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Friday, November 18, 2005
Finances, Freedom, and Autonomy: Early Thought for the Day

There will be another Friday update. Hopefully I will finish responding to at least one of the articles sent to me by Rabbi today. (The one about women I think.)

I was reading the archives of my Livejournal and came across this thought-piece written on 15 March 2005 which I wanted to share with all of you:
Who ever said that money can't solve all your problems? It was probably a rich or middle class person. The irony of our current market society is that people with money maintain that their money causes them so many problems whereas the less fortunate pine for less strict finances. God has blessed me greatly as an undergraduate by allowing me to go to Dartmouth. On the whole, the College is, monetarily speaking, very supportive and providing of my needs. The freedom of financial aid, combined with a host of outside scholarships, has basically allowed me to escape the tragedy of my family situation.

Being at Dartmouth has given me the ability to see a common character trait among many of my friends and acquaintances. