When my son was five years old, he came home from a play-date with his new friend Meredith and announced “good news:” he didn’t have to go to college. When I asked how he had come to this momentous decision, he said, “Well Mom, I’ve already found the woman of my dreams. Why else does anyone go to college?” Once I stopped laughing, I tried to explain to him that despite what it might look like in our household, college was more than just a place to find your life partner. In fact, the most important thing about going college is the opportunity to find yourself.
Truth be told, I didn’t really fit in at Dartmouth. I was a hippy girl from Marin County of the 1970’s, home of the Grateful Dead, the hot tub and the peacock feather. It was a “Free to Be You and Me” environment. I’d never blown dried my hair or shaved my legs. Make up was optional. And you can be damned sure I’d never met anyone who actually wore pink and green together. Going to Dartmouth was the definition of culture shock. I was unprepared.
I envisioned a college experience where students sat around smoking clove cigarettes discussing Plato or deconstructing the latest literary tome. I didn’t expect to have drunken fraternity brothers singing, “I wish they all could be California girls” outside my window after house meeting. I certainly didn’t expect winter to begin in October and end sometime shy of May. Dartmouth confounded me. I couldn’t find home in all the nooks and crannies the campus had to offer.
Until I met Bill (Rossi, D ’84). He was a varsity football player, a member of Beta (fraternity), and later Sphinx (one of four secret senior societies, shhhh…). He was the first in his family to finish college. The only son from a good Italian, Catholic family, he grew up just outside of Boston. He too struggled with the privileged, rarified world of the Ivy League. We were as different as East and West; it was a match made in some heaven not found in either of our lives before college. We learned to celebrate our differences and that has taught us to honor the differences in others. Since Dartmouth, we have had seven major career changes, lived in five different cities, given birth to three children, and stayed married to one person – a life in odds. How appropriate for two oddballs who never felt they quite fit in.
Our marriage has stumbled, crawled, played dead, run amok, an eventually grown and thrived. Having a constant witness to one’s individual evolution is both a blessing and a curse. It is hard to reinvent yourself when your life partner remembers you at a fraternity party or knows all too well your previous attachments namely because they lived down the hall or were in the same English class. It has taken patience and a willingness to allow the past to become indistinct, vague, a mere reference point to who we are today. But finally, after twenty-five years, we have each grown into the person we’d always wanted to spend our life with.
In that same quarter century since I graduated from Dartmouth, my feelings of vulnerability and discomfort have mellowed into a deep affection for the school. I remember the many quiet and happy hours I spent studying in the stacks (library), the cross-country skiing adventures out on the golf course, the road trips to Boston, Maine, Canada, New York. And I have deep regrets. Why didn’t I take advantage of the Outing Club? Why didn’t I write for the Daily D? Why didn’t I spend more time getting to know my professors? The list goes on. It occurs to me there is no one perfect college. Over time, you come to understand that college, like marriage, is what you make of it. The partnership, the relationship, gets only stronger with your involvement and commitment. Dartmouth is not just some place I went to and forgot about. It is a living breathing entity that exists in the man of my dreams, a daily reminder of who I was then and the long journey to who I am now.
I am eager and anxious to return to the place our partnership began. I wonder who and what I will find there. The count down to reunion is on…
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* “Her spell on them remains” is a line from the Dartmouth College official school song called “Alma Mater.” For full text: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_of_Dartmouth
This post is edited from an essay that was published in the Dartmouth College 1984 25th reunion book, published June 2009.
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