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>  News Releases >   2003 >   September

Convocation Remarks by Janos Marton, Student Body President

Posted 09/23/03


Janos Marton, Student Body President (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Thank you for the introduction, Professor Scherr. Good morning class of 2007. It is worth noting that this is the last time you will all be seated together as a class until graduation, so I hope you enjoy it.

You know, it is really an honor to be speaking today with distinguished individuals like James Wright and Susan Dentzer, especially considering I met President Wright under very different circumstances. Let me take you back to my freshman Winter Carnival. I was on my way over to the Top of the Hop from some theme party, wearing a yellow jumpsuit, a Hungarian flag, and a WWF title belt. I'm not really sure what the theme was. President Wright holding an event to meet 04s, and when it came time for me to shake his hand, he stuck out his hand, "Jim Wright, great to meet you," before moving on to the next person. I was stunned at how unphased he was at my outfit, but I suppose that after 35 years at Dartmouth it takes a lot to make him flinch. But in any case, his good wife Susan Wright came up to me right after, smiled and said, "Now I know I've come to the right party," and class of 2007 I want you to know that you have come to the right party.

I'll still sport the jumpsuit every now and then, but I like to think that I've come a long way since the unchecked insanity of freshman year. If you play your cards right for the next four years, you'll realize that Dartmouth is the best place in the country to have an amazing time, and still become the graduate that Woodrow Wilson claimed must be a leader of his nation, as well as a leader of his time. Between serving as Student Body President, writing regularly for the Free Press, helping run two houses, and working on a presidential campaign over my 3 years here, I have come a long way in finding causes that I believe in, and learning how to fight for it.

President Wright speaks often on the issue of privilege, and having shuttled back and forth for three years between the serenity of this Hanover campus and grim realities that affect my hometown, New York City, I can attest to this oft-invisible privilege. I have long seen the way the War on Drugs has ravaged poor communities, but left middle and upper class communities untouched because of the inconsistent enforcement policies of our government, law enforcement, and our military. My freshman year I was interviewed by the Marines, as a prospective applicant to their Officer Candidate School, and was asked if I had ever smoked weed. Before I could respond, the Captain lowered his voice and said it was alright if I had, because as long I had smoked fewer than 10 times, the Marines could write those times off as youthful mistakes. Well I think its ridiculous that there are thousands of poor kids across America being sentenced to jail for their youthful mistakes every year, while I sit here in Hanover forgiven for mine. And remember that while hundreds of you will at one time or another smoke weed at Dartmouth, being caught with a joint will send you to Dean Zimmerman's office, not the New York State Penitentiary. That is why in a time when all we hear about is the war on terror, I will not forget the war on drugs and the war on poverty, and those are causes that I have found at Dartmouth. And I can think of no better setting than this, the official start to my senior year, that I can promise to fight for these causes when I run for the New Hampshire State House in 2004.

Unquestionably, any idealism you have as you enter these four years will be tested by relentless setbacks. While for me it has been it has been a government that turned a blind eye to the plight of the poor, for you it could also be an Ivy League Championship derailed by injury, a set of pre-med classes that break you down, or motivational problems exacerbated by long and dark Dartmouth winters.

But people have braved and beaten terrible odds in the name of justice and the pursuit of great things, and I would hope that you would all join those noble ranks, and not become like F. Scott Fitzgerald's characters, Tom and Daisy, "careless people that smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or vast carelessness." I bring up Fitzgerald, because he knew too well that self-destruction knows no limits of preparation, security and promise. Sent to Dartmouth in 1939 to write a screen-play about Winter Carnival, Fitzgerald spent the entire weekend completely wasted, was kicked off campus by Dartmouth officials and, fighting alcoholism for the next two years, never finished the screen-play.

Fitzgerald is only one of many distinguished persons who have tramped up to northern New Hampshire, and if you don't already, you will soon come to appreciate that this school's reputation will afford you many opportunities. It allowed me to make a quick connection to Senator Kerry's presidential campaign, and introduce him to a raucous Dartmouth audience last winter. In the last few years I've also crashed Dick Gephardt's birthday party, chilled with New York Knicks Center Michael Doleac, Sean Penn, Ben Stein, and the Rev. Sharpton. My most fun encounter was having Little T and One Track Mike, "Shanequa don't live here no more" fame crash in my room after they missed their hotel curfew. But B-list celebrities aside, there are a lot of good people at Dartmouth, and you should seek them out at all costs. The kids you meet here will at times be very different from you, and you can learn about entire different ways of life. And while I shouldn't generalize, get to know the international students, because they are some of the most interesting people you will meet during your time at Dartmouth. How striking that there was a time not too long ago when people were divided into two separate worlds, and could not educate each other like they do today. Even then, however, President Kennedy recognized,

"Let us not be blind to our differences--but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.

And here, I might add, we all have the same goal of making these four years the most incredible of our lives.

To me, the best part about Dartmouth is that you can tell when you're doing it right. When you race to finish a paper minutes before the sun rises over the Baker Berry library, you are doing Dartmouth right. When it takes you all Saturday morning to remember Friday night, you are doing Dartmouth right. When you continue timeless traditions like running 107 laps around the bonfire, you are doing Dartmouth right. And when you hop into a car with your friends to drive somewhere "cool" like Boston or Montreal, but are happiest only when crossing the bridge back into Hanover, that is when Dartmouth becomes your home. But no matter how you do Dartmouth, know that you are part of a storied history. I can't tell you exactly how you to live it right, because we'll all do it a little differently. The rebel journalist Hunter S Thompson surmised as much to a college crowd, when he noted, "I would never recommend drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone- but they've always worked for me. "

Before I go, some parting advice from someone under 30.

Don't steal bikes if you believe in karma.

Don't break in new shoes on a hot day.

Don't break in hot shoes on a new day, or they won't stand out.

Do break up with your hometown guy or girl, because when you return home for Thanksgiving, you might realize that "Love is like a fine cigar, once the flame goes out you can spark it up again, but its never the same." Richard Nixon said that. And while you might have your reasons for not trusting Nixon, he is one of only two Student Body Presidents to become President of the United States. The other, of course, was Bill Clinton, who ran on a campaign to increase the number of hometown football games from 3 to 5. And he did.

The next Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton could be sitting next to you right now. And if your friends aren't sleazeballs like them, maybe the person sitting next to you is the next great writer, corporate executive, scientist or artist.

Remember that any one of you can change the world, and that all of you should try- because it's hard to stop a moving train. Thank you, and welcome to the show.

Back to Convocation Speeches 2003

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