Colaneri: Be Yourself
By Natalie Colaneri, Staff Columnist
Published on Tuesday, May 29, 2012
In a few days, I will be graduating with the rest of the Class of 2012. When I look back on the last four years, I feel privileged to have gotten to know many students here who are not only incredibly intelligent, but also kind and empathetic to the needs of others. Dartmouth students truly are impressive in almost every respect — except one. I have realized over the years that many Dartmouth students lack an important quality that often goes unspoken. We lack the confidence to transcend conformity and act as individuals. Specifically, we are afraid of speaking our mind and going against the status quo, and we feel the need to conform to a “preformed niche” at Dartmouth.
In the early part of my Dartmouth career, I didn’t understand why people here were so afraid of speaking their mind. Against the advice of my friends, I became an Opinion columnist and wrote my opinions on this page with little to no criticism. It was fine. But I finally came to understand the criticism my friends had warned about when I faced it in several real-life situations, when my outspoken nature gave life to some opinions that strongly clashed with those of the campus majority. It was often difficult to accept the criticism aimed at me, especially when I knew that the unhappiness I felt could have been prevented had I kept my mouth shut and gone along with what I was supposed to do. But I just wasn’t able to follow the advice that countless others had given me on this campus: Just accept things the way they are.
If there’s one piece of advice I could give underclassmen, it’s that you should never accept anything at Dartmouth as “just the way things are.” While I can’t say that speaking my mind gave me the glorified “Dartmouth experience” that is so coveted here, being honest and upfront with my opinions did allow me to grow personally in ways that I don’t think I would have had I passively gone along with everything I was told. So to the underclassmen, I hope you’re never afraid to say what you think, even if you tend to be sensitive, even if you’re afraid of the criticism, even if you feel like you need to act like someone else and say something else for people to like you. It’s worth it in the end. It really is.
But while I am proud that there were times in my Dartmouth career when I have acted as an individual instead of going along with the majority, I am by no means the ideal of someone who does not conform on this campus. I am guilty of wanting to join the majority countless times. I joined a sorority and attempted to conform to the collective mindset of various groups, hoping to somehow fit myself into a preformed niche. I allowed my values to be disrespected in an attempt to be accepted by people who didn’t even care about me. I thought it was what I had to do. I thought I needed a “niche” here to be happy.
I was wrong. I realize that I had a great experience at Dartmouth just being me and that I didn’t need a niche. And you don’t need a niche either, if belonging to a group here means conforming to something that you’re not. I believe that the positive encouragement everyone gives to “finding your niche” at Dartmouth is one of the major factors that contributes to our inability to act as individuals here. We love categorizing ourselves into little boxes, Greek or otherwise. Many stories told by upperclassmen involve how they felt really lost at Dartmouth, but then they found their niche and lived happily ever after. These seemingly positive stories only worsen the fear that many have: that they won’t ever be accepted into a preformed group and they will be unhappy and alone at Dartmouth. These stories only reinforce the feeling that a student must conform to the thoughts of some group or another, keep their mouth shut and never look back.
You have the power to be something else. You can develop and express your own opinions. You can handle the criticism. Even if you do not fit into a group, that can be ok. You can be a columnist for The Dartmouth and write more controversial articles than I did. You can be whatever you want.
You can just be you, and it can be enough.