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Most of my favorite evenings have ended the same way, talking to friends. These days, that’s sitting in the kitchen at the Sustainable Living Center, where waffles are usually present. But freshman year, that was right outside of my room on the first floor of Berry Hall in the McLaughlin cluster. A few of my newest college friends and I, sitting on the carpeted floor, backs up against the wall.
“I could’ve done better.” For a long time, that thought has been nestled comfortably into my headspace, surfacing with frustrating regularity. It’s what I told myself after every high school debate tournament in which I couldn’t conquer my anxieties, after every column I’ve written for The Dartmouth that didn’t convey the eloquence I wish I had, after every exam, every race, every interview. Recently, it’s a conclusion to which I’ve returned repeatedly when reflecting on my Dartmouth experience.
The first time I stepped into the Tower Room, I audibly gasped. It was during a late-night tour of Dartmouth, part of the Dimensions program, and I attracted some strange looks from my fellow tour-goers. But I couldn’t help myself. The hardwood floors and tables, the shelves full of dusty old books, the cozy nooks and alcoves, the vaulted ceilings, the warm glow of the lamps and the chandeliers — all of these things flooded into my vision, enamoring me and exciting me and overwhelming me. It was the kind of storied, iconic library that I’d only ever dreamed about, a real-life Hogwarts conjured up before my eyes. I couldn’t believe that this was a real place that mere mortals could casually enter.
Coming to Dartmouth, I had always known it was a school lauded for its political accessibility, as countless prominent figures across the political spectrum — both New Hampshire-specific and also on the national scale — often come to Hanover specifically just to engage one-on-one with the Dartmouth student body.
I was raised under the sun, yet I wasn’t really supposed to be. My skin takes after my mother’s, who grew up in northern China, where the sun hides for a large part of the year. When my mother was younger, her skin was pale and spotless like porcelain. After living in California for over 20 years, her skin is now adorned with a lovely arrangement of spots and freckles that bear witness to her strength and adaptability.
My first term at Dartmouth was mostly spent grabbing meals. Like many, I was unaccustomed to, but excited by, the ability to eat at all hours of the day. The Class of 1953 Commons and Collis Café saw much of my DBA in my first few weeks here. More engrossing to me, though, was the chance to meet and talk with people from so many different backgrounds. Hearing my new classmates tell stories of places I’d only once imagined was both exciting and overwhelming.
I have a habit that often annoys my friends. Before watching a movie or starting a TV series, I have to read the Wikipedia plot summary first so I know the ending. I try to do the same with books if there is a plot summary available online. One could call this a bad habit, but I never saw anything wrong with it. This practice maximizes my enjoyment of media because I can watch or read things without having to be stressed about whether my favorite character would die. Suspense has never been my cup of tea.
There was a moment a few terms ago when I was trekking back home after another long night in the library. It was snowing and I was miserable and exhausted, my paper still unfinished, my anxiety acting up in full force. The walk from Baker-Berry to the Lodge was a long one, made even longer from the construction at the Hood Museum of Art and because the Hopkins Center for the Arts is closed after midnight. I remember stopping for a moment, looking at the empty street at 2 a.m. and thinking to myself that perhaps this would be a moment I would still remember and miss after my time here ends.
“Game of Thrones” ended last Sunday, and people hated it. The next day, while hot takes exploded across the internet, an ’80s-style remake of the final scene made the rounds on Twitter. As Jon Snow rides north, he looks back over his shoulder one last time — and then Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” slides in. A character montage rolls as tongue-in-cheek “Where are they now?” text flashes on the screen. “Arya found land west of Westeros and named it Westereros,” we learn. “Bronn was stabbed and killed in a bar fight three days later.”
Dartmouth lives for its dramas. Our College’s traditions are flashy, overwrought and overdocumented, as shown by the stream of social media posts immediately following any bonfire, polar plunge or Green Key concert. The candle-lit walk to the BEMA is one of the particularly sentimental traditions here: a ceremonial march completed by freshmen during their orientation week and seniors during their senior week in the most full-circle way possible. In a performative way, it is the sunrise and the sunset to any Dartmouth student’s career.
I’m a little bitter that the Hood is just now opening as we’re leaving. I wish I had more time there. I have spent hours wandering the art museum, marveling at Dartmouth’s well-funded resources at our fingertips. And there’s one painting that I keep coming back to: Mark Rothko’s “Lilac and Orange over Ivory.” It stands in stark contrast to my busy, frequently overloaded time running around this campus.
Next fall, Dartmouth will welcome members of the Class of 2023 from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, and from 69 other countries, making it the most geographically diverse class in the College’s history. Accordingly, these students will also be graduates of all different types of high schools, ranging from elite preparatory schools in the northeast to small public schools in the south. Regardless of their background, however, they all experience the same phenomenon upon their arrival to the College: the grind.
“The grind never stops” — it’s a phrase that is all too familiar to Dartmouth students. It evokes memories of panic-driven all-nighters, seemingly never-ending to-do lists and calendars that just never seem to be empty. Sure, there are times when I find work unenjoyable — when I’ve spent hours on a problem set, and all I want to do is take a nap and maybe change my major. There are also times when work seems completely pointless — when I question if I’ll ever really use any of this information outside of class. Yet, for all of those times of panic, there are moments of passion. There are moments when I’m reminded of what all this work leads to: change: Real, physical, future-altering change. Those are the moments that make “the grind” seem worthwhile.
Where do you think has the best coffee in Hanover?
After a fun Green Key filled with everything but work, we’re back to the grind as Week 9 sets into full swing and finals slowly creep up. Our break from routine was short-lived, and the conversations about our exciting and wild weekends are quickly turning into complaints about all the studying and catching-up we have to do. At a school where “hustle culture” is seen and felt on a routine basis, it’s easy for us to equate our productivity with our self-worth, and we wonder if there’s even such a thing as a true day off. Sunny afternoons on the Green or Sunday Foco brunches with friends are too often cut short to go back to the library and get work done because, as the saying goes, “the grind don’t stop.”
Dartmouth students come to campus from all over the world: from places with beaches, mountains, forests or lakes. For four years, we share the same views at Dartmouth. We share the smooth waters of the river, the warm light of Sanborn Library and the soft grass on the Green. We also share the staggeringly long lines at KAF, the musty Stacks cubicles and the squeaky tables in Novack at one in the morning. We share the good and the bad.
East coast or west coast?
My phone categorizes every photo I’ve taken by its location. I have photos tagged Hackettstown, NJ that feature my dogs in my kitchen, photos tagged Rome and Florence from my study abroad and off terms, photos tagged Norwich from all those Gile sunrikes and a whole album of Lake Morey for the countless laps I skated last term.
Bright rainbow lights illuminated Dartmouth Hall in brilliant colors last month for Pride, a reminder of the importance of inclusivity on campus for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. While such grand displays of solidarity with queer students are a step in the right direction in terms of fostering an accepting, supportive community, the lights also serve as a reminder that for many students on campus, Pride is more than just a month long. The lights symbolize the fight for self-expression, comfort and respect — a daily reality that continues long after the spectrum of colors returns to its standard white.
By now, you’ve probably seen the faces that gaze out at you from the front of the Stacks as you pass through first floor Berry. If you’re like me, you might have stopped briefly in front of one or two of the photographs to look back at them and wonder, “Who are these people?” As it turns out, that’s precisely the point.