TTLG: The spirit of Dartmouth is joyful

In the halcyon days of my senior year of high school, at the height of college application season, my Dartmouth interviewer asked me, “What would you like your legacy to be when you graduate?” Ambitiously, I responded along the lines of, “I would like to have done my part to make Dartmouth a better place.”

Once I arrived on campus, that meant writing for The Dartmouth. The first columns I wrote focused on President Phil Hanlon and his administration’s damaging handling of COVID-19 on campus. I argued that in-person classes were possible and that more needs to be done to provide students with the opportunity to do so socialize. The change was slow, but we eventually returned to an in-person learning model in the summer of 2021. The restrictions on student life gradually gave way.

At the same time, I was building a reputation among my friends and colleagues as someone who wasn’t afraid to give the occasional spicy take (some might even say “crazy” takes) in my columns, which often provided, shall we say, “interesting” feedback yielded in the present day. -Retired comments section of The Dartmouth website. But for every naysayer, I usually had several people contact me and express their appreciation for someone saying what needed to be said.

During Hanlon’s tenure, many people called me a partisan opponent of the administration. A friend of mine once even joked that “if Hanlon frowned, Thomas would write the next day that he should have smiled.” However, I would gently push back on this idea.

My previous criticism of various Hanlon administration initiatives always came from a place of great admiration for this college, which we, as students, are blessed to temporarily call our home. The administrators, whether students or administrators, are required to carefully manage the institutions and traditions. I am proud to say that during my time here, the Opinion Section has consistently led the way in holding our leaders accountable.

During the fall and winter terms of this year, I served as one of The Dartmouth’s opinion editors, a position I never imagined for myself. When the editor application opened during the winter of my freshman year, I let it pass me by. I had a devilishly heavy course load ahead of me, so I didn’t think I could adequately balance the extra responsibility. But at the end of the summer, before my senior year, my predecessor resigned after being elected to our Senior Class Council, and he asked me to replace him as editor.

I envisioned a fairly carefree senior year for myself, so I was initially hesitant about accepting the role. However, I didn’t want the opinion section to falter if it were short-staffed. Ultimately, I accepted the position because I felt it was the best way for me to continue making Dartmouth a better place by ensuring that columns that had the power to shape the conversation on campus were written responsibly and sourced.

Week after week, I found myself overseeing columns that addressed a litany of controversial issues. Campus became embroiled in debates ranging from standardized testing requirements to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and even the unionization of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team. Despite the countless long evenings I spent in Robinson Hall editing, the opportunity to provide an outlet for meaningful student discussions was far more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. Serving as Opinion Editor alongside the rest of the 180th Directorate is one of the accomplishments I am most proud of during my time at Dartmouth.

The nature of being a senior staff member at The Dartmouth means that you become extremely aware of the various hustle and bustle on campus – they become your life. Once I finished my term, I was able to take a step back from the prosaic ideological disagreements that dominated the pages of the Opinion section. Since passing the torch to current opinion editors earlier this spring, I have felt unusually removed from campus conversations. However, this change has given me time to rediscover the joys of several underappreciated aspects of Dartmouth, whether it be exploring the Upper Valley with friends, having dinner with a professor, or playing a casual game of pong on a Monday afternoon.

In his 1999 address to freshmen, then-college president Jim Wright offered freshmen two maxims. He first noted that “the spirit of Dartmouth is, in the words of President John Sloan Dickey ’29, a “joyful spirit.” he who misses joy misses everything.” Like everyone, I suffer from little things here and there. My biggest fear is that Dartmouth will turn into a diploma mill, as many of its peers have done. Too many students are increasingly fixated on their future careers, at the expense of the memorable escapades they might one day tell their children about.

Yet I have come to the conclusion that any institution that commands as much loyalty as Dartmouth cannot be so easily eroded. There is a virtue in it that no amount of uninspired university bureaucrats or ideologues masquerading as professors can kill. Overall, I have found that students remain optimistic and adventurous, that many faculty members are exceptional, and that the priceless traditions that have defined this campus over the centuries are still alive and well. These are the qualities that inspire the enduring dedication of our students and alumni.

In former President David McLaughlin’s 1981 inaugural address, he stated that “Dartmouth, with its special sense of place, is a treasured asset. In one of Goethe’s most beautiful lines he wrote: ‘A man does not learn to understand anything unless he loves it.’ Loving Dartmouth is a joyful experience.” I really love this place and I’m terribly sad to leave. I only hope that future generations of Dartmouth students will continue this joyful spirit by sharing the same traditions I do, and creating new traditions of their own.

Thomas de Wolff

Thomas de Wolff ’24 is from St. Louis, Missouri, and is studying history and French. He is currently an opinion editor and member of the editorial board, and has written for the opinion section in the past. Outside of The Dartmouth, Thomas enjoys playing guitar, reading and learning to juggle.

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