On my first day of class, my professor asked, “What does Vox clamantis in deserto’ mean?” After establishing the motto’s translation, our class was faced with the more difficult problem of determining its implications and expectations. Though we wrestled with our professor’s inquiry for quite some time, he never seemed fully satisfied. Since my freshman fall, I have never truly returned to the question with any real dedication. Nearly two years later, however, I feel obligated to reexamine the four words that were deemed important enough to reflect Dartmouth’s purpose.
The real question seems to lie in whether the voice crying out in the wilderness is that of a single person or a collective unit. In my time at the College, I have been led to believe that the latter is the case. Dartmouth students (and people the world over, I imagine) have a proclivity for acting, behaving and responding in groups. It is our way of establishing and maintaining inclusivity. If everyone participates in something, we may all feel like parts of something larger than ourselves. However, while solidarity may build unity, the paradox that I have discovered lies in how this collectivism may, in fact, give rise to a sense of marginalization.
If the purpose of college is self-discovery, then it seems strange that we take such great care to inundate ourselves with people, things and activities that grant us a shockingly small window of time to exist purely with ourselves. Our days are defined by classes and commitments that almost always place us in settings in which we are surrounded, literally and figuratively. Though our peers and professors certainly comprise some of the greatest resources available in college, we are selling ourselves short if we neglect to recognize the value in ourselves as individuals.
Competing schedules and comparing commitments has become a strange norm, whereupon the value of a single day seems to be placed on the number of hours in which we are occupied. Lack of free time is associated with a strange sense of success a full calendar seems to prove productivity and importance. Though we may complain about how we’re “booked solid” from noon to 6 p.m., there also exists an undercurrent of self-satisfaction. In order to maintain our worthiness, we schedule time for almost everything but ourselves.
This gives rise to a problem that has been noted time and again at the College: students are over-committed, leaving personal needs like sleep, sanity, and personal time dangerously low on our list of priorities. In schedules where three meetings overlap, we are constantly leaving one thing to go to another, always running from place to place, person to person, without taking the time to consider what we’re running from and where we’re running to.
This is the great danger of the collective voice. It becomes so much easier to accept our activities as the right choice for us because it is the most common choice. While going against the grain for the sake of going against the grain is unproductive and unreasonable, perhaps we should stop moving and pause to consider the motivations behind our actions.
When it comes to our motto, like everything else at Dartmouth, it should mean something different for every student. Just as there cannot be a cookie-cutter collegiate experience, I do not seek to establish a singular meaning for the words borne on our crest.
We should, however, feel compelled to consider its meaning. As much as I have been told that I can be anyone, I am told much less frequently that I can just be myself. Others may help us learn about ourselves, but we have each known ourselves the longest and are thereby most qualified to speak to our needs, strengths and weaknesses.
Perhaps being at Dartmouth, in an environment where isolation is inherent to our geography, we shy away from separation. While we should be commended for our commitments, it may also be time to create some distance and enjoy a wilderness in which our individual voices can be heard.