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  • June 9, 2019
  • June 14, 2020
  • June 13, 2021
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Natalie Salmanowitz, Valedictory Speaker to the College

June 8, 2014

President Hanlon, members of the Board of Trustees, honored guests, and fellow members of the Class of 2014.

The last time I was on a stage giving a speech to a large audience was for the play my junior fall. I was speaking with a Yiddish accent, playing the part of an elderly rabbi, and was outfitted in a little boy’s suit with a full beard. Not only did the majority of my friends not recognize me, but I was informed afterwards that apparently my enunciation was so poor that no one actually understood the words coming out of my mouth. So hopefully things will be better this time around.

I’ve always found the concept of a student speaker to be interesting, as you’re tasked with representing the voices of 1,100 peers and offering profound words of wisdom when you've been alive for just a couple decades and can only reflect on your own singular experience. Considering that I still have not figured out how to make plain pasta, and only recently discovered that the word “derelict” is not pronounced “dereleekte” despite what the movie Zoolander led me to believe, I’m in no position to give sage advice. So instead, I am going to use my few minutes to discuss what I have come to appreciate most about Dartmouth and the main lessons that I have learned along the way.

My time at Dartmouth has been the most enjoyable and memorable years of my life. I know that we all have our own relationships with the school, but I think we can agree that Dartmouth is an incredibly unique place. I’ve tried to make a list of what I’ve come to appreciate most here, and I’d like to share a few of them with you: One, the benefit of details, two, the power of passion, and three, the value of authenticity.

First and foremost is the importance of details at Dartmouth. Often, when we think back on an experience or try to explain a concept to someone else, we consider the larger points or overarching picture. We’ve all been told in various classes not to get hung up on the details, since the main points are what truly matter. If we even think about simple daily interactions, people frequently focus on just the key points, too. When we ask someone in passing how his a capella show was, or how her lacrosse game went, we tend to expect just a quick summary in reply. What sets Dartmouth students, professors, and staff apart in my eyes is that the Dartmouth community is very detail-oriented. Whether it was the slew of follow-up questions in a casual conversation about my thesis, an entire class session spent discussing a seemingly minute sentence within a 300-page novel, the apple cider doughnuts my dorm’s custodian made for Mass. Row residents at the end of each term, the students who walk through the library with pizza boxes full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, or the annual poem emailed from Theodore Geisel with an invitation to participate in a snowball fight at midnight on the Green, I have become very aware of the difference that little details can make. When we reflect on our Dartmouth experience, it is not a general image or memory that we will have. Instead, we will remember the specifics. Details are what distinguishes Dartmouth, makes us different, and creates a lasting impact.

The second element on my list is that Dartmouth enables and encourages us to be as random or linear as we see fit. In my own case, I have pursued the random path to an extreme. At Dartmouth, I am a neuroscience major, theater minor, and am interested in the criminal justice system. Now, I could say that all of these interests are interconnected since they require complementary skill sets. I could also talk about how they will prepare me to be the perfect casting choice for a future TV drama that just so happens to be about a neuroscientist in the courtroom. But that would be a stretch at best. Although, Shonda, if you ever decide to write a show along those lines, you know who to call. In reality though, I am a neuroscience major because I’m fascinated by the brain and its impact on behavior. I’m a theater minor because acting challenges me to temporarily see the world through someone else’s eyes. And I’m interested in the criminal justice system because I care about the equity of rules. But more importantly, I pursue these interests because I find them thought provoking and enjoyable. And I’ve learned through my college years that providing further justifications is not necessary. As long as you are enthusiastic about something, people will listen. Think back to the first lunch you had with a friend after he or she returned from an off-term. Remember how excited that person was to tell you about an experience, internship, or new-found career choice, and how contagious his or her energy was upon describing each detail? Dartmouth allows us to follow whatever paths we wish, and I’m constantly inspired by the fervor that people here have for the things they do. I’ve learned that it is the passion that people find most compelling, not the cohesiveness of your life story.

The passion that I just described directly relates to my third point, namely that people at Dartmouth are the real deal. Last year, psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a TED talk about “faking it ’til you become it.” She said that by making little changes in your body language, you can cause others to perceive you in different ways. So there is apparently the Wonder Woman pose, whereby standing up straight and putting your hands on your hips will make you appear bigger and thus more assertive. Similarly, placing your hands in a V shape above your head before an interview is supposed to not only make you feel more powerful, but make others believe you are more powerful. When I first heard this, I thought it was such a neat concept and even emailed one of my professors about it. The idea that success could be influenced by subtle alterations in the way you make others perceive you seemed like a stunningly simple yet revolutionary phenomenon. However, the more I thought about my peers and the people around me, I realized that there is only so much benefit to be gained by faking it until you make it. The people I have met at Dartmouth are incredibly zealous, genuine, and comfortable in their own skin. Students here often say that the people are what makes Dartmouth distinctive and special, and I completely agree. For me, this stems from the grounded nature that Dartmouth students exude on a daily basis, something that can only exist through authentic passions and interests.

While I said at the beginning of this speech that I would not attempt to bestow any wisdom, I have realized that the three main reasons I appreciate my Dartmouth experience are inherently pieces of advice in themselves. I encourage all of you to take what makes Dartmouth special beyond the confines of this college on the hill. Remember the power of details and strive to bring that energy and attention to the lives of others, to your future studies, your job, and your personal life. Continue to pursue your own interests, whether those follow a linear pattern or not. Be passionate about what you do without being concerned about how your choices will dictate your future. Stay genuine, and if you ever find yourself faking it, stop.

To my fellow classmates, thank you for everything you have taught me. I cannot wait to see what inspiring things you will do in the future. Congratulations.

Last Updated: 6/12/14