The Second Act
By Mary Liza Hartong
Published on Friday, January 18, 2013
To say you were gifted as a child would be an understatement. You were more than gifted. You were inspired. While other kids curled up with copies of the “Magic Tree House “series, you studied SAT prep books. You subsequently judged said peers for their fascination with the naïve, historically sketchy volumes and spent your lunch periods in solitude with only SOHCAHTOA to keep you company.
Regardless of any missed opportunities or friendships, in the end it all paid off. You got in to Dartmouth, simultaneously giving your parents eternal bragging rights and your kindergarten teachers the satisfaction of accurately predicting your future greatness. In your small town you became something of a demi-god. All of that, however, was only act one.
To many students, Dartmouth is more than just the culmination of 18 years of hard work. It is a second act, a chance to prove, once again, just how special they are. Yet, those used to standing ovations often find that the pressure to perform at the same level of academic, athletic and social excellence can be overwhelming, especially with such outstanding peers.
For Jesus Moreno ’16 the transition to Dartmouth was a complete change of scenery from his less-than-rigorous high school experience.
“It’s just a different environment,” Moreno said. “I came from a pretty bad high school so I never felt pressured to do extremely well. I feel the pressure a lot more here because most people are aiming for an A and a citation. Since everyone is so smart they’re playing at the top of their game.” All of these opinions came, it should be noted, as Moreno headed back to his study group.
Siobhan Hengemuhle ’15 seconded this idea, saying the pressure to perform comes from the reputations of her peers.
“This is a top school so you have to be the best to be here” Hengemuhle said.
Hengemuhle, a member of the women’s swim team, conceded that despite the pressure created by fellow students, she appreciates the emphasis on the group rather than the individual when it comes to her sport.
“In high school it was all about competition,” she said. “It’s more about the team here.”
Mary Van Metre ’14, one of Henghemuhle’s teammates, lamented the heightened pressure she incurs due to her status as an athlete.
“I feel way more pressure to do well here because of the stigma that comes with being an athlete,” Van Metre said. “My sport is what I know and it comes naturally but in academics I’m a little fish in a big pond. It’s definitely intimidating.”
Though fellow Dartmouth students are often cited as the cause for performance anxiety, many students admitted to finding college less stressful than high school.
Jinny Seo ’16 attributed her lightened load to an attitude adjustment.
“I was really obsessed with the numbers in high school but since I’ve met my goal of getting in I don’t feel as much pressure,” Seo said. “I already know not to expect the same grades.”
Lowering expectations grade-wise is just one aspect of transitioning to Dartmouth. The fact is that if you see college as act two, you have to be ready for some new directions. You won’t always be in the spotlight. You may not always get the reviews you think you deserve. This time you aren’t working towards another act but something far from it, the real world. If you ever expect to get there you can’t let the fear of being upstaged hinder your performance.
Kara Hedges ’14 expressed this sentiment and used it to warn against judging yourself based on the accomplishments of others.
“Everyone has different paths after college because everyone’s goals are different,” Hedges said. “It’s easy to compare yourself to people around you but in college you should focus on working for yourself. At the end of the day you will have things that make you successful.”
So what if your roommate has already started her own company, your trippee has 20 citations and your best friend holds a world record? Do yourself a favor and leave the comparisons backstage.