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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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.