I had found stability again, the hurricane of change, COVID-19, came for everything. Suddenly I found myself thrown back home into my childhood bedroom, separated from friends by thousands of miles. In the world of COVID, nothing seemed certain. Five weeks turned into a term, which turned into not having a normal term at Dartmouth until Fall 2021. In-person meetings were replaced with Zooms; personal connection came through random DMs.
And yet, despite the constant change and uncertainty, I threw myself into so many new experiences when things became normal again. I took a class on the art history of food; I learned how to use a chainsaw and an ice axe; I wrote a Chem thesis; I played light up frisbee on the Green and skinny-dipped off the Ledyard Docks. Despite all the chaos and scheduled craziness — sometimes it felt like I had no time to explain why I had no time to explain — each of these moments are things I now appreciate.
The truth about my Dartmouth experience is a funny thing. Even though some things were expected, like studying chemistry and becoming involved in the DOC, other things were not. I never anticipated joining the Timber Team, ice climbing, writing for the News section and even becoming an executive editor of this very paper. These experiences — the things I never would have expected, are some of the things that I have come to cherish the most. Jumping into the unknown, the universe never tells us if we did right or wrong. It’s more important to just try.
I find myself at my destination. The birds around me are chirping; the stream that flows into the bog babbles. The signs around me tell me that I am lost, and yet, I feel that I have found something new, something beautiful, something unexpected.
As I reflect on my Dartmouth experience, now that another whirlwind,Commencement, is upon us, I have come to reflect on what it means to go Up North. To this end, the words of Sam Cook remind me of just how much Dartmouth has changed me.
“Each of us has an up north. It’s a time and place far from the here and now. It’s a map on the wall, a dream in the making, a tugging at one’s soul. For those who feel the tug, who make the dream happen, who put the map in the packsack and go, the world is never quite the same again.”
I have been Up North. And part of me always will be.
Andrew Sasser is a former news executive editor of The Dartmouth and a member of the Class of 2023.