It was an ideal weekend for catching up with old friends and making new ones, as well as reflecting on the past, present, and future of Dartmouth.
At its 225th session held October 21–23 under sunny skies and colorful fall foliage, 120 members of the Alumni Council—over 70% of the council—attended information sessions held by key administrators, met with students, and toured recently built or renovated buildings. The weekend culminated with Saturday’s dinner, as Council President Chitra Narasimhan '92 thanked President Philip J. Hanlon '77 for his lasting contribution before asking him about the turning points of his tenure, which will end in June.
"What I am so proud of now is that we have a very diverse council, with representatives from all kinds of constituents, regional class affinity groups, and a variety of representatives who are deeply committed to their constituents," said Cheryl Bascomb '82, vice president for alumni relations.
Alumni began arriving Friday, on a Day of Caring, participating with others on campus in a wide range of programs and gatherings fostering healing and self-care.
"I've been talking with students all weekend," said Narasimhan. "I spoke to a freshman and he was saying how much he already feels a part of this community, and understands how important and special it is. When I told him I was here after 30 years, for Alumni Council, he said he would definitely stay involved after he graduates. There's just a warmth here and a bond that I haven't found anywhere else. There are ups and downs, and no place is perfect, but that bond really connects us."
The session also coincided with Dartmouth's observation of Diwali, the Hindu celebration of the victory of light over darkness. Late Saturday afternoon, alumni, students, and faculty mingled, illuminated by pathways of votive candles leading to a circle on the Green.
An Evening of Gratitude
Saturday's banquet at the Hanover Inn featured a short film in which past council presidents thank President Hanlon for being responsive to their input, moving Dartmouth forward with such initiatives as increased financial aid, a successful capital campaign, improved infrastructure, more experiential learning, and the repatriation of the Samson Occom papers.
Following the tribute, Hanlon stepped on stage to answer questions posed by Narasimhan.
Asked to reflect on a few highlights of the past decade, Hanlon replied, "There are so many. The reenactment of the Daniel Webster case at the Supreme Court, the launch of the campaign, the moment when we crossed $3 billion—that was awesome. The many nights Gail and I entertained students in our house. And one point of pride was the day that out of the blue, I received a call from the membership lead at the AAU saying that Dartmouth had, after 120 years, been elected to the AAU, which represents the top 65 research universities in the country. For Dartmouth to be committed to the undergraduate experience and be one of this elite group really means a lot."
Hanlon paid tribute to his predecessor and friend, James Wright, who served as president of Dartmouth from 1998–2009 and died on October 10. Another influential mentor, he said, has been Frank Guarini '46, who received the Naval Commendation Medal and three Battle Stars for his service in World War II, and served in the New Jersey State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
"He once said with regret how rigid people's views of institutions has become, so that if an institution fails to follow their view of the world in even one instance, people are too quick to just jettison it, and say it's no good. He likened it to a parent and children: You don't love your children because they're perfect. You love them unconditionally. Love and service to institutions that are important to us are really crucial to the success of the nation and the world. I always remember that."
Living and Learning
Throughout the weekend, plenary sessions and panels brought alumni up to date on ongoing efforts to diversify the student body, expand mental health services and outreach, and increase housing options.
In his presentation, Dean of the College Scott Brown provided details about the partnership between Dartmouth and the JED Foundation, which is working with many campuses nationwide to promote and support the mental health of students who, as Brown acknowledged, are facing unprecedented stresses and pressures as they meet academic demands, juggle a slew of extracurricular activities, and navigate social life in challenging times.
"When we think about mental health and wellbeing, it's really an institution-wide commitment to care," Brown said.
Afterward, Hanoko Kawakyu-O'Connor '99 and Soyeun Yang '16 chatted about the weekend's activities and gatherings. Kawakyu-O'Connor, who teaches in the University of Rochester's School of Education, serves on the Lifelong Learning Committee, which is exploring ways to make students more acutely aware of resources and help available from alumni.
"What I've really loved this weekend are the conversations, especially on Friday night, with students sitting at our dinner tables," said Kawakyu-O'Connor. "We were able to just ask questions. And the panel of seniors was so honest about challenges they're meeting. I thought that was really powerful."
Yang agreed. "I've really enjoyed the spontaneity, the connection," she said. "It's almost like being on a freshman floor again. You are just randomly placed together, and you keep bumping into people you know, and some you don't. You talk about your memories on campus, and that's great."
That synergy among active alumni who represent their constituents, dig for information, and work together to advance Dartmouth's mission, is what drew Narasimhan to her leadership role, she said.
"I've met older alums who were here when women were a new part of Dartmouth," she said. "They've accepted me and have been mentoring me. I've met younger alums, too, and that's so exciting, to make that connection. It's really a gift."