The Search

Bonus Episode: Lee Coffin Welcomes the Class of 2025

From Dartmouth College, I'm Lee Coffin, dean of admissions and financial aid. Welcome back to "The Search."

So, I know I said goodbye sometime in the spring, and here we are with a bonus episode of my favorite podcast. Okay, it's my only podcast, but here's a bonus episode that occurred to me as I was getting ready to welcome the class of '25 to our campus at the end of their search. And I thought, I have one more topic. So here we go.

(musical interlude)

Like the ball that drops in Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve, my welcome to the enrolling class ends each admission cycle. It's a valedictory. It's the exclamation point on the 18-month journey from home to college. It is the moment to celebrate the birth of a class, to capture the wonder and the optimism of a new academic year. It's that brief twinkle when the angsty current of admissions yields to relief. The college search is over. Phew. The goal has been reached.

Welcoming new students has always been my favorite moment in the admissions cycle. As dean of admissions at Connecticut College, at Milton Academy, at Tufts, and now at Dartmouth, I love saying something personal to and about the fascinating young people about to join our communities every September.

At Tufts each year, the new class would process onto the quad behind the faculty, who are clad in regalia no matter the heat or humidity on that late August date, to officially matriculate at the university. At Dartmouth, it's called the first meeting of the class, and they gather in the field house rather than on the green, but the purpose is the same. It's a collective hello.

I try to rise to the oratory challenge each year by weaving my welcome from the words students had used to introduced themselves in their applications. Each speech is a kaleidoscope, a portrait. A professor, when I was at Tufts, introduced me to a new word that described my speech. He called it prosopography, which I had to sound out multiple times because it's got lots of syllables, but it means an investigation of the characteristics of a group of people via a collective study of their lives. And in other words, it's the collective biography, and that sounded about right.

Standing at the podium or sitting on one of the chairs on the stage each fall, I gaze out at a sea of 18- year-olds staring back me. There's  always a type of communion in that moment. Every year I watch them as they soak it all in and as they furtively, but unmistakably check out their new peers. The question hovering over all of them is, who else is here with me? And more than a few wrestle with a case of imposter syndrome. How did I get in? And this has been especially true as acceptance rates keep inching downward and lots of students wonder how and why when the odds were so long.

To me, the matriculation is a moment to reassure, not explain. And maybe that's why my storytelling uses words rather than numbers.

My annual welcome—my friends have started calling it The Speech with a capital T, capital S—is a labor of love for me. It is a variable final exam on each admission cycle, and it consumes the better part of my August, which thankfully is always a slower month in the cycle, so I have some time to complete my anthropological assignment. I study each file as I do my research, digging through each application one final time to extract a highlight or insight or accomplishment or identity of note. Always there are moments when I just say, wow, as I am reminded of the quality of the class that has been assembled. I have these same thoughts in March, of course, but the volume and the pace at that point in the admissions cycle distracts me from savoring each one as much as I can in August. And like so many of these summer pastimes, writing The Speech kind of fall into a more leisurely trot for me. It's too humid to sprint.

My podcast producer here at Dartmouth has correctly guessed why I welcome each class in such a personal, even quirky format.  Charlotte Albright, a journalist with a sharp eye, has observed that too many admission officers get caught up in the numbers, and by falling down that rabbit hole, they lose sight of the real stories that animate the admission outcomes. The narrative style with the one I give at each welcome is counterintuitive on the data collected admission beat, but I am deep down a storyteller. The stories of the kids are what animate each class, every classroom, every dining hall, every quad, every dorm. My welcome holds a figurative mirror up to them that says, look! And The Speech is also an invitation to savor the diversity of backgrounds and experiences and curiosities that come together to build a new community each September.

Because after all, the class is a collection of people. College is not just a transactional endeavor. It's not just a march to a degree. College is an opportunity to broaden your own frame of reference and to be open to the rare and rich moment of discovery it offers over four years. Your goodbye to all things admissions is a hello to the rest of your life.

Here's this year's hello to the Dartmouth class of 2025. And if you're about to start your first year of college somewhere else, well, hello to you too.

