Adrian Ferrari ’14
Thank you, Dean Johnson, for that generous introduction. I look forward to working with you this year. Greetings to President Hanlon, members of the Board of Trustees, alumni, staff, students, faculty, and, of course, to the great Class of 2017. It’s a tremendous pleasure for me to welcome everyone to Dartmouth’s 244th academic year. I’m humbled to share the stage with so many distinguished leaders and want to note my presence alongside them as a testament to Dartmouth's incredible focus on its undergraduates.
That said, I think it’s appropriate that I narrow the scope of my remarks to my experience as a Dartmouth student and leave the life and leadership advice to the people behind me who have actually managed to obtain their bachelor's degree.
’17s, welcome. I’ve been lucky enough to interact with many of you at the Lodge towards the end of your first year DOC Trip and, I must say, I am delighted by what I have seen so far. The smiles you flashed during the dinner shows and the games on the leech field were infectious. I witnessed your optimism in our discussion groups and you've demonstrated a refreshing enthusiasm by dancing to I’m on a Roll despite spending the previous three days trekking through the wilderness. Even more exciting than the energy I felt from you during Trips are the budding relationships that I see forming here on campus.
Maybe it’s senior year nostalgia kicking in, but after participating in Trips this year, I’ve reflected a lot on what it means to be welcomed to Dartmouth and why so many upperclassmen dedicate themselves to breathe new life into the Trips program year after year.
So if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I have a few of stories I’d like to share from when I joined the Dartmouth community.
When my mother and my sister, Anna, dropped me on Robo lawn for my DOC Trip, Anna made a comment about H-Croo. It was something to the effect of, “Aw, Adrian, look how ridiculous these students are making themselves look, so there is no possible way you can feel awkward.” I think my sister severely underestimated my ability to feel awkward, especially given my distinct inability to dance the Salty Dog Rag, but at the same time, her comment crystallized something for me right from the outset of Trips, and that was simply understanding the vast amounts of time and effort that scores of Dartmouth students were putting into my arrival at college. The shows, the games, the conversations with Trip leaders began to make me feel incredibly special, and I started to feel like I really belonged.
When I arrived back in Hanover from my trip, things took—pretty inarguably—a turn for the worse. I moved into my dorm with one of my roommates, Pedro, and we were both incredibly tired from our Trips. Pedro had to wake up early the next day, actually, to go to the International Student Orientation so we went to bed very early.
In our dorm in Russell Sage we have a half bath and for some inexplicable reason when Pedro woke up the next morning he had peeled off this piece of tape from our bathroom door that the custodial staff had put on our door to prevent it from fully closing. I get out of bed about an hour and a half later—long after Pedro had left—lazily walk into the bathroom and close the door behind me, only this time I hear this “click” and I think to myself, this can't be good. This noise that I've never heard before cannot be good. I turn around and quickly realize that on the first day of Orientation, when all I want to do is start making friends, I am utterly and completely locked in the bathroom. Panicked, I start to look for a way out. I don’t have my phone, because I didn't think I needed to bring my phone. I noticed that the hinges are on the other side of the door so I can't take them off, and the worst part is the doorknob isn’t even stuck. It just keeps spinning—like it’s mocking me.
So I don't know if you've ever really looked at the bathroom windows in Russell Sage, but they are very skinny. These are some small windows, and keep in mind that I'm on the fourth floor. The odds are stacked against me. On top of it all, there's this bright red sign in front of the window that says, “There is a $1,000 fine for being caught on the fire escape when there is not a fire." So I'm hesitant, but after about 15 more seconds of not having any friends, I decide this is an emergency. Somehow I had psyched myself into thinking that, while I was trapped in the bathroom, all of the other ’14s were going to pair up, become friends, and I will be alone at Dartmouth forever. Now on a mission. I punch out the screen, shove about half my body through the window, but then the window closes on my abs. At this point people are starting to pass below me on their way to breakfast and, I am not only still not making friends, I'm that guy who is hanging out of the 4th floor of his freshman dorm on the first day of orientation. Eventually I grab hold of the fire-escape, pull myself through and descend down to the ground.
I told this story a lot at the Lodge this year because I wanted to let ’17s know that it’s OK if you have a bad day or you feel like you're getting off on the wrong foot. No one expects you to be happy all the time. At the beginning of my freshman fall I felt kind of alone. I didn't know if my relationships were meaningful. There was no spontaneous dancing or games on the Green like there had been on the Leech field. That sense of belonging that I started to feel during Trips had basically evaporated by that point.
Somebody did, however, save me from the vague sadness that I was feeling at Dartmouth. It wasn’t a tri leader, it wasn’t a crew member and it wasn’t even an upperclassman. It was a ’14. A freshman student named Gina whom I met completely randomly when I stayed behind with this group of ’14s who were going to Foco so she had time to put on her shoes. I don’t know what compelled her to do this—I think at some point I might have told her the Pedro story and it made her like me—but Gina, over the next couple of days, organized a group of people I knew, but not well, to set up a surprise scavenger hunt for me across campus to celebrate my birthday. Three years ago yesterday, I ran around Hanover collecting 19 candles and a cake from the middle of the green. The mistakenly purchased trick candles almost set off the fire alarm in McLaughlin where we went to celebrate but the awkward photo I took of us fanning the smoke out of the room was my desktop for a long time. I think I kept it for so long because I thought my birthday would be skipped over because I didn't have any real friends; this gesture really made me feel like I had a family at Dartmouth.
Not everyone will be lucky enough to have a Gina throw them an absurdly elaborate scavenger hunt, but each of you ’17s, has the power to be that for another person. When you go out of your way, when you inconvenience yourself, when you push through the awkwardness of that initial encounter in order to make one of your peers feel welcome, then suddenly they are at home at Dartmouth because now you are a member of this community—you are Dartmouth to them.
As I'm sure you've realized, not every minute of your Dartmouth career will be the programmed song and dance that you saw during Trips. The reason your peers invested so much in your arrival—in my case, choreography, lyric writing, and dying my hair—was to convey how eager we are to meet you and thrilled we are to have you here, but whether that sense of community persists depends entirely on the actions you take to let the people around you know that you care about them. ’17s, college life will push you in a lot of different directions. There is no better anchor out there than people who you love and trust. So do me a personal favor, get to know your classmates, make an effort to be kind to them, and when you do, I look forward to watching you thrive here.
On behalf of the student body, ’17s, welcome home.