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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

TTLG: Leaving Home Behind

Former news executive editor Elle Muller ’24 reflects on growing up at a College that came to feel like her home.


This article is featured in the 2024 Commencement & Reunions special issue.

“I am excited to see what I will learn from my next home.”

That is the final line of the Common Application essay that I sent to Dartmouth on a whim in January 2020. I had written about a series of unconventional homes that I grew up in, hoping halfheartedly to find something resembling a home in college. I could not have imagined what I would find at Dartmouth. 

“I know we’re not from here, but I do feel like I grew up here.”

My friend said this in my car as we drove through Hanover — our conversation underscored by “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. That song has grown to encompass the love and nostalgia I have for Dartmouth and the people here. I have truly discovered that “home is wherever I’m with you.”

I first heard “Home” on Sept. 14, 2020, the start of my freshman fall classes on Zoom. The Dartmouth Outing Club sent the Class of 2024 a link to the iconic rendition of the song they typically perform during First Year Trips. Now, as I re-read the emails from the couch of my senior apartment, it feels like I am at a completely different Dartmouth. In a way, I am. 

I met my now-roommates in our doorways during freshman year. We would eat our take-out dinners together over Zoom or sit in our hallway on the third floor of Topliff Hall. We would take long walks in Pine Park and dip in the river — I kept my mask on the first few times because I was so afraid of being asked to leave campus by the College due to the COVID-19 restrictions. One night, we even tried to walk all the way to the Skiway, although I didn’t make it past the rugby fields. Before we left for winterim, we cooked a Friendsgiving meal in the Topliff kitchen and ate on the hallway floor.

While I look back on these memories fondly, it was, of course, not all warm and cozy. ​​I thought that there was something fragile about Dartmouth. I was so afraid of it being taken away. Every happy memory was underscored by the threat of “being sent home” for breaking the rules. The happiness became temporary, that I was always afraid of losing, which made me go beyond seizing the moment.

Like everyone who was at Dartmouth during the COVID-19 pandemic, I will always remember then-Dean of the College Kathryn Lively’s emails to campus during my first year. Specifically, after Jan. 6, 2021, following a long lamentation on the state of the world and some words about what our liberal arts education would do for us in the next four years, she said “the academic term starts now.” Since then, no matter where I am or what is going on, I have always been thinking, “The academic term starts now.” I start the first day of classes like a horse at the gates before a race. I throw everything in my life in a compartmentalized box; I put blinders on, and the academic term starts. 

My freshman year, I attended three funerals on Zoom. I cried about deaths to a pastor, a rabbi and my mom. In those moments, I grew up in ways that I was not ready for. 

But I was also still surrounded by intense feelings of joy. My friends and I went apple picking and took socially distant pictures in case we wanted to post them. We hiked Cardigan Mountain in masks tipped below our chins to catch our breaths. I fell so deeply in love with these people and places.

During sophomore year, the fear of “getting sent home” faded, and I began to find a sense of security that I had never felt before. Looking back, that year was truly the highest of highs, even as the other less memorable moments felt numb. But that year, I was home at Dartmouth in a way that I had never been before. 

During junior year, I finally began to feel like I could do anything, that I would always have Dartmouth to fall back on. I went to London in summer 2022 and I worked at a professional theater in winter 2023 — but Dartmouth was always my home base.

I was racing to make up for time lost during the pandemic, trying to do everything, and I was still operating with the mindset that “the academic term starts now.” I was so focused on making sure that I had the next step planned that I placed less value on living in the moment. I was not continuing projects from term to term because I was so burnt out. As a writer, I would start stories and never finish them. 

Finally, everything really broke during my junior summer, which I spent in New York City working in finance. Suddenly, I was alone in a new city. I was farther away than I expected from the few local people I did know. My evenings were empty, and I had so much time to think. I was working a job that took up 12 hours of my day, but it left the remaining time dark and empty. Loneliness crept in, in a way that I had not felt in a long time. It was a feeling that I had been pushing away for years.

I could not block everything out the way I once had, even when I came back for senior fall. Instead of keeping my head down and blinders on, I was a mess. Burned bridges of past relationships kept me awake at night. Uncertainty and fear surrounding global issues made me feel heavy. My friendships strained as I wandered from the eye of my emotional hurricane. The academic term had started, but I was far from focused on it.

This past January, as I was revisiting my copy of “Beowulf” for my thesis, I flipped to where a brilliant red and yellow maple leaf had been pressed between the pages. I have so many pressed leaves from Hanover, but this has to be one of the most beautiful. I had picked the leaf off the ground my junior fall and pressed it in “Beowulf,” which I was reading for a class with English professor Monika Otter. I held the leaf in my hand and looked at the pencil annotations in my book. Professor Otter passed away my junior spring, but that leaf and the annotations preserved a feeling that I could not quite express. Throughout my senior year, I was always tied to that book and the memories of junior fall. 

At Professor Otter’s funeral — where someone read from her final Facebook post before she died — I wrote down that Professor Otter told us to live life with as much “discovery, love and music” as we could find. Now, when I’m stuck, I find myself repeating that like a mantra of my own: “discovery, love and music.”

I presented my thesis, and my new advisor said that Professor Otter would be proud of what I had done.

“The souls of dead professors live in Wrens.” 

My friend told me that as we sat in the Wren Room during our thesis seminar. She was relaying what her advisor had told her about the Wren Room in Sanborn Library. I looked at the golden wrens carved into the wood behind. I had never even thought about the name or its relation to the carved birds intertwining in the woodwork.

This campus truly is haunted in ways that I will never forget. I’m stuck between two worlds: the Dartmouth I once knew and the Dartmouth I know now. I don’t want to forget either of them, and I don’t want to leave either. 

One of my thesis seminar professors, who was seated at the front of the Wren Room, graduated  Dartmouth in 2010. I think about how much different this place must feel to him, removed yet still so connected. Now, when I see a class year tacked onto the end of an alumnus’s name, I want to ask them so many questions. I want to know how to let go of a place like this, but also how it changes once you graduate. 

“I am excited to see what I will learn from my next home.” 

What did I learn? So much. 

I learned a lot about “home” and what that means to me. I also learned a lot about death and how to push emotions to the side. Recently, I have been learning how to resist my former “the academic term starts now” mentality. Dartmouth was fragile in a lot of ways, and I will be “sent home” after graduation, but I have learned how to be both a lot stronger and a lot more fragile. 

I didn’t only learn what I thought I would. I also grew up here. I do still think of Dartmouth as my home in many ways. But I also feel like it is no longer mine. It is as if my parents just sold my childhood home to a new couple — soon, this College will be someone else’s home. My time here will fade. But this will always be where I grew up. 

Elle Muller

Elle Muller is a ’24 from Tucson, Arizona. She is double majoring in English and creative writing & theatre. At The Dartmouth, she served as the news executive editor for the 180th Directorate. Before that, she wrote and edited for Arts. In addition to writing, Elle is involved with dance and theatre at Dartmouth.