(Musical Interlude)

Hello, 25s. I want to tell you a story. It's a story of introduction, a collective biography. It's a story of you.

There is a Quaker saying: "Let your life speak." You did. And sometimes a single phrase animated
your personal narrative:

"I'm someone who reads the pamphlet in the pocket of airplane seats."
"I'm a jock and a band nerd."
"I am a 4D human stuck in a 3D world."
"I straddle the line between black, white, urban, rural, gay, straight, poverty and privilege."
"Numbers are my palette."
"Poor, Jewish and Latina: I am practically a unicorn."
"I am a small guy with big dreams."
"I talk a lot."

"She's an intellectual badass." Okay, that was one of your teachers. So was this: "Will is the cool
kid who doesn't know he's cool." Be surprised and delighted as you meet new classmates like the
jazz bassoonist from Nashville with an interest in Russian composers or the "hip hop dancing, Igbo
speaking, drum stick-wielding, double-jointed Boy Scout" from Boston. And I have a hunch the self-
described "literary nerd" with a fondness for 1970s culture will be a lively conversationalist at
FOCO.

Like each of them, every one of you has an intriguing story to share. And that's why you are here:
a history of academic excellence is your common denominator and, holistically, your personal
narratives add vitality and depth to this community. Ask questions. Be open to unexpected
revelations and conversations with peers like the Brazilian shepherd (yes, he's really a shepherd)
turned preacher who taught himself English by listening to Taylor Swift songs or the trans-fluid
creative writer who explores Peter Pan imagery and poetry as a platform to raise awareness of
transphobia. Your personal boundaries and identities are fluid so don't make assumptions about
anyone: "I am a citizen of Hungary, I lose my voice during every Colombian soccer match, and I
am fully South Dakotan." Similarly, the rock climber from London sees himself as "British without
the accent, American but I've never lived there, Jewish but I eat pork." Like I said, your identities
are complex. And that's cool. Don't default to typecasting.

You were raised on an avocado farm 90 miles south of Miami, in a townhouse in downtown
Chicago, and in a small Palestinian village in Israel "tucked away under a blanket of fear." You hail
from a small island off the coast of Maine, a home in suburban New York where the flickering
candles of Friday night Shabbat "drew me like a moth to a light" as well as the western edge of
Navajo Nation in Arizona, 35 miles from school in a home without running water or electricity. "I
was born a tall, white, Christian male to a pair of happily married, middle class engineers living in
the suburbs of Boston," announced a cross-country runner. A ski recruit lived in a trailer near a
slope in Colorado while he trained. Missouri's state champion in FBLA noted "my hometown can
boast of being the largest city in New Madrid County despite not having a single stoplight." The
"nomadic ballerina" from Mongolia reflected on the contrasting elements of her life: "Dancing on
stage as Cinderella is a far cry from making fire with cow dung." I'd say so.

A Student Council President from Maine shared "my family makes up most of South Bristol's 0.6%
black population." Among US citizens, over 40 percent of you are people of color. Thirty-three
distinct languages are spoken in your homes. Half of you are financial aid recipients and roughly

18 percent join us from low-income families, like the South Floridian who reports, "My family was
so poor we relied on the church for our groceries." Just like me, 13 percent of you are first-
generation college bound while another 13 percent (that's called symmetry) are the children of
Dartmouth alumni, including triplets from North Carolina and the fourth-generation of a Big Green
line dating back to the Class of 1947. He reports "I knew what 'Dartmouth' was before I knew what
'college' was." And 29 of you claim two Dartmouth parents—including the daughter of a couple
who met on a biology FSP and another whose parents met during their freshman trip…
(Mmhmm…)

Your lives are framed by today's headlines. Dozens of 22s are members of immigrant families from
across the world. You join us from America's borderlands, and several are undocumented. A
Southern Californian introduced herself as "the mixed daughter of gay women from opposite sides
of a contentious border." Several of you are transgender and gender fluid. The future architect from
Yemen offered a poignant insight on the civil war that framed her high school experience: "War
somehow taught me to be thankful for every day I spend with my family, for every trip in our rusty
car, for my outdated cellphone, for every drop of water and every bite of bread…" Others survived
catastrophic earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand, and Cat-5 hurricanes in Puerto Rico and
Houston. One of you lost her home during the Santa Rosa wildfires last summer. And, one of you
graduated from Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. These are not news
headlines: these are your stories. Collectively, it is the story of 22. As you gather today on this
historic campus in the north woods of NH, relish the opportunity to engage with peers from all
corners of our planet and embrace the rich perspectives they offer.

