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Image of Dartmouth Hokupa'a eating a catered dinner in the Native American Program lounge

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a dinner with Hōkūpaʻa, the Hawaiian/Pan-Pasifika student organization on campus. We wanted to celebrate at a pretty great crossroads moment for us: the '20s were in town for their own commencement and graduation ceremony (two years late but better late than never!) and a couple of incoming '26s from Hawaiʻi were visiting campus as part of the E.E. Just Program (for underrepresented students in STEM fields—check it out!). But sitting at a table with students who were the seniors when I was a freshman and yet also with students who will be freshmen as I'm a senior? Just a tad overwhelming.

As I tiptoe increasingly closer to the start of my senior fall, I am pondering how I want to maximize my last year as a Dartmouth undergrad. And moreover, I'm thinking about how all of you—whether you're about to apply to Dartmouth, you're an incoming first-year, or you're years away from hitting the "Submit Application" button—can make the most of Dartmouth. After a bit of reflection, I think I've figured out where I went right and where you can go right-er (more right? more righteously?).

From the start, I can't emphasize enough: take classes outside of your academic interest bubble. Doing this early on can only help you, as you figure out what niches you like and explore what Dartmouth has to offer. There's arguably always room for exploration, but when it comes to your academic course load, you have maximum freedom during your first year. Some of my friends found their academic passions in their sophomore and junior years, and trying to switch your majors then is a bit more of a hassle as you try to get all the required courses under your belt by graduation. I applied to Dartmouth with interests in government, ancient languages, and public policy, and am now looking to graduate with a double major in linguistics and Indigenous studies. Maybe you're dead set on a given field, but that shouldn't stop you from wading into the water of Dartmouth's expansive offerings—you're not getting the full experience if you stop at the door!

On another note, I truly think everyone should join and try one new student org or club per term. Especially when you're a first-year. If at all possible, take the fall term to try as many things and meet as many people as humanly possible. Even though you won't continue with certain commitments, having had the experience of those early endeavors and introductions was such a great way to kick off my time at Dartmouth. Think of putting yourself out there early as a way to jump into cold water rather than slowly wade in—get acclimated in 3x speed, you'll thank me later.

I don't have a lot of regrets about my time at Dartmouth, even if I didn't quite follow my own above advice perfectly. But that just goes to show you that the range and nature of your Dartmouth experience is virtually limitless. While all of this is just advice drawn from my own reflections, and there is no perfect way to experience Dartmouth, I still can't encourage you enough to frontload your college experience with as many little episodes of taking-the-road-not-taken as possible. 

At the same time, you shouldn't be leaving your comfort zone to such an extent that it's overwhelming! I couldn't have tried all the things I did if I didn't find a home base and community to be rooted in. That home base can look like your first-year floor, the DOC, your sports team, an identity-based organization, or even your First-Year trip. Keep one foot anchored somewhere and then chase the rest of Dartmouth—you won't regret it, and you'll have way more stories to tell. Thank me later. I hope this helps you wherever you're at in your college journey! Until next time!

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