From 15s to Alumni: When Is Dartmouth Home?

On the last day of my DOC Trip, I remember the sound of dozens of ’14s singing songs and chatting excitedly with one another on our bus from Moosilauke Ravine Lodge to Hanover. In my sleep-deprived state, I couldn’t attribute the noise to any one source, but I found the dull murmur of my new classmates surprisingly comforting.

The chatter stopped when we drove across the bridge over the Connecticut River, finally reaching Hanover. A trip leader used our silence as an opportunity to stand up and say, “Welcome home,’14s.”

I doubt every trip ends like this, with a moment in which we are reminded that our homes and our lives will soon move to Hanover. However, every September, a large banner above Collis proudly greets incoming freshman: “Welcome Home!”

But when does Dartmouth actually start and stop becoming your home, if it even does at all?

“Dartmouth largely became home during my DOC trip,” Daniel Leopold ’10 said. “At that time in my life, I was very ready for an energetic, diverse and talented environment.”

For Rennie Song ’15, her identification with Hanover as her home was a “gradual development” during this past Fall term, rather than one defining moment.

“Winter break has made the feeling more apparent,” Song said. “I was so depressed to leave Dartmouth, and I’m so anxious to go back.”

Other students need time away from Dartmouth to recognize it as their home. Henry Franco ’15, for example, said that Dartmouth started to feel like his home only after returning to his hometown for Thanksgiving break.

“Before Thanksgiving, I felt like I really needed to get home and get away from school,” Franco said. “However, over break, I realized how much I missed my new friends at school, and how much more liberating college life was than home life.”

As the smallest Ivy with the greatest focus on undergraduates, the College is often promoted as a strong, insular community. Such an idyllic reputation may make students and especially freshman feel compelled to embrace Dartmouth even if they feel homesick.

“I think some students feel a pressure to prematurely call Dartmouth home, mainly because their friends and the large majority of the student body feels that way,” Leopold said.

On the other hand, Dartmouth alumni are known for their devotion to the College, evidenced by their exceptionally high giving rates as well as the exceptionally long pong lines during big weekends. But do alumni still consider Dartmouth their home, even after receiving their diplomas?

Leopold said that the while “Dartmouth moves on more quickly than we do,” it is and forever will be a home for him.

“No matter where across the girdled earth I roam, there will always be amazing alumni to welcome me,” Leopold said. “In short, the lack of homework is amazing, but the lack of what Collis represented continues to sting.”

David Peterson ’10 explained that since his first Homecoming after graduating, Dartmouth no longer feels like his home, but “more like some type of weird portal into the past.”

“It wasn’t mine anymore,” Peterson said. “In fact, I distinctly remember feeling like I was watching a documentary about Homecoming, rather than actually taking part. I was one of those people on the outside ring who, as a student, you think are weird and should stop watching.”

Ki Mae Heussner ’01 said she no longer thinks of Dartmouth as her home, though she needed “a couple years to adjust” after graduation.

“After a few years, you know it’s a special place, but you enjoy being outside of college,” Heussner said. “You adjust to what you’re doing outside in the real world and you don’t want to go back. You miss it, but not in the same way.”

Like many alumni, Heussner has not forgotten her time at Dartmouth, but she now identifies her primary home as New York City, where she lives with her husband. However, she admitted that Dartmouth remains a special place for her.

“There are many places that I think of as home, and Dartmouth is one of them,” she said. “It’s a place where I come back and think more clearly then I do in New York City. I definitely feel like it is be a very special place and a place that’s grounding.”

Every student’s journey is ultimately unique. We all choose to embrace and break away from Dartmouth at our own paces. Whether or not you define it as home, most would agree that in the end, there’s no place quite like Dartmouth.

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