I’m all graduated!

senior nordie girls! well, most of us. l-r: co-captains Courtney Robinson and Hannah Dreissigacker, me, Audrey Weber. Photo: Judy Geer.

senior nordie girls! well, most of us. l-r: co-captains Courtney Robinson and Hannah Dreissigacker, me, Audrey Weber. Photo: Judy Geer.

Sunday morning, I woke up to the rain. I also woke up to decisions: I hadn’t yet picked out what to wear under my graduation robes.

I had, however, decided to wear my cowboy boots, a well-worn tan and black pair with intricate stitching that I had found for four dollars at a thrift store in Gunnison, Colorado. As they would cover almost all of the visible part of my leg, the rest of my outfit didn’t matter much. I chose a skirt and a polypropylene t-shirt to ward off the rainy cold, because one of the mottos of any endurance athlete is this: cotton kills! I’d leave a dress in our locker room in Robinson Hall for later, when I’d want to look nice for pictures.

It was eerie to be so alone on this morning, when later in the day I would be flooded and overwhelmed by friends and family. I quickly ate two pieces of toast in my room, and then gathered my things and left. I wasn’t late yet, but I faced a stream of robed seniors walking to Leede Arena to line up. It seemed like I was the only one walking towards campus, pushing upstream, the wrong way.

When I opened the locker room door, the light was on. Hannah Dreissigacker was rummaging through our “costume locker” and had just pulled out the purple and blue one-piece spandex suit to wear under her gown. I can’t express how relieved I was to see her: finally, I was not alone heading into this thing called commencement.

Less than thirty minutes later, I was walking up East Wheelock Street, only twenty people behind the bagpipers. I listened to the music, breathed in the wet air, and looked around at the leafy green trees and white buildings that I knew so well. This was the only moment in the whole ceremony when I thought I might cry. The bagpipes lent an incredible air of solemnity to the proceedings. They might have been my favorite part of the whole thing.

When we reached the green and the tone changed. The bagpipers finished, and a brass band took over. As the faculty processed by us, the trumpets sounded like they could be providing music for a circus. Which, in a way, is what the ceremony was. An extremely meaningful circus. When we finally resumed the march towards our seats, I spotted my parents and grandparents and waved.

While the rest of the ceremony was not forgettable, it was predictable. Names of graduate students were read for minutes upon minutes. We gave President and Susan Wright a well-deserved standing ovation when they were awarded honorary degrees. We listened to speeches, which had high points and low points.

When it came time for the undergraduates to march up to the platform, I watched for people I knew. In a way, it made me realize exactly how many of my classmates I had never met, never talked with, and, in some cases, never even seen before. But on the other hand, it reminded me how many friends I had, and how great they were. Courtney Robinson, wearing her sparkly ski team headband over her cap just like Hannah and I were, and wearing cowboy boots like me, pumped her fist before she shook President Wright’s hand. I couldn’t help but smile. Yes, Courtney would make a scene.

When I went up on stage, Dean Carol Folt wished me the best of luck and complimented my headband. I thanked President Wright and as I walked down the steps back towards my seat, I wondered how many people in the vast audience even knew who I was. For those who did, I thought: thank you. I did it!

After singing the alma mater (I wondered if I would ever do so again), we processed out. When we reached the back of the green, that was it. It was over. We milled around, a little confused until we could find a familiar face to latch onto. This moment in time was perfectly emblematic of graduation: all of a sudden, the structure we had been following was gone.

I eventually saw my teammate Brett Palm, and we stood together until we ran into Hannah and her family, then our friend Clara Chew, then Courtney’s brother (but not Courtney). Our support systems re-emerged.

Hannah and I hurried to Robinson Hall to put on our nicer clothes. Because of the rain, we had not been handed diplomas at the ceremony, and instead they were being handed out inside “Robo”. To get to our familiar locker room, we had to wade through people, who kept telling us that we were cutting the line. We tried to assure them that all we wanted was to get to our oasis of a locker room.

Back outside, we nibbled crackers and cheese and slices of watermelon that were provided by the Outing Club. We hugged our friends and posed for picture after picture. It was difficult to assemble all twelve of the senior skiers, so we kept taking photos with slightly different groups as people came and left. I caught up with Cami Thompson and Ruff Patterson, our coaches, but in a way I didn’t even know what to say. Short phrases like “Well,” “Yeah,” and “Thank you” seemed to be all that left my mouth.

Three of my freshmen teammates had come to watch, and had made a gift for each of us: a photo from some women’s team gathering, framed in white with messages written all over. We took a picture with them, and with junior Ida Sargent, who had also come down to watch. It was great to have so many teammates around.

There were so many people I wanted to see, to hug and say goodbye to, but too soon I had to leave and return to my house in Lyme for a gathering with my family.

Because, even though graduation is about ending this stage of my life and saying goodbye to all the different parts of it, as so many people told me, it is not really about me. It’s about thanking the people that helped me through, and it’s about what they want graduation to be. I was luckiest when those two things overlapped, and what I wanted was also what my family wanted.

But it wasn’t, always. So to all the people I didn’t get to say goodbye to, goodbye. The fact that I didn’t see you doesn’t mean that I don’t care, and it doesn’t mean I won’t miss you. I hope we’ll meet again.

