The Gospel According to Matthew
By Matthew Ritger
Published on Friday, October 9, 2009
An open letter to the Class of 2012, on the eve of rush
- Pledge a frat. I hope you die.
I mean this sincerely. And Lord knows I don’t mean many things sincerely. I know I can’t hope to dissuade you from joining a fraternity or sorority this week; all I can do is pray that you are accidentally hazed into martyrdom.
It is fairly clear to anyone who has given it enough thought that the only fulcrum powerful enough to dislodge or transform Dartmouth’s Greek system will be the death of a student. Not some Tuck Bridge kid who drowns in the Connecticut, nor some girl getting date-raped at a party — no, no one cares about these kind of things. Only the full-blown, alcohol-related death of an undergraduate will be enough to save us now. Only the kind of outrage such a tragedy would create could uproot the inertia of our Greek alumni base and its money.
It’s the oldest, most essential sacrifice; the kind the gospels are always talking about: the death of an individual, for the sake of society. It’s the trade we all make, one way or another: individuality for society.
But, tempted as I am to just twiddle my thumbs and wait for one of you to aspirate on your own vomit in a darkened corner of the basement, I will now busy myself with a feeble and futile attempt to stop you from throwing yourself to the lions.
I won’t try to convince you of all the ways that the Greek system is detrimental to our mental, physical, social and even spiritual health — these things will become apparent to you over time. I will only tell you about the most important lesson I’ve learned at this school: How to fail. How to fail, epically and publicly, and then get up the next morning.
- Ugh. That feeling like the floor has fallen out of my stomach has already hit, even as I begin to think about it. Getting the shit dinged out of me forever changed my conception of myself and of this school.
After I found out that the one bid I did get (and the only one I really wanted) had been revoked, due to my belligerent, drug-addled behavior (it couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with my sexuality), I was contemplating dragging my metaphysical carcass back to the last 20 minutes of the second night of rush, and begging somewhere B-side to take pity on me. At the last moment, I received a missive in my inbox, from the reigning campus celebrity of the class of 2008 — herself once grandly dinged. She told me, as Nick once told Jay:
“They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
I don’t deny that I felt like a corpse trailing circles in a swimming pool, or that I went manic and re-read the whole “Great Gatsby” that night, or that I did more drugs, or that I vowed never to do more drugs or that I had any idea what to do. I read those words and I did not drag my wreckage back to rush.
The next morning, I faced the library. The whispers, and questions, and what I found would be an ever growing list of people who avoid my eye contact. I made my flashcards for biology. Dendrites, axons, myelin. Then I made one that said, “You’re worth the whole damn bunch.” That day, it didn’t help.
That fall, I lost my mind. I didn’t want to be myself, anymore. I lost it on purpose. I pushed away my most loyal friends. I apologized. I pushed them away again.
I dumped the guy who loved me. He dumped a water cooler on me. I cut my hair off. I changed my mind. I changed it back. I dumped him again.
In the winter I bet my vote in the Democratic primary on a game of pong. I lost. I filled in the oval for Obama, and cried in the booth at Hanover High. Hillary won New Hampshire and I cried in the library. I was lost.
If this is what rush and its implications made of a mind as confident as mine, I can only imagine the effects it has had on those of us with more self-doubt. I was able, by the end of the winter, though the process was slow and continues still, to put myself back together. I was able to focus on finding a self I could be proud of. I found classes I could love, and extracurriculars I cared about — and focused on having healthy friendships and a healthy body. Last week, on my 22nd birthday, I ran a marathon, with my friends from school cheering me on. I’ve rarely been so happy.
Near the end, I am proud of the ways I’ve spent my time at Dartmouth. This is not to say that I would have accomplished less, had I been in a frat — or that one kind of experience is more meaningful than another. I mean merely that for me personally (though I truly believe this to be the case for all of us), a fraternity would’ve been a negative influence: mentally, physically and spiritually.
There are plenty of people who know this, ahead of time. Card-carrying unaffiliates are powerful individuals. They’re people you want to know, and people you admire: girls with spirit and bombastic beauty, guys with grace and creativity. They’re the tree people, mountain men and wild women. They’re the interrogators of gender, sexuality and the very foundations of our society. They’re the most devoted athletes, and the most passionate activists.
You can be one, too. You do not need to be a brother, or a sister. You do not need brothers, or sisters. You can be just you.
Life without labels will require courage, but you will find this quality. It will require creativity, and confidence, and you will find these too. It will require a vision that sees beyond your college years — but if you can focus on finding that horizon, you will not be lost.
Don’t do it. Don’t rush. Don’t lose yourself. Every single one of you who refuses to become lost is one more example for the rest of us. Every single one counts.
How I wish that you could know, ahead of time, what I was forced to memorize: You’re worth the whole damn bunch.
You’re worth the whole damn bunch.