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About midway through my senior spring term, I took a trip to the PetSmart in West Lebanon to pick up a pet snail. I had deemed snails, due to their low-maintenance nature, the perfect animal companion for whatever transition from college to actual adulthood awaited me, and my sights settled quickly upon a yellow, nickel-sized, relatively active specimen. I named him Snoople — Snoople the Snail.
I am the former Production Executive Editor of The Dartmouth. I served in that role from March 2020 through to my retirement this March. My tenure coincided with one of the darkest moments in this College’s history.
I wake up to pitch darkness with a slight headache. My fingers gingerly feel around the bedside table until they land on that oh-so-familiar silicone phone case. 12 p.m. Looks like I’ve missed my Zoom class, but I’ll be able to watch the recording later, so who cares? I scroll through Instagram, nap a little, eat a little, say hi to a friend or two — and then the day is gone. And somehow I’m surprised every time the sunlight slips through my hands.
On a morning in early February of this year, I walked into Baker Library at 9:17 a.m. I entered from the west, and I paused to take in the scene. Checkered tiles receded hypnotically into space; low winter sun slanted in from the windows. Blobby was quiet, serene. I hadn’t been inside any of Dartmouth’s libraries since sophomore summer, and suddenly, I had my favorite study spot all to myself. I experienced such intense joy, coupled with such poignant grief, at returning to a place I had loved throughout my first two years at Dartmouth, that I immediately stored the memory of that moment as a quasi-religious experience.
My life as a college student was dead, to begin with, to paraphrase one of my favorite opening lines from Charles Dickens. While the time of death of the last time I felt like a college student is a little more vague than Marley’s in “A Christmas Carol,” the fact is just as certain.
Over the course of my four years at Dartmouth, I’ve met many extraordinary people, taken fantastic classes, studied abroad twice, met then-presidential candidate Joe Biden here in Hanover and grown enormously as a scholar and human being. Most of my experiences have been tremendously positive. But my most notable negative experience ultimately made me into a much more resilient individual, even though I would not wish it on anyone else.
When people learn that I grew up in Norwich, they usually have a couple of questions. For my sake, and for the sake of everyone who’s curious, I thought I would start by answering those.
This article is featured in the 2020 Freshman special issue.
When I first came to Dartmouth, I was aware of several aspects of my identity. I was a lover of books. I wanted to study English and creative writing so that I could write stories that helped other people the way the stories I had read had helped me. I was white. I was a woman. I was middle-class. I was from Colorado, and I loved the mountains.
Over the last two weeks, as I’ve logged on to Zoom to watch some of my closest friends wrap up their Dartmouth careers with thesis presentations (and one sweet radio play), my brain has had ample opportunity to play evil comparison games. I often feel like I didn’t get the things out of my Dartmouth career that I wanted going into it, and it’s hard for me to remind myself to treasure what I did get out of the past four years. But when I truly take the time to give myself credit where credit is due, I’m able to notice that for each bullet point I missed, I gained my own experience of friendship, care and perseverance.
Sometime around my Webkinz and Limited Too phase of the early 2000s, I developed a strong belief in the power of fortune cookies. I swore by them. Every time my family would dine at our favorite Chinese restaurant, I’d scarf down my food and count down the minutes until the check — and with it a bundle of fortune cookies — would arrive. As my family went around sharing their fortunes, I clung tightly to mine in the hopes that it would provide a glimpse into my future.
The insanity of writing a reflection piece about being a tour guide is not lost on me. I truthfully cannot believe that, of all things eligible for reflection and thought, being a tour guide is what I chose. Maybe it is because being a tour guide trainer the past two years has dominated so much of my time that a part of my brain has been conditioned to think about guide-related things at all times. Or maybe it’s because, as a senior, it’s time for me to admit that being a tour guide has become an integral part of my Dartmouth identity.
Professional kitchen environments heighten many not-so-sought experiences and make a whole lot of mess, but nonetheless turn orchestrated chaos into something beautiful that nourishes you and those you care about. Before and during my time at Dartmouth, I cut my teeth (and my fingers) in professional kitchens in London, Portland, ME and Wellesley, MA. I was 17 when I worked my first shifts as a line cook. When I reminisce on my time in these spaces, my heart rate quickens, and I grow tense as if to brace myself standing in the path of a cresting wave. In the throngs of the professional kitchen environments where I worked, I could not help but feel small. I could not help but feel a bit out of place. And I could not survive unless I believed in myself, asked for assistance when I needed it, learned from my failures and celebrated my successes.
Dartmouth has been a placed filled with incredible opportunities and experiences that have allowed me to challenge myself and engage with my passions in a meaningful way. In my freshman year, a serendipitous series of events ranging from interesting courses to new ties with mentors and peers accelerated me into the world of global health. Lisa Adams, the dean of global health at Geisel School of Medicine and human being extraordinaire, appreciated my enthusiasm and offered me mentorship. Thanks to her and so many others, I’ve received tremendous support using both the sciences and humanities to understand the structural violence and epidemiology that have resulted in global health inequities, most profoundly for women and children of color.
It was my second week back from First-Year Trips. I’d moved into my dorm early for the debate team pre-season, but with Orientation Week approaching, my floormates were finally arriving. I’d left my backpack in Robinson Hall earlier that day by mistake, and now it was dark. Still confusing in daylight, campus felt unfamiliar at night. Like many women coming to college, I’d been told not to walk alone, and so one of my new floormates joined me.
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.