Dartmouth Was My Dream School
By Iris Liu, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 25, 2013
To be honest, my dream school growing up would not have been Dartmouth. I knew what I wanted: a large university, preferably somewhere warm and not too close to home. Somehow, I’ve ended up at the smallest of the Ivy League colleges, all the way out in frigid New Hampshire. The only part I really got right was the “not too close to home” part (I’m from California). Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely could not imagine myself anywhere else now. I was lucky enough to stumble upon my dream school without even knowing it. But for others who had the vision I lacked, Dartmouth was the holy grail of higher education.
Particularly for legacy students whose family members’ legendary glory days replaced childhood fairy tales, Dartmouth was the ideal image of what a college should be.
As a third-generation Dartmouth student, Anna Fagin ’13 attributes her immediate connection with the College to the place its tight-knit community and long-standing traditions have in her family.
“Even beyond my immediate family, it’s so easy to connect with Dartmouth students and alumni,” Fagin said. “There’s a real love of place and a real sense of purpose that I think Dartmouth has instilled in its community.”
While working in the admissions office with prospective students, Fagin emphasizes the College’s balance as a small liberal arts school with the opportunities of a large research university.
Beyond Dartmouth’s academic qualities, John Nimmo ’13 was attracted to the campus atmosphere rooted in tradition and student engagement. Nimmo, whose father is a member of the Class of 1976, spent much of his childhood immersed in Dartmouth culture. (If you ask nicely, maybe he’ll even show you pictures of him as a baby at the Homecoming bonfire!)
Despite his considerable past experience in Hanover, the College continues to surprise him in unexpected ways.
“One thing I love about Dartmouth is that you think you have it all figured out after a few terms, only to realize you’re completely wrong,” Nimmo said. “You come to understand and appreciate different aspects about Dartmouth bit by bit.”
However, for Jillian Mayer ’14, being a third-generation Dartmouth legacy has led to unrealistic expectations of what the College has to offer. Had she not had such an extensive family of Dartmouth alumni, Mayer said she would have done more research before committing to the College.
“A lot of what I heard from my grandfather and my parents was about this ideal and perfect place,” she said. “I would really have appreciated a recent alum telling me there are problems, too.”
When Mayer now reflects on the Dartmouth of her dreams, she realizes how little she understood the College. Within an environment of highly motivated and intelligent students lies a core of rigid structural problems, she said.
“Every term, I discover a different Dartmouth,” Mayer said. “The campus and spaces — but even more relevant are the subcultures, groups and conversations to be had.”
However, for those without prior connections to the College, the draw was not as apparent until visiting campus.
For Emily Leach ’16, discovering Dartmouth was completely accidental. Leach first set foot on campus on a vacation to New Hampshire in second grade, when she and her family drove through Hanover in hopes of getting a glimpse of the best-selling author Bill Bryson. When she visited again in high school, Leach knew that Dartmouth was perfect for her.
“You started out on such a high, and I was a little worried if it would still be fun after everyone stopped dying their hair and singing to us,” Leach said of her first term at Dartmouth. “But after the adrenaline dies down, you have a much deeper and much more genuine understanding of the school and the people here.”
Without any College alumni family or friends, Danny Freeman ’13 was similarly uncertain about committing to Dartmouth until he visited campus.
“One of the biggest things that drew me toward Dartmouth was the spirit and love that everyone had for the school,” he said. “Dartmouth has just given me so much more than I ever could have asked for.”
Coming into the College, Freeman’s dreams included participating in a cappella, theater and study abroad — all of which he has since done. In fact, according to Freeman, now a member of The Dartmouth Aires, he was “embarrassingly obsessed” with the group before matriculating.
Because most new experiences happen during freshman and sophomore year, Freeman said he has pledged to try something new every term.
“I want to share my love of the school with the underclassmen, but still keep that flame of surprise and excitement constantly ignited for myself as well,” Freeman said. “It’s a constant chain of giving back to the community you love.”