Hello from Hanover, once again!
First and foremost: welcome to all the ED ’16s! Lots of my friends were facebooking and tweeting their excitement about you on the day the decisions came out. As fun as it is being the fawned over babies of the school (usually), we really are looking forward to meeting you all!
Winter break provided a lot to think about. I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving, so these past few weeks were my first time being back in Cincinnati since September. I expected it to feel strange, but it didn’t at all. Instead, I found myself maneuvering through the scene of my pre-Dartmouth life like I was on autopilot. I didn’t forget how to drive or where anything in the house was kept. Though I feel like all the new things I’ve been doing and learning at Dartmouth have changed me, it was startling how much home had stayed the same.
Being away from home made me realize how spoiled we are at Dartmouth. For all the bellyaching about tiny dorm rooms and cafeteria food, I really do feel like the college life is a pampered one. We don’t have to worry about cleaning the bathrooms– the custodians do that for us (tip: befriend your custodian. they’re great people and you’ll need their help sooner or later.) We don’t have to cook our own meals, or even pull something out of the fridge and put it in the microwave. Once we’re finished eating, we put our plates on a conveyor belt and they magically disappear, returning in clean stacks next to the salad bar by the next mealtime.
At home, I found myself a bit jolted by all the household chores and compromises I had left behind. I was now expected to walk the dog and make sure she was let out frequently. I had to coordinate use of the cars with my family members, instead of heading out whenever and wherever I pleased. I had to sort out and fold laundry for my parents and siblings, instead of merely taking care of my own clothes. If I wanted clean utensils, I actually had to load and unload the dishwasher. All these things are normal household tasks that should be expected of me– but all the services provided with a college education had let me off the hook from them over the past three months.
This is not to say that we don’t have responsibilities to fulfill in college. We do, just of a different variety. Instead of being accountable to a family team, we are accountable to ourselves and what we are making ourselves into during these four years. College is a self-indulgent time, in that we get to work on ourselves in whichever ways we choose. We can take all sorts of classes to become more knowledgeable about certain subjects, we can join activities to gain new skills, and we can meet new people to expand our perspectives and provide us with companionship. But what we have to remember is how we will use these new selves we are building to help others.
There are certainly ways to help others while still at Dartmouth; the Tucker Foundation, spring break service trips, and many campus-wide charity and activism events all make this an easy thing in which to be involved. They are awesome programs, and I recommend that all you ’16s check them out. But I also think it’s okay if college is in some ways a latency period, where we build ourselves up with the skills and ideas we will need to be generous, productive, engaged members of society for the rest of our lives. We all have certain lifelong humanistic responsibilities to each other, like being respectful and kind. But I also think it’s okay to think of this great Dartmouth opportunity as a time of responsibilities to ourselves and our futures. Eventually we’ll have more occupational and familial obligations to fulfill, but for now we have the resources and time to make ourselves into adults capable of handling those obligations with skill and poise. There will be plenty of time to wash our own dishes after graduation.