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As I look out across Dartmouth’s campus each day, I see hundreds of high school students and their families trailing a tour guide across the Green. These students will undoubtedly hear about all of Dartmouth’s “hidden gems” — the Shakespeare’s First Folio that we keep in Rauner, the “take your professor to lunch date” that turned into a research opportunity, the awesome concert at One Wheelock with a finalist from “The Voice,” and so on. But most of those students will never get to experience the real hidden gems of Dartmouth.
Before I decided to go to Dartmouth, a friend of a friend showed me around. I don’t remember anything from her tour, save the fact that we skipped past Novack Café. “This is grim,” she said dismissively. As we moved on, I surreptitiously strained my neck in an attempt to catch a glimpse of this place that was “grim.” I was intrigued.
X: two slanted lines. They can represent a destination, a meeting place, a crossing, a refusal. At Dartmouth, we use X to describe sophomore summer, lending the letter added significance. And this week, X takes on one more meaning: the theme of the term’s first issue of Mirror.
In the strange bubble of New Hampshire where “flitz,” “S.W.U.G.” and “facetimey” are used in everyday conversation, it is not surprising that the theory of “the X” has cemented itself in Dartmouth culture. Students seem to latch on to ideas and phrases that separate them from the outside world, more firmly solidifying and celebrating how quirky and different they are. The X is a rumor describing social power throughout one’s time at Dartmouth. It theorizes that freshman girls arrive on campus with peak social status and appeal, and then they gradually lose this appeal and become less desirable throughout their time at Dartmouth. In contrast, freshman boys are thought to begin their time at Dartmouth at their lowest social point, slowly gaining prominence on campus as they navigate college, and finally graduating at their peak. The term is used jokingly for the most part, chastising girls for descending along the X too quickly when they show up to parties in sweats and t-shirts or nodding knowingly when freshman girls flock not to their floormates or lab partners, but to the senior boys on campus. The X is denounced, promoted and questioned, but no one seems to take it too seriously. The interesting part of the X, however, lies in a more basic assumption it makes: that throughout students’ time at Dartmouth, there will come a moment when they cross over from one side of life to another.
If there were a treasure map of Dartmouth College, then the X would certainly mark the spot of Rauner Library — a treasure trove with historical riches abound. Rauner Library boasts not only well-known collections such as William Shakespeare’s First Folio or a first edition of “The Book of Mormon,” but also holds a plethora of ancient manuscripts, artifacts, visuals and first-edition books.
Sophomore summer holds a spell-like fascination in the minds of Dartmouth students. When talking about the upcoming term with my peers, many of them voiced not only excitement, but also trepidation that the summer would end too quickly, and the thing all of us have been looking forward to for so long would suddenly be finished. Dartmouth students have heard so much about the traditions surrounding sophomore summer that most of them look forward to it long before the term is even close to beginning. However, while sophomore summer has existed in its basic form for many years, it has evolved with each class that experiences it.
During an especially introspective stretch of time, my 15-year-old self jotted down several quotes that fell within the boundaries of what I perceived to be profound. One of the first to appear was the phrase, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing,” derived from something Socrates may or may not have once said.
A writer for The Dartmouth once joked that staffers only know two things about me: that I’m from Hawaiʻi and that I have consistently arrived late to campus each term. While the second point did not always happen by choice — some of my flights back to the east coast really did get delayed, guys — the first bit of information is certainly one that I conscientiously shared with everyone I met at Dartmouth.
College is weird. Part extended summer camp, part boarding school for semi-grownups, part elitist neoliberal institution, part academia machine, college means different things to different people, but no one really knows what it’s going to be like until they’re there. My first impression of Dartmouth was of miles and miles of trees. On the drive up, my mom and I felt like we were headed to the middle of nowhere — coming from dry, dusty southern California, I had never seen so many trees in my life. It felt like I was entering a different world.
I remember the first time Dartmouth felt like home. I remember the day — Jan. 3, 2015. I remember my outfit — a recently-bought wool sweater littered with pretzel crumbs. I remember where I was sitting — about halfway back the Dartmouth Coach in a window seat. I don’t remember the movie playing, but I do remember the screen was right above my head and I do remember the Coach’s headphone jack didn’t work.
As they prepare to graduate from Dartmouth, seniors might feel the need to make a lasting impact on the college where they’ve spent four years of their lives. That is the basis for the senior class gift, the yearly tradition of pooling money through the Dartmouth College Fund to contribute to financial aid for the College’s incoming class. The Class of 2018’s class gift will support financial aid for the students of the Class of 2022, half of whom will be receiving financial aid from the College. Students can donate any amount of money they choose, though a common donation is $20.18
When I was looking at colleges, I asked current students a lot of questions. Their responses were plentiful, varied and usually helpful. But when I asked Dartmouth students what stood out about their school and why they seemed to love it so much, I got one answer over and over and over again: they loved Dartmouth because of the people.
The last word. When everything is said and done, what is left? You spent four years here. Twelve terms. 2,103,795 minutes. 126,227,704 seconds. How do you condense it all — the friendships, lessons learned, heart-to-hearts, sweaty dance party nights and 2 a.m. cram sessions — into just a couple of words? Once you graduate, how will you look back on your time here? Will your time here by defined by terms? Defined by that term you fell in love, that term you met the people you can’t imagine life without, that term you decided to pursue your passion? Or will you define it by year? Will you look back on your second year as a “sophomore slump” or reminisce fondly about lazy days on the Green during sophomore summer? Those who won’t be graduating any time soon, how will you choose to spend your remaining time here? Luckily for you, members of the 2018 directorate of The Dartmouth impart some of their wisdom in this issue of the Mirror — the ’18s are back for one last time, for one last word.
As of Week Nine my senior spring, it has finally hit me that I will soon be leaving this place for good. Some things that I already miss include: the plentiful piles of DBA I use to supply, guilt-free, my daily caffeine fix; my student discount; New Hampshire’s lack of local taxes. Some things that I will definitely not miss include: the KAF line (actually, any line on this campus); a nagging sense that I should be finding a passion that sustains me in the way everyone else on this campus seems to be sustained.
Last week, when I learned that Philip Roth had died, I searched my Notes app for the line from “American Pastoral” that I’d copied down last spring: “And since we don’t just forget things because they don’t matter but also forget things because they matter too much ... each of us remembers and forgets in a pattern whose labyrinthine windings are an identification mark no less distinctive than a fingerprint...”
When I walked away from my parents on Robinson Hall’s lawn for Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips, laden with a heavy backpack leftover from my father’s Eagle Scout days and several items of mild contraband, I knew that I wouldn’t be talking for a while. Faced with the prospect of introductions and icebreakers, I contemplated how I could survive the next few days saying as few words as possible. When faced with the opportunity to make a bad impression or a good impression, I tend to split the difference and do my best to make no impression (at all).
Believing in a defined Dartmouth is a flaw on our campus and one almost every student sinks into. There are the Dartmouth rampers, those who build up the College to be something it never can fully be: a place of traditions and pong and brotherhood. Then there are the detractors: to them, Dartmouth is ever oppressive, a place of privilege to be dismantled.
I ask a lot of questions.
Ever since I was a child, in response to practically any concern I have, my parents have always given consistent, simple advice: be yourself. Worried about fitting in at summer camp? Just be yourself. Scared about that job interview? Just be yourself. Nervous about making friends at Dartmouth? Just be yourself.