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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

TTLG: The Dartmouth Spirit Is A Joyful One

Former Opinion editor Thomas de Wolff ’24 ends his time writing for The Dartmouth with a reflection on what it means to love Dartmouth.

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Back in the tranquil days of my senior year of high school, at the height of college application season, my Dartmouth interviewer asked me, “What would you like your legacy to be when you graduate?” Ambitiously, I answered along the lines of, “I’d like to have done my part to make Dartmouth a better place.”

Once I arrived on campus, that meant writing for The Dartmouth. The first columns I penned addressed President Phil Hanlon and his administration’s deleterious handling of COVID-19 on campus. I argued that in-person classes were possible and that more needed to be done to provide opportunities for students to socialize. Change was slow, but we eventually returned to an in-person educational model in the summer of 2021.  Restrictions on student life gradually gave way.

Simultaneously, I accrued a reputation among my friends and peers as someone who was not afraid to provide occasional hot takes — some might even say “crazy” takes — in my columns, which often attracted, let’s say, “interesting” feedback in the now-retired comments section of The Dartmouth’s website. But for every naysayer, I usually had several people reach out to me expressing their appreciation that someone was saying what needed to be said.

During Hanlon’s tenure, many people called me a partisan opponent of the administration. Once, a friend of mine even joked that “if Hanlon frowns, the next day Thomas would write that he should’ve smiled.” I would, however, gently push back on this idea. 

My past criticisms of various initiatives of the Hanlon administration always came from a place of great adoration for this College, which we students are blessed to temporarily call our home. Careful stewardship of its institutions and traditions is required of its custodians, whether they be students or administrators. I am proud to say that the Opinion section has consistently been at the forefront of holding our leaders accountable during my time here.

In the fall and winter terms of this year, I served as one of The Dartmouth’s Opinion editors, which was a position I never envisioned myself assuming. When the editor application opened during the winter of my junior year, I let it pass me by. I had a devilishly tough course load ahead of me, so I didn’t think I could adequately balance the added responsibility. But at the end of the summer before my senior year, my predecessor stepped down after being elected to our Senior Class Council, and he asked me if I would be willing to replace him as editor. 

I had envisioned a fairly carefree senior year for myself, so I was initially on the fence about taking the role. However, I didn’t want the Opinion section to falter if it was left short-staffed. Ultimately, I accepted the position, as I felt it was the best way for me to continue to make Dartmouth a better place by ensuring that columns that had the power to guide campus conversation were responsibly written and sourced.

Week after week, I found myself overseeing columns that covered a litany of contentious issues. Campus found itself entangled in debates ranging from the standardized testing requirement, to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and even the unionization of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team. Despite countless long nights spent editing in Robinson Hall, the chance to provide an outlet for meaningful student discourse was far more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. Serving as an Opinion editor alongside the rest of the 180th Directorate is one of my proudest achievements from my time at Dartmouth. 

The nature of being a senior staff member at The Dartmouth means that you become extremely aware of the various hullabaloos on campus — they become your life. Once I ended my tenure, I was able to take a step back from the prosaic ideological differences that dominated the pages of the Opinion section. Since passing the torch to the current Opinion editors earlier this spring, I’ve felt unusually removed from campus conversations. However, this change has given me time to rediscover the joys of various underrated aspects of Dartmouth, whether by exploring the Upper Valley with friends, getting dinner with a professor or playing a casual game of pong on a Monday afternoon. 

In his 1999 address to first-year students, then-President of the College Jim Wright offered the freshmen two maxims. He first noted that “the Dartmouth spirit is, in the words of President John Sloan Dickey ’29, a ‘joyful spirit.’” The second, which comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story, “The Lantern Bearers,” was that “those who miss the joy miss all.” Like everyone, I have my gripes with small things here and there. My greatest fear is that Dartmouth will turn into a degree mill, as many of its peers have done. Too many students are increasingly fixated on their future careers at the expense of the memorable escapades they could one day tell their kids about. 

Yet I’ve realized that any institution that commands as much loyalty as Dartmouth does cannot be hollowed out so easily. There is a virtue in it that no amount of uninspired college bureaucrats or ideologues masquerading as professors can kill. On the whole, I’ve found that students remain optimistic and adventurous, many faculty members are exceptional and the priceless traditions that have defined this campus over the centuries are still kicking. These are the qualities that inspire the enduring devotion possessed by our students and alumni.

In former President David McLaughlin’s 1981 inaugural address, he declared that “Dartmouth with its special sense of place is a precious asset. In one of Goethe’s great lines he wrote, ‘A man doesn’t learn to understand anything unless he loves it.’ Loving Dartmouth is a joyful experience.” I truly love this place, and I am terribly sad to be leaving. I only hope that future generations of Dartmouth students will continue its joyful spirit by sharing in the same traditions I did, and crafting new ones of their own. 


Thomas de Wolff

Thomas de Wolff '24 is from St. Louis, Missouri, and is majoring in History and French. He currently serves as opinion editor and as a member of the Editorial Board, and has written for the opinion section in the past. Outside of The Dartmouth, Thomas enjoys playing guitar, reading, and learning to juggle.