I’ve spent these last few days before the leaves begin to change saying goodbye to friends that are leaving for the fall and reading by the Ledyard docks. Flocks of ’27s come and go. “What dorm are you in?” and “How do dining dollars work, again?” squeeze between the sentences of Katherine May’s memoir “Enchantment.” I think of how scary upperclassmen seemed my first week on campus. Now I am one. I remember the future I had envisioned for myself at Dartmouth when I was a freshman on those docks. My life now looks nothing like the predictions I made.
“I just can’t wait for sophomore summer,” someone says. That one makes me smile. For two years, sophomore summer was just another piece of Dartmouth lore I couldn’t wait to experience. Now it’s just a memory that I, like those before me, will share with eager underclassmen.
Stepping on campus 12 weeks ago was unlike the beginning of any other term I’ve experienced at Dartmouth. The leaves wore a verdant shade of green, the campus I once knew to be fast-paced and over-populated was now a ghost town and I had already decided that it would be the best term — the best summer — of my life.
“At the beginning of sophomore summer it felt like there was this low grade anxiety that a lot of people were feeling ... I think it was kind of influenced by the notion that it had to be the best summer or best term ever,” Millie Keogh ’25 said.
“Well, was it?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she responded.
Sophomore summer has earned its “Camp Dartmouth” reputation with its many activities and traditions like Masters and Tubestock. Many students choose to take two classes, opposed to the traditional three, so that they can replace time spent studying with making new friends, exploring the area or joining new clubs.
Yet, when I asked students to reflect on the term, there were no stories of dance shows or slip n’ slide parties. Instead, they spoke of the feeling that came with experiencing the middle arch of your college career with only your class alongside you.
“I gained so much confidence and comfort at Dartmouth [during the summer],” Emily Brown ’25 said. “Sophomore summer … felt so much more inclusive and kind and made Dartmouth feel less scary and serious. Every event really just feels like groups of kids hanging out.”
Other students, like Ryan Davi ‘25 emphasized the liberation that comes with being surrounded by peers that have collectively decided to say “yes” to an unconventional term.
“There’s always a little bit of social anxiety with upperclassmen and not wanting to step out of line. But without that mental barrier, it really helped to open new doors and make Dartmouth my own a little bit more,” Davi said. “Everyone buys in for the most part, and that’s what makes it all work. There’s not really another term most people do that and are so open to everything.”
I reflect on the summer in a similar regard. Until you’ve experienced it, it feels as though the summer is something the upperclassmen have that you don’t — something that makes them a little more a part of Dartmouth than you are.
While summer was all fun and games, at times it felt like a little too much. I had grown accustomed to the feeling of never having enough time, of spending hours in the library a day, of declining social invitations on weeknights. Without those stressors, Dartmouth didn’t really feel like Dartmouth.
“There were times I was wondering if I was wasting my time or should be doing more, but then I had to realize those are intrusive thoughts,” Brown said. “Part of the reason I allowed myself to have such a free summer is because the entire time I was thinking: Enjoy this as much as you can right now because you have the time to, but you know that the fall is going to be very different and extremely busy.”
Keogh further emphasized the influence sophomore summer has on the fall term.
“I feel like my goals … for sophomore summer, and [now] this fall, are influenced by each other. My goals for sophomore summer were tethered by the fact that I knew fall would be very different, and so I had to take advantage of this summer,” Keogh explained. “The fall is based on how this summer went and the needs that I didn’t meet in the summer — like doing more extracurriculars, getting off campus and focusing more in class.”
There was another type of uneasiness, though, that I found to be unique to the summer. With every Ledyard challenge, every Wednesday night sorority meeting and every vacant Collis lunch line came the awareness that what I was experiencing was unique to the moment. It was all unique to Camp Dartmouth, and I realized these snapshots of the summer would later reside in memory as the last few moments of my adolescence.
Other students echoed this sense of fleeting time.
“It just feels so sped up after sophomore summer with internships and off terms and study abroad [programs] … It feels like we’re on the tail end of our time at Dartmouth,” Keogh said. “People being like, ‘Wow I can’t believe we are on week x,’ or ‘We only have x amount of time left,’ and the revisiting of ‘Oh, what's your D-Plan again? Oh shoot! I'm not going to see you until senior year,’ was a constant part of the dialogue around sophomore summer.”
Keogh also added that she felt “a little nervous…to come back to a campus with 1000 people [she’s] never met before” after being surrounded by familiar faces for the summer.
While many are afflicted by the end of our perfect summer, there is also a sense of excitement to carry the newfound friendships, confidence and love for Dartmouth many found over the past few months into a new term.
“I feel much better going into this fall than any other term at Dartmouth just because I really know my limits now. I have a good grasp on how to balance my schedule,” Brown said. “I think people around me really energize me. Some points of summer were a little too slow for me.”
However, other students felt overwhelmed at times by the excitement around sophomore summer and are eager to return to feeling more “grounded,” as Keogh remarked.
“Sophomore summer was a term [that] allowed me a lot of spontaneity all of the time, but it also gets exhausting,” Keogh said. “There are some people I got closer with that are going to be ‘on’ in the fall, and so to establish those relationships outside of the summer dream bubble is exciting.”
There are many different ways to hold sophomore summer in memory. It can be an inimitable celebration of your coming of age. Your last taste of childhood. The best days of your life. The worst days of your life. The ‘Dartmouth Difference.’ The summer it never stopped raining in Hanover.
Whatever it be, the transition between sophomore summer and junior fall is a time that prompts you to evaluate your position as an undergraduate that is halfway through your time at Dartmouth. To make sense of the next two years, you have to reflect on the last two. As daunting of a task as that may feel, I take comfort in knowing the unpredictability of my underclassmen years is what made them so special to me. I like to think I’ll say the same thing come graduation.