Dartmouth's 249 th class is a dynamic collection of 1,171 individuals drawn from 910 high schools
around the world and from homes in all 50 American states, DC, Guam, Puerto Rico and more
than 20 Native American Nations. You are residents of 57 countries across six continents. You join
us from Charlotte and Shanghai; from Dar es Salaam and Fargo; from Buford, Georgia and from all
five Boroughs of New York City. We welcome Angus from Australia and Mist from Iceland. You hail
from Bangor, Maine and Bangalore, India as well as towns named Lexington in Massachusetts and
South Carolina. "Living in rural Mississippi feels like living in a pocket separate from reality," a
chess captain mused; a pre-med from East LA described a neighborhood characterized by
"delicious street vending, uncensored graffiti and the loveliest park" but she added "it's also a place
where I can't tell fireworks from gunshots."

Twelve of you trade hometown green for Big Green as you join us from Greenville, Greenwood
Village, Greenfield Center, Palos Verdes (because we're multilingual here at Dartmouth) and
Greenwich (which doesn't sound green but the word is hiding in that Yankee pronunciation). And,
of course, 12 hail from the Green Mountain state across the river, where a member of the Trout
National Youth Council went fishing after his campus tour. Naturally, he caught a trout, which
seems like a much better souvenir than another sweatshirt from the college bookstore…

We invited you to channel Einstein's musings about curiosity, and you showered us with evidence
of your imagination at work. "Most 12-year-old kids would probably have stopped after being
electrocuted but stopping wasn't a possibility in my mind," reports the Thayer-bound inventor who
fabricates prosthetic hands from a 3D printer. He added, "The shock was an invitation; I knew there
was something to uncover." From the opposite side of the curriculum, the drum major from
Concord, NH concurs with that impulse to explore: "I could sit here and write philosophy all night if
it weren't (good use of the subjunctive tense, btw) for the human need for sleep." An electrician
from Gainesville imagines a solar panel that can notify family members when the bathroom is
free—very practical! And then there's the improv actor and robotics instructor from suburban
Boston who designed and constructed a custom house for his sheepdog: he used his lessons in
AP calculus and physics to predict patterns of snow accumulation on the slope of its atypical roof…
"My dog needed human-free time and I needed him to be safe."

Others wonder about moral epistemology, carnivorous plants, urban vertical farming, ancient
Chinese poetry, rainwater harvesting, the Allied invasion of Normandy, earthworms, asteroid
detection, gene editing, violence against Native women, Jamaica's coffee industry and algae
blooms in New York's Finger Lakes. The photographer from Kansas City created an artistic
rendering of a girl's journey through Dante's nine circles of hell: "Bold poems call forth bold art."
Indeed.

The Admissions Committee was intrigued by the Michigander who's published over 100 online
Quizzes,  by the Florida yearbook editor who wonders about imperialism in Afrocentric
societies; and by the pen collector from Seattle who deems the backpack staple as "the instrument
of choice for doodlers, idea generators and revolutionaries." And we were inspired by the visually-
impaired Korean artist who patented her design for bathtub tiles that assist the blind in this daily act
of human hygiene. Politics and policy animate the Zimbabwean who started a blog to assess his
country's presidential candidates, the member of the LA Mayor's Youth Council, the sports
ambassador to the US Senate, the intern for the chair of the Republican National Committee, and
the anti-smoking advocate from Honolulu.

You like words, too. A Texas thespian wrote, directed and acted in a play about Harriet Tubman; a
basketball recruit inspired by Fitzgerald and Hemingway has penned over 300 poems; and a
rapper from Northern China has a passion for linguistics. 22 also features a food blogger from
Alabama, a California app developer who created a virtual storybook for dyslexic kids, and a
Tolkien world creator from Brooklyn who's invented five languages. (Alas, none follow the Rassias
method.)
And the arts scene at the Hop will be enhanced by a fiddler with the Central Kentucky Youth
Orchestra, a Gospel singer from Cyprus, a member of the Cherokee National Youth Choir, a
Tampa tenor in Florida's All State Chorus, and an All Nation clarinetist from Minneapolis.

Say hello to the beekeeping bagpiper from New Mexico, a certified clown from Mumbai, Canada's
youth delegate to the UN, the founder and CEO of a healthcare product line, Nebraska's delegate
to Girls Nation, and a New Yorker who documented "100 Days of Happy" on her Instagram
account to promote positivity. 22s include a Louisiana pastry chef, the head manager of a
Minnesota Dairy Queen, a nutrition advocate from New Orleans, and Chick-Fil-A worker from
Atlanta who moonlights as lead singer in a rock band (let's hope he's not rooming with that nutrition
advocate…). A storm chaser, a member of Japan's National Debate Team, 10 veterans of the US
military, and a mosquito researcher from Savannah sit among you. So does the gold medalist at
Nigeria's Math Olympiad and Washington's 4H grand champion in Boer goat raising: they are two
of 255 high school valedictorians or salutatorians who join you in the Class of 2022.

Over 200 recruited athletes—including New York's five-time state champion in the 100m back
stroke, a member of the Hungarian national women's hockey team and the goalie for the US Youth
National soccer team—will don Big Green jerseys. Athletic 22s also include the badminton
champion at the Pan Am Games, a world champion in snowshoe running, the four-time national
champion in javelin, a football captain who socializes young puppies, members of the Spanish
national sailing team and its U15 women's basketball team, and Romania's national champ in
dressage.

Someone once asked, "What's in a name?" Well, the altar server from the New Haven area
reports, "My great grandfather nicknamed me 'Butch' because he saw a stubborn determined
baby." That grandpa had great insight: that "stubborn baby" went on to become an Eagle Scout,
class president, soccer captain and salutatorian of his class. Chen and Zhang are the most
common surnames among 22s while Katherine and William emerged as the most popular first
names; Edward VI boasts the longest patrilineal line. Seven and Taurus are just unusually cool
things to be named.

Since Dartmouth is the only Ivy with a major in geography, it seems natural that 22s include
Brooklyn from Zurich, Canyon from Anchorage, Dakota from Shanghai, and Virginia from New
Jersey. A "sophomore summer" vibe unites Maya, June and August while Dante, Beckett and
Emerson might like to hang in Baker. And Nasthas Gomes Brandao Lacerda de Almeida from
Brazil gets a special shout out: she owns the longest name in the freshman class with 35 letters.

A bassoonist from Connecticut observed, "Dartmouth feels like a place where no minute is lost." As
you begin your journey through this hallowed place—with so many noteworthy, energetic
peers—remember those wise words. Seize every moment. Try something new. Don't worry about
always getting it "right." As the "born and bred Montana boy" might tell you: "If you aren't living at
the edge you're taking up too much damned space in the middle." Be bold. Be collaborative. Be
kind. The world needs more of it.

As you begin your Big Green adventure, remember the words of your new classmate from Congo
who sold donuts as a street vendor: "Never shall I forget where I come from," he told us as he
reflected on his African roots. "I am a warrior whose mission is to save a blessed nation full of
hopelessness. I am on the front line, knowing that if I win, my country's despair will be substituted
with hope and opportunities." His major might be undecided but his path is clear.

When Dartmouth's mission says we educate the most promising students for a lifetime of
responsible leadership, that's what we're talking about. Each of you is impressive and talented.
Each of you earned your seat in this class. Go make some magic.

On behalf of my colleagues in Admissions and Financial Aid, welcome to Dartmouth. Godspeed.
22s.