Pressure to Perform
By Natalie Van Brunt, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 18, 2013
When I step on the Dartmouth Coach and leave the Hanover bubble to head back home, I never look forward to the questions about school that are bound to be asked. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a genuine conversation about how incredible this place is, but that always fails to happen.
Instead, I face relatives asking how I’m enjoying Massachusetts, snotty kids from high school inquiring about “that fake Ivy” and strangers gasping in horror that I would voluntarily pay so much to go to a school they’ve never heard of in the middle of the godforsaken wilderness that doesn’t even have a McDonald’s within walking distance. I end up sheepishly muttering something about our flexible D-Plan or how we have really good gelato and then spend the rest of the day frustrated that I have to defend Dartmouth as a legitimate institution.
Due to our small size and remote location, it’s easy to see how the “inferiority complex” that Conan O’Brien jested about in his 2011 Commencement address could become a reality for so many of us.
“There’s a holy trinity of Harvard, Princeton and Yale, but no one outside of New England has really heard of Dartmouth,” Julie Dossantos ’13 said.
Sometimes, you just want to be able to name-drop like the kids at Harvard and have people recognize that you’re at a top school instead of confusing it with a community college. There’s a pressure to prove that you have worked hard, you are intelligent and there’s a reason you picked that little college in woods.
Though he’s heard all the belittling remarks about Dartmouth, John Damianos ’16 doesn’t take them to heart. He feels that as a student body, we don’t let the way others may see us control our mindset. Rather, we embrace our differences and work with them.
“We shed the traditional airs of the normal Ivy League student,” Damianos said. “No, we’re not Harvard, but we’re proud of it.”
Emmanuel Kim ’15 said he agreed and explained that Dartmouth students generally have a much better connection to their school than those at other Ivies.
“My friends at Harvard and Yale don’t feel like their college experience is unique,” Kim said. “They don’t feel like they had a ‘Harvard Experience’ in the same way that we have a ‘Dartmouth Experience.’”
To support his claims, he points to our unusually strong alumni network that can’t be matched. He knows many people who went to other top schools for graduate degrees but still take the most pride in their time at Dartmouth.
Walker Sales ’16 views our small size as an asset and thinks that we succeed in spite of it.
“We do have a little bit of a Napoleon complex as a school,” Sales said. “We are small, but we can destroy you anyway.”
While the rest of the world may talk down to us, we’re not desperate to prove ourselves to them. Instead, our peers and our own internal motivations drive our competitive attitude and desire to succeed.
Damianos found that the College’s environment, in which students seemed to be pursuing career paths as early as their freshman Fall, to be the most stressful aspect of Dartmouth.
“It seems that we’re supposed to know what we want to do when we come in, but that’s not the purpose of a liberal arts school,” Damianos said.
As a result, Damianos feels as though he has to simultaneously focus on both becoming a doctor and exploring all the different paths the school has to offer.
Troy Palmer ’16 said that the collection of so many hardworking and driven students pressures him to live up to his peers.
“Everyone here is accustomed to being the best, but you’re no longer the best by default here,” Palmer said. “What you were used to in the past doesn’t apply, and you want to fight for that.”
Unanimously, it seems that students do feel a pressure to succeed. But in reality, is that such a bad thing? What’s wrong with 4000-something incredibly talented and smart young people working endlessly to prove themselves? A little touch of this insecurity only keeps us motivated. So what if people mispronounce our name and it takes a little bit of an excursion to get a Big Mac? We’ve got more potential condensed in our modest campus than any of those other large monstrosities.
Do not fret, Conan, for we are not wallowing in insecurity. Our breed of Ivy League is a unique one, and we are proud of it. We are not pressured to live up to anyone else, we are only striving to be the best we can on our own accord. This little school has personality, drive and a few thousand of the best students in the world.
Plus, we really do have some ridiculously good gelato.