Reflection: Great Expectations
One student explores the pros and cons of the expectations we hold for our Dartmouth experience.
This article is featured in the 2023 Freshman special issue.
If you were given the option to know everything that would transpire during your next four years, starting from the second you stepped foot on campus, would you choose to know? Or is part of the allure of this little College on the Hill the fact that we never know what is going to happen next? If I told my 18-year-old self everything that has occurred in my past two years on campus, I think she would faint. You’ll quickly learn that although Hanover may seem sleepy, Dartmouth moves fast. The days here feel like entire weeks, the weeks like months. And the months? Frankly, they feel like years.
I’ve often wondered why that is. How is it that we seem to live entire lifetimes in the span of 10 weeks? And even more puzzling is how we always seem to keep up, as though things aren’t always changing around us — as though the people we’ve come to love aren’t always fluttering in and out of our lives because of the ever-changing D-Plan. As though we aren’t packing everything up and moving every term. As though we don’t go from burning in the sun to shivering after sunset. As though we aren’t tired — and existentially so.
My dear freshmen, it can be easy to become unhappy at Dartmouth. The classes are demanding to an unhealthy extent. The winters are often dark and brutal. The social scene is easily repetitive and often focused on all of the wrong things. You’ll catch the frat flu at least once a term — twice if you’re really unlucky. The homesickness will hit you when you least expect it. And you will begin to feel every second of every day slipping past you — time flies by so quickly in the Hanover bubble that you will be forced to stop and ask if you’ve made the most of your terms at Dartmouth.
That being said, I hope you’ll give Dartmouth a chance. You, too, will grow to call it home. For all of its flaws, this is a magical place to be. And you’ll soon find that the people make the place. Lean into that — I’ve met some of my favorite people on this campus.
But if I could go back and tell myself anything, it would be to simply expect less. I’m not telling you not to aim high or pursue your dreams, but there’s this expectation that college will be the best four years of your life. I, for one, hope that this isn’t the case. I hope that my college experience is simply a good time in my life, superseded by whatever may follow. Trying to fit the best years of my life into the next four years is simply exhausting.
Much of the stress and unhappiness that I’ve experienced since I’ve been here is because of the expectations I’ve placed on what I’ve wanted my time at Dartmouth to look like. I’ve found that my expectations were rooted in a sense of entitlement towards the world. I expected that everything would always work out for the best. I would nail every interview I had, be accepted to everything I applied for, get straight As, make the best friends and be invited to all of the most exclusive events. I genuinely believed that if I worked hard enough and did my best to do right by those around me, things would just work out for me. In fact, I expected them to.
So imagine the way my world crumbled when these things simply stopped happening. When my GPA started slipping, despite the countless hours I spent in the library, or when I fumbled interviews and received a spree of rejections for applications I had poured my soul into. But what has perhaps been the most heart-wrenching has been dealing with all of the changes surrounding the people that I love. I’ve spent many months watching as the people that had once defined my life have faded into strangers. I’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of people that I’ve loved recently, and I’ve found that the world is just a bit crueler than I had known it to be.
But I don’t think the world is only heartbreak and struggle. There is a lot of beauty and goodness to be found in the world, but we lose our ability to see it when we focus too much on our expectations of how things should be. Perhaps we all just have too many expectations — expectations for the world, one another and ourselves. But I’ve come to believe that a lot of the disappointment we hold in our lives is because our reality is rarely at par with the way we conceive of it. It’s this disparity that causes us such mental anguish.
For example, I’ll be the first to admit that this summer didn’t feel like the way sophomore summer was supposed to. I’m writing this on what feels like the millionth rainy day of the term, soaking wet and wondering where the sun has gone. This was supposed to be the best summer of our lives, one that we’d spend laughing and partying until three in the morning every night. We’d spend hours under the sun, tanning and kayaking by the Connecticut River. We’d take two classes and give ourselves the academic break we deserved halfway into our Dartmouth career. We’d spend our newfound time hiking and exploring the Upper Valley.
Instead, it rained most days of each week. The Ledyard docks were void of sunbathing students. And most of the people I know took three classes or were stressed from recruiting for jobs that start a year into the future. Few people hiked and, honestly, nobody raged anymore. I met two ’02s one day, who had come back to visit. “We closed the basement on a Saturday night at our old frat,” they told me, referring to how they were the last ones in the basement that night. “It was strange — especially for sophomore summer. What happened?”
I couldn’t tell you, ’02s, but I’ll tell you what I do know. We need to do more to curb our great expectations. We need to stop worrying about the past or the future and focus on the beauty of each day. Perhaps the changes that we get to experience at Dartmouth, whether it be in weather, classes or friendships, are a good way to teach us that life keeps moving. There’s so much in our lives that is beyond our control, and perhaps instead of letting that cause us frustration and sadness, we should learn to appreciate the little moments. It could be that our happiness is found in small pockets of time — in the air that we breathe and the laughter that we share. After all, there are small delights to be found in each day, whether it be the joy of catching up with an old friend, or the warmth of the sunshine on your face as the birds chirp overhead.
So, dear ’27s, know that the journey you have ahead of you will not be the one that you expected. You may not get into the clubs you thought you would on campus, and you may major in a department that you never thought you would. You may become friends with people from countries you’ve never stepped foot in, or hear stories of experiences you will never have. You may surprise yourself by doing the Ledyard challenge, the Lou’s challenge or even the Dartmouth Seven. You may even fall in love with someone you never previously knew existed. But I’m here to tell you that that is all a part of the Dartmouth experience — one that may be pleasantly unexpected.