Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Passion: A Matter of Choice

Written by johnleemk on 9:35:14 pm Sep 19, 2007.

So I am finally a university student. Having just begun orientation at Dartmouth College in the United States, my thoughts have already been drawn to parallels between what I see here and what I write and think about.

(If you do not know what Dartmouth is, it is among the top ten universities in the US — but if you ask any of us, it is also the greatest place on earth.)

Prior to orientation, it is a tradition for Dartmouth undergraduate freshmen to go on a trip in the wilderness — since 90% of each incoming cohort goes on a trip, it is practically part of orientation. (And yes, this is why I have been incommunicado and no new articles have been published for almost a week.)

The interesting thing here is that although these are totally optional, and quite challenging, so many students nevertheless go for them.

Of course there is the factor of peer pressure — you will find it harder to make friends if you don't have the same pre-orientation familiarity with fellow classmates.

But what is the ultimate, main catalyst for the enthusiasm people show for Dartmouth and activities like this? Despite a small undergraduate population (3,000, not including my class of freshmen), hundreds volunteered to participate in some way in these trips, which welcome new students.

What makes people so passionate about this university? What makes them so fanatical about protecting it and every facet of it that Dartmouth has never changed its name to Dartmouth University, despite having offered graduate courses for over two centuries?

When I came back from my hiking trip, one of the officers of the Dartmouth Outing Club gave my trip section a little pep talk, trying to explain why these trips are such a big deal.

In her speech, she related the story of another university (many universities, including other Ivy Leagues, have outdoors pre-orientation trips) which called the club's office asking what their secret was — how they got 90% of the incoming class of 1,100 to show up for an arduous experience in the brutally cold wilderness of New Hampshire.

Her explanation for this anomaly was simple — because the whole exercise is student-run. The outing club itself was founded by Dartmouth students and alumni, and although it is continually supported by the university, it basically runs itself. The students choose how they will welcome their juniors — which basically means, as she put it, that a 21-year-old is in charge of over a thousand incoming freshmen.

Now, this explains why incoming students feel excited about their alma mater — because the upperclassmen pass this feeling on to them. But why do the upperclassmen feel this way?

In my view, it is because the whole thing is a closed feedback loop — because of the incredible freedom to choose what to do that Dartmouth gives its students.

Orientation has been nothing but fun for me so far — and the reason it is fun is because Dartmouth does not tell me how to have fun, or what is fun. It tells me the pros and cons of what I can choose, and lets me make the choice.

It is probably too early in my university career for me to accurately judge my institution — most upperclassmen are not even back on campus yet. But if my initial impressions are anything to rely on, students love Dartmouth because Dartmouth gives them a choice.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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