My Life Is Average
By Renee Gauthier, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 25, 2012
Everyone I’ve ever met who has attended college talks about their four years as if they were the most dramatic, life-changing thing that could ever happen to a person. When I was a freshman, I was convinced that college was going to be like that for me. I thought that when I graduated, I wouldn’t even recognize my old self anymore. I was going to have a whole new level of poise, polish and intelligence. I would be able to speak insightfully and slightly pretentiously about international relations and debt crises and great literature. From my outsider’s perspective, Dartmouth looked like one big finishing school, albeit one with a rather well-publicized drinking problem. “Just wait, world,” I thought to myself when I got my acceptance letter. “I’m gonna be so classy some day.” Of course, the fact that I ended that declaration with a defiant, “So suck it!” showed just how far I had to go.
Fast-forward four years. I’m 22 years old. I sleep in a bunk bed. I sometimes drink Andre with breakfast because I’m too lazy to go buy orange juice. I’ve discovered dozens of ways to hide the fact that I haven’t washed my hair for days. I’m not exactly the picture of well-rounded, effortless maturity. So it would be a bit of a joke for me to wax eloquent about my “Dartmouth experience” and act all superior and wise just because I’m about to don a cap and gown and trudge up Wheelock Street behind some trumpeters with about 1,000 other people.
During my time at Dartmouth, I didn’t do anything earth-shattering. I didn’t cure any diseases, discover any planets or travel through time. I didn’t even do the Ledyard Challenge.
My off-term was decidedly pedestrian. My study abroad term was awesome, but in the way that everyone’s study abroad term is awesome. I’ve spent the last four years being more or less average, which is a curious way to cap off a 16-year educational experience that, for the first 12 years, was largely predicated on being the biggest overachiever possible. This might sound like a horrible thing — no little kid ever says she wants to be “average” when she grows up — but it’s really not. Embracing my overall “averageness” has been the most challenging, humbling and rewarding part of my Dartmouth career.
Personally, I think this is quite the accomplishment. The first thing you hear when you set foot on campus for Dimensions is how awesome your class is and how the admissions process was more selective than ever before, et cetera. Then you get the same thing during Convocation, but this time with statistics to make the whole thing even more impressive. Your class’ average GPA was outstanding. Your combined SAT scores were astronomical. Your class members hailed from every continent on earth (except Antarctica, but who really cares about Antarctica?) and you all participated in elevendy-trillion extracurricular activities. At Commencement, you get the same speech again — you’re all exceptional!
Congratulations, oh special graduates! You truly are the most accomplished people of all time!
Except, wait. At Dartmouth, everyone is accomplished. Everyone was a superstar in high school. Freshmen, take note: you were not the only one here to graduate with a 4.0 and get a perfect SAT score.
Some of you need to adjust your behavior accordingly. We may have all been at the top of the heap in high school, but Dartmouth has leveled the playing field. Here, we are all average.
This is a tough pill to swallow. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it took me a while before I stopped automatically assuming I was smarter than other people here. Eventually, I realized that most people here are actually smarter than I am. That was sort of rough. But you can’t control other people. There’s no magic fix that will make you smarter, hotter or more qualified than the competition. For that matter, the “competition” is not nearly as important as you think it is. The only accurate yardstick against which to measure your accomplishments is yourself.
I’m trying to keep that in mind as I prepare for graduation. When I get bummed about my GPA not being as high as someone else’s, I remind myself how much I’ve pulled it up since my freshman fall, and I feel a sense of accomplishment.
When I feel jealous of my friends’ awesome job offers and hefty salaries, I try to focus instead on my own goals, my passions, my dreams for the future.
When I graduate in a couple of weeks, I can almost guarantee that I won’t be thinking about the superlative moments of my college career — the ‘A’ papers, the resume-builders, the tests I aced. I’ll be thinking about the mundane things — movie nights with my roommates, classes I enjoyed, relaxing on the Green on a sunny day, getting dinner with friends.
Each of those moments, in and of themselves, is unquestionably average, but they have been the moments that have truly defined my Dartmouth career and have changed me, hopefully for the better.