Dartmouth College Convocation, September 20, 2011 Max Yoeli ’12
Thank you, Dean Johnson, for such a kind introduction. We’re really pleased to have you join us in Hanover this year. Greetings President Kim, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and, most importantly, members of the Class of 2015. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the beginning of Dartmouth’s 242nd year. I would like to take a moment today to thank Kul Chandra Gautam for being with us. I’m humbled to share the stage with such a distinguished international figure, and I think my presence alongside him is illustrative of the tremendous focus that Dartmouth places on undergraduates.
’15s, welcome home. You’ve undoubtedly heard time and time again just how special your class is—the smartest, the most creative, the most diverse. I can’t say your SAT scores mean much to me, but I can confirm your potential for academic and personal success from what I have seen during Orientation and pre-O. Your contagious optimism, ceaseless energy, and tremendous promise have been plainly evident in the brief time I’ve spent with you, whether it be hanging out on the Green, on Webster Avenue, or the H-Croo show that I snuck into. By the way, H-Croo was wonderful, especially with the water purification song, though I can’t say I miss the taste of iodine.
You are here today to join not just a college, but also a vibrant academic community. The Dartmouth community is a diverse crossroads of ability, opinion, passion, and learning. If you open your heart, mind, and senses to those around you, I promise you will learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. One of my favorite books, Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, begins with the narrator’s ex-girlfriend telling him, “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.” In addition to being an odd beginning to a haunting novel, the sentence bothered the narrator as it bothers me. The statement troubles me because I see people who are afraid to merge with one another, to open themselves, to be vulnerable. People hesitate to share their hearts and minds for fear of being hurt or failing. Don’t be afraid to merge at Dartmouth; it will pay tremendous dividends.
Learn from those around you. I firmly believe that an equal amount of growth, learning, and maturity at Dartmouth occurs outside the classroom as does in it. Engaging with those around you in this community of ours will provide you with perspective and challenge you endlessly. I like to tell people that I learn as much from smoking a cigar with the Chabad Rabbi Moshe Gray as going to a day of classes. Learning doesn’t always look the same, nor are roles of teacher and student necessarily fixed. All of us—faculty, staff, and students—are teachers and students. Our maturity is dynamic and fluid, a consequence of living in a community that is ideally designed to thrive on intellectual curiosity at its essence.
Unfortunately, by opening ourselves to the influences of the community around us, we become susceptible to the pressures that exist within it. A friend of mine lamented one of these pressures in an op-ed in The D this summer that sparked controversy on campus as he expostulated the corporate recruiting culture that attracts many upperclassmen. After reflecting on the article, I discovered that it encapsulated one of my greatest frustrations at Dartmouth. Many people have a very narrow conception of what success is and how to attain it at Dartmouth and beyond. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, yes, some of us are meant for Wall Street, and many repay their debt to Dartmouth by subsidizing our educations. Still, the pressure to conform that a recruiting culture connotes can be, in my mind, the enemy of intellectual discovery and the uniqueness of the community you are joining.
Mind you, pressures are larger than career choices. They impact students daily as they make decisions regarding how to conduct themselves on campus, and they are perpetuated by stereotypes and campus influences. I implore you to stay true to yourselves, as cliché as that may sound. Be an individual, not an archetype. Harness the ambition and potential that brought you to Dartmouth and have the courage to apply that to what you define as success. Furthermore, have the mental strength to be proud of what it is you value, even in the face of tremendous pressure. Now, this can manifest itself in different ways. For some, it may be having the bravery to take a break from econ classes to explore and discover an interest in creative writing and the chutzpah to enjoy it and excel. For others, some of whom I imagine will join Greek houses or other organizations, if an older member of your group makes an offensive comment at meetings, have the strength to speak up and take issue with what they say. I promise you people will respect you for your audacity.
’15s, as you navigate the intensely interesting Dartmouth experience that awaits you, many of you will look to the future. After all, the culmination of your time here will ultimately be a degree that will propel you toward a career and a successful life, however you may define that. While goals are good to have, don’t let them blind you from the here and now. The smallest experiences at Dartmouth can have the biggest impact on our outlooks, and, furthermore, the mistakes we make mold us into the men and women that we become. Don’t fear failure; embrace it, and learn from it. The key is to learn how to fail successfully. If you look too far into the future, you will allow life’s lessons to pass you by.
A friend of mine told me this past spring, much to my chagrin, that she came to Dartmouth for a 4.0 and a job offer from Goldman Sachs. I was floored, so I told her that she was missing out on her college experience and to enjoy the ride. ’15s, spontaneity is key to a meaningful existence on campus. You never know what opportunities may be hidden in seemingly trivial adventures, whether it be a walk around Occom or a 4 a.m. trip to Fort Lou’s 24-hour truck stop. By the way, for the latter, get the corned beef hash, and, if you curse within earshot of the waitress, I promise she won’t serve you.
’15s, welcome to Hanover. Dartmouth will force you to discover the values you hold rather quickly. It may seem as if everybody already has their values figured out, but, trust me, many and most pretend. It is okay to explore your outlook and alter it constantly. Identifying what is important to you is difficult, but the real challenge lies in holding true to your values and maintaining their integrity in the face of constant questioning. I am excited for each of you. It seems like just yesterday I was a junior in high school visiting campus for the first time on the ’10s’ homecoming night. Talk about sensory overload. But that night I learned just how special this college can be, and I feel as if each term I’ve learned more about this place and myself than every previous term combined. ’15s, you are in for four of the best years of your lives. Make the most of it. Don’t let it pass you by. Do not be afraid to merge. Welcome home, you massive shmob of ’15s. We may call you the worst class ever for the time being, but I know you’re going to be absolutely great.