And to my wonderful readers, goodbye. Thanks for giving me a place in this community over the last year. I never would have guessed that so many people would actually follow my column; it has meant an incredible amount to me. Thank you. With some luck, maybe you’ll read something else of mine in the future.

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Long overdue post: The average athlete

The average athlete enjoys getting food as prizes. left to right: Julie Carson, me, Courtney Robinson, and Katie Bono at the Wonalancet Wander.

The average athlete enjoys getting food as prizes. left to right: Julie Carson, me, Courtney Robinson, and Katie Bono at the Wonalancet Wander.

When I began writing these columns, my idea was to show readers in the Upper Valley what life was really like for a college athlete.

The Valley News does a great job reporting scores and describing games. They even have fantastic human interest stories about athletes of all ages. But the purpose of these stories is to show something exceptional: the athletes who are chosen as subjects are noticed because they are outstanding or unusual in some way. What about the average athlete? Doesn’t anyone want to know what our life is like?

In general, I’m not sure they would. College is four years long. It’s a discrete phase of our lives, to be lived and enjoyed before we go and accomplish something in the real world. A lot of people aren’t even interested in sports; of those who are, many aren’t interested in skiing. And athletics are by definition frivolous, especially in times like these.

But as I’ve written these columns, reflecting every week on what has been going on with the team, I have realized that skiing has been by far one of the most important parts of my college experience, on par only with the research opportunities I took advantage of with my advisor at a first-class field station in Colorado.

I often grimace at the ridiculous salaries of famous baseball players – how could their skills possibly be so important that they deserve such compensation? – and occasionally laugh at friends who are rabid fans of their hometown football teams. So it has been an interesting revelation: athletics are far more than something I do. Skiing is part of who I am.

In a way, although I hadn’t said it so plainly before, I guess I must have known that when I set out to write the columns.

In showing the daily life of a college athlete, I wanted to dispel some of the stereotypes that people have about us.

For example, there’s the dumb athlete stereotype. People ask me if I got recruited (then they ask me if I’m a legacy). When I say no, they often act surprised. Until people get to know us, a lot of them assume that we can’t compete with the intellects of our non-athlete friends, and wouldn’t have gotten into Dartmouth without a push from our coaches.

While I’ve only written about schoolwork in one column, that’s because I don’t think it’s a big issue. Yes: we do work. No: we’re not dumb, As I mentioned in that column, 60% of the Dartmouth women who raced at Eastern Championships were named Academic All East. Of the senior men and women, more than a third wrote theses. The notion that we take easier classes than the rest of the campus is false.

Another stereotype that I wanted to dispel was that we’re all rich and spoiled. We’re spoiled because we get to go to a beautiful school with incredible academics, and we’re spoiled because we get to spend a lot of time doing a sport that we really love. Are a few of my teammates spoiled by their parents? Yes (sorry, guys). But for the most part, we have to work for what we have.

Skiing is expensive, that’s not something I’m going to deny. And for the majority of the team, racing is not something Dartmouth bankrolls: if you’re not one of the top six on a given weekend, you have to pay your own entry into college races – a system that we’d all like to see changed, but it probably never will be. What other sport takes only six athletes to each varsity competition?

A lot us are on financial aid, so skiing expenses aren’t exactly something that our parents can afford to help us with. My roommate and I both hold steady jobs to pay for race entries, equipment, and travel expenses (not to mention regular college expenses such as rent).

Finally, I had wanted to show that athletes aren’t boring or one-dimensional. Just because we spend a lot of time training, and a lot of the rest of our time studying, doesn’t mean that we never do anything else.

We have lots of adventures: I’ve written about hikes, bike races, potluck breakfasts and dinners, and a trip to Tuckerman Ravine. I’ve written about how much we joke around on the bus, and about watching fireworks outside when the thermometer drops below zero and we’re trapped in a hotel.

I guess I haven’t written about is how my teammates drive up to Thetford Elementary School every week to mentor younger students, or how they are involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or any of the other community activities they’re involved in. But that’s because, like doing homework, it seems unexceptional to me. This is my team. It is filled with good people. Why is it surprising that they do good things?

Back to my original point, because you must have been wondering how “I just realized that skiing is who I am” and “athletes are not dumb, rich, and boring” are related. This is the link: I am an athlete, and I am not dumb, rich and boring. I wanted to show how great our team was, and how it was filled with wonderful people.

I wanted to show how even when the going got tough – whether in long rollerski workouts on bad pavement in the rain, or when I had a really bad race and needed someone to console me – our team was there for each other.

I wanted to show how when we had problems, with boys, or schoolwork, or family, or just life, we’d all go for a really long ski until we’d run out of emotions for a little while, and then make dinner together.

I wanted to show how when we have ideas of fun things we want to do, we almost always turn to each other: “Hey, you know what I want to do? You should come!”

I wanted to show how much we laugh.

And I wanted to show how, even though we are each other’s best friends, we’re also each other’s competition, and that’s okay. For us, competition is a part of life. In every race, there can only be one winner: you’ll almost always be better than someone and less strong than someone else. We know each other so well that we can be happy when our friends have breakout races.

I had realized that this was an essential part of my makeup, being an athlete. And I didn’t feel like I fit any of the stereotypes that people have of athletes. When I looked around at my friends and teammates, I didn’t think that they did, either. This is what I wanted to show.

We’re people, too. Just like all of you.

Keep that in mind next time you read the scores.