The Great Class of Dartmouth 1966
The Road Continues...
Delivered at the Dartmouth Class of 1966 50th Reunion, June 10, 2016
by Alan A. Ryan, '66

A Sense of Place
(Listen here)

On the last day of Freshman Week 1962 – some 54 years ago – we sat in Webster Hall for a lecture by Professor Francis Childs, on the history of this College. He told us of Eleazar Wheelock, Daniel Webster, and William Jewett Tucker, and he concluded his presentation with this: “You are now a part of Dartmouth, and for as long as your lives shall last Dartmouth will be a part of you.”

I think few of us fully understood what he meant. We had been here only a few days; we were still learning our way around the campus in our freshman beanies, still wondering what this place had waiting for us; some of us still wondering, perhaps, whether we had come to the right place at all, this beautiful remote College on the hill, in the granite of New Hampshire.

Four years later, at Commencement, we assembled again, for the last time as students, and heard John Sloan Dickey, that tall strapping fellow with his bounding golden Labrador, give us a sort of farewell: “And so, Men of Dartmouth,” he said, “the word is so long, because in the Dartmouth fellowship there is no parting.”

But we were parting, some of us to return home, or to new jobs, or to roam round the girdled earth, some of us to law school or medical school or some other school, some of us, in that fateful year, to military service, some of us, at that impossibly young age, to marriages. We said our so-longs to those who had become close friends, roommates, teammates, and fraternity brothers, assuring each other we would meet again, not knowing where or when, but sensing that wherever it might be, it would be removed from the life we had lived, in the world that had been ours, for four years in this place.

Now, fifty years to the day after that sunny Commencement, we are here, again, at this place: honored guests of advanced age, thinner of hair, thicker of waist, slower of foot though perhaps with spiffy new knees, each bringing with us the scars and joys of a life we could not have foreseen then. We have read obituaries or attended funerals of classmates with whom we shared the Ravine Lodge, a road trip, the chem lab, 105 Dartmouth, the Skiway on a bracing February afternoon.

Dartmouth is of course now a place quite different from the College we knew then. There are women here, students and faculty. Diversity, a word of little significance back then, surrounds us now. In our class, there were several, no more, men of color in a population overwhelmingly of white, middle-class, suburban fellows, and most of us did not appreciate then how distant this community must have seemed to those few, and to our classmates who were gay in a community that did not acknowledge their full selves, or allow them to.

Beyond this, we are here at a place that is far less remote than the one we knew. In our lives at this College, communication with the world beyond Hanover depended on two pay telephones in a dormitory, WDCR and the D, and mail at the Post Office in the new Hopkins Center. Scant television, except on that awful weekend in November 1963 in Spaulding Auditorium. No personal computers, or email, or texting, no internet or cellphones or social media. Our facebook was a bound volume of high school graduation photos. Had anyone said then that we would someday routinely go online with our laptops and smartphones to Google a website and download a PDF to the cloud or a flash drive, I daresay even John Kemeny would have been mystified at what on earth they were talking about.

And yet... Whether we have come back often in the intervening years, or are returning now for the first time, the Moosilauke trails still lead to the summit; we can walk straight to our first dorm room; the Tower Room still beckons us to come in and find a book and a stuffed chair and snooze for a while; we can flick out at the Nugget; we can paddle, or row, on a river that flows as it did half a century ago. The mornings are still sharp and misty; bells still clang; feet still crunch on snow. It is possible, if we wish it, to walk across the Green and imagine that it is still 1966 and that the young men and women throwing a Frisbee are our friends and their dates.

Professor Childs, in his history lesson to us, had begun by acknowledging that we had all come from somewhere else. As he put it, “You have left your families and your hometowns to plunge into a new place and a new environment, Dartmouth College, and you find it doubtless quite different from any that you have known before. Yet here, as everywhere, the past is with you in the present.”

Fifty four years later, most of us would find his words truer than we could have appreciated then. This week our past is once again with us. For all that Dartmouth has changed, and continues to change, her spell on us remains. There is a sense of place here, a sense that assures us that we know where we are, a place that can gently erase the years and remind us, however fleetingly, of our youth.

We did come to this place from somewhere else; it was our place for four years, and then we left it for somewhere else. Yet it remains, and we return and are part of it again for these few days. Professor Childs knew something we didn’t, then. However great or measured our dedication to Dartmouth has been for fifty years, this College, this place, has been and will continue to be a part of us, for as long as our lives shall last. The world that was ours then, the times that we knew then, are but distant memories today. Yet it is still our place. We are not strangers or tourists here; we know this place. And we can believe that, in its way, this place knows us.

Allan A. Ryan
ryan@hbsp.harvard.edu
617 733 4013