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Passing the Class

A Revived Tradition Greets First-Years 

How to welcome the first-year class in a way that embraces Dartmouth tradition, assures new students that they belong here, encompasses their diversity, and challenges them to take educational risks and make a difference here? That's a tall order, and at the first class meeting on September 14, College leaders took a creative approach that drew on a recently revived campus tradition: the "passing of the class."

L-R: Deans Gail Zimmerman, James Larimore, and Karl Furstenberg welcome the class of 2008 at the first class meeting in September.
L-R: Deans Gail Zimmerman, James Larimore, and Karl Furstenberg welcome the class of 2008 at the first class meeting in September. (photo by Joe Mehling '69)

The class of 2008 gathered that morning at Leede Arena, where the students were joined by College leaders, including President James Wright, Dean of the College James Larimore, Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg, First-Year Dean Gail Zimmerman, Tucker Foundation Dean Stuart Lord, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Carol Folt, and Rick Routhier '73, president-elect of the Alumni Council.

Following opening remarks, the dean of admissions welcomed the class of 2008 and sketched for them their own academic strength and diversity. This class has the highest SAT average-1,436-of any in Dartmouth's history. Twenty-six percent of the first-years were high school valedictorians, 47 percent performed community service, 44 percent had significant involvement in the arts, 32 percent were sports team captains, 10 percent were publication editors, and 7 percent were class presidents.

Selected from 11,734 applicants, the 1,078 first-years include 10 more women than men and are among Dartmouth's most racially and ethnically mixed classes, with 31 percent of African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, or multi-racial backgrounds.

The first-years attended 815 high schools, 63 percent of them public schools. The class members represent 47 states and 24 different foreign countries and, altogether, speak 37 different languages. Forty-five percent are receiving need-based scholarships, which total $12.8 million.

"But these imposing statistics don't begin to capture the full personality of the class," Furstenberg observed. The first-years include painters and political activists, he noted, along with inventors, Irish dancers, entrepreneurs, engineers, "rowers, and, yes, even rocket scientists.

"Lastly," he said, "I estimate that [since arriving on campus], you have consumed almost 900 pounds of green eggs and ham-and your combined weight is 72 tons!"

After urging the first-years to seek new ideas and take some academic risks at Dartmouth, the admissions dean officially "passed the class" to the first-year dean, Zimmerman.

"On behalf of all of us in the first-year office, I accept with great honor and excitement the class of 2008," Zimmerman declared, accepting a class of 2008 banner from Furstenberg. The passing of the class, a Dartmouth tradition that was revived for this year's ceremony, officially began orientation.

"The intellectual, emotional, cultural, and social adjustments that you will make this year will be among the most powerful learning experiences of your lifetime," Zimmerman told her new charges.

"You are making an important transition from fitting in to finding yourself...I urge you to consider the role you can, will, and should play in the world."

At the meeting's close, the first-year students sang the Alma Mater, heard from other College officials, and were welcomed by James and Susan Wright to a dinner at the president's house.

By Doug Wilhelm

[Dartmouth Life welcomes correspondence from alumni who would like to share their own memories of the "passing the class" tradition. Please email your comments to — Editor]

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Last Updated: 5/30/08