Being and Dartmouthness
By Kip Dooley, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 18, 2012
A drunk alum tells me to enjoy this while I can. The real world, he says, is a lot less fun.
I get this piece of advice, in one form or another, every year during Green Key. He, the alum, will inform me, the one who is lucky enough to still be in college, of the nature of the real world; the hard facts of life that will hit us like a ton of bricks after graduation. It is their duty now that they have left bucolic Hanover for New York or Boston or San Francisco to give us fair warning of what to expect out there.
We are sitting on a bench in a basement, or perhaps standing next to the bar. The scene is in full force by this time in the afternoon. Students dance and romp drunkenly, reveling in sloppy handfuls of food, chugging two or three cups at a time. The alums have been at it for hours, having played harbor at 11 a.m. A freshman guy tries to talk his way onto a pong table, insisting to a doubtful upperclassman that his trip leader is a brother here. He wants in on the action, to have as much fun as everyone else seems to be having. I remember that feeling well.
The alum is speaking in an almost regretful tone now, as he looks out at a life that is no longer his. He would kill to be in my position, he says, which is funny for me to hear because, a few years ago, when he was a senior and I was a freshman, he never would have said that. What I didn’t realize at the time was that our perceived differences in maturity, capability, even of self-worth, were just that — perceived. A senior isn’t necessarily smarter or funnier or cooler than a freshman. But it’s almost a guarantee that he’s better at Dartmouth.
I didn’t fully grasp that back then, though. I thought the ease with which he seemed to exist, the self-assured way he moved through the basement, the attention he garnered from women, the respect of other men, could only be earned through climbing the slippery status pole. He had something I did not, but eventually, if I played my cards right, picked up on the right cues, learned to embody the same suave ethos, I could find that same happiness. Back then, if he had stopped in the middle of a party to sit on a bench with me and share his insights, I would have taken it all at face value, eaten it up while I could. But now, when he tells me his nutshell version of reality — that the real world sucks and Dartmouth is heaven — I have a harder time believing him. The myth of happiness that enshrouded him when he was a senior and I was a freshman has been lifted.
The list of things you can do at Dartmouth that you can’t do in the real world is a long one. When you go out on a Saturday night in a city, you can’t play pong or spit on the floor or throw cups of beer. If you boot and rally you will likely be met with looks of horror rather than laughs and a pat on the back. More is asked of you in social interactions beyond small talk of where you’ve been that evening or how much booze you’ve managed to consume. The alum tells me, in a regretful tone, what sucks the most is that you have to, like, actually talk to girls. It seems that being good at Dartmouth doesn’t mean you’ll be good at making it in the real world. In fact, it seems to hinder your ability to adjust to the next stage of life.
I want to jump up and tell the freshman guy, who is now standing by himself as he idly watches a game of pong on the table he thought he had next on, to ditch it and go find someone who wants to listen to him. Go seek people out who are curious about your life. I want to tell him that his happiness is not quantified by how many eyes are on him while he has fun, or whether or not he pursues his fun in the same way as everyone else.
Don’t hide your oddities behind a veil of drunk apathy, I want to tell him. They’re what make you interesting and worth being around. They’re what make you entertaining. Don’t worry about being good at Dartmouth. Mastering that game might get you to the top of the totem for the time being, but soon enough we’ll be at the bottom of another ladder. A way better, cooler, more fun game is the one where you try to kick ass at being yourself.