Note: This post is part of the “Voices of Trips” series, which will provide perspectives and stories from upperclassmen’s own experiences with Trips. To learn more about our great group of trip leaders, check out the introduction to the blog’s series here.
“Nobody Knows Nothing”
Last night, sitting on the porch of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge (where you’ll go at the end of your first-year trip), my friends and I were reminiscing about our own trips, when the Harry Potter books came up in conversation. In the first book, Harry is on the train to Hogwarts when he meets Ron, his soon-to-be best friend. I never had that moment on the way to my own first-year trip; I was so excited to get to Hanover that I actually drove myself up to campus a day early. Most people I met on Trips had had a very different experience, from those who had taken a bus from their hometown or the airport, to those who had never been on campus before, to those who were nervous to leave the comfort of their parents’ car once on campus.
But back to Harry: when he meets Ron on the Hogwarts Express, he’s worried, understandably, because he has no idea what life is like in the wizarding world. He grew up in a muggle household, with no grasp on the experiences of wizards and witches. Ron, fortunately, alleviates Harry’s concerns, explaining that even though he’d grown up in a family of wizards, even though he’d heard stories about Hogwarts and knew about many different traditions and parts of wizarding life, he was still on the same level as Harry, because neither of them had actually yet experienced life as a student at Hogwarts.
I’m a huge philosophy nerd, so I immediately related this to philosopher Thomas Nagel’s thought-experiment on what it is like to be a bat. Basically, Nagel argues that even if you learn all of the things about bats, like how they see or what’s going on in their minds when they do the things that they do, you will never know what it actually is to be a bat, unless you are one. Likewise, Harry and Ron couldn’t know what it was to be students at Hogwarts until they themselves had that lived experience.
One of my favorite professors here at Dartmouth frequently uses this quote from Paulo Freire: “Nobody knows nothing. Nobody knows everything.” And I wish I had considered that before going on my own trip. If we’re still running with this Harry Potter metaphor, I might have been the Draco Malfoy of F225 way back in September of 2011. Even though I hadn’t yet matriculated, I felt and sort of acted like a Dartmouth know-it-all. My grandpa went to Dartmouth and has lived in Hanover since I was about 4 years old, so I had spent time on campus before, had heard story after story about the old College on the Hill. My climbing trip hiked up Holts Ledge and stayed on top of the Dartmouth Skiway, where I had learned to ski before I was old enough to go to kindergarten. And what I didn’t realize was, in spite of all that, in spite of all the things I knew (well, thought I knew) about Dartmouth already, I had no idea what it actually was to be a student at Dartmouth, because I wasn’t a student yet.
The more time I spend at Dartmouth, the more I realize how little I actually know. There are some things I do know, like the names of the skaters on the New York Rangers, or the words to the Kim Possible theme song in French, or that most 19th-century philosophers were incredibly sexist. After three years at Dartmouth, the only really concrete thing I know about the place is my own experience here. I know the things I have tried, the things I have failed at, the things I have loved. I know that many of the things I’ve done are things that high school me never would have believed I could or would do, and I know that many of the things I ended up loving are things I thought I would love for very different reasons.
So I guess what I am trying to say to you, ‘18s, is that I don’t want you to worry about feeling like you don’t know enough things about Dartmouth. Knowing what life is like at Dartmouth is not a prerequisite for coming on your first-year trip. And even if you do have a pre-existing relationship with this school, whether your sibling still goes here or your great-great-great-uncle was a member of the class of 1896, remember that your experience here is yours and yours alone. Regardless of your previous experience(s) with or at Dartmouth, you all have one thing in common: you’ve never been a student here before. And this, ultimately, is the point of first-year trips. All of your trip leaders, all of the support croo members, all of the students who have volunteered for this program, have one thing in common: they want to make you feel comfortable occupying a new space. You will have the space to share your own story and the space to listen to the stories of current students, and along the way I hope you will meet a lot of people who identify both similarly and differently from you. Nobody here knows nothing, and nobody here knows everything. And you, and all of your experiences, are going to be a valued part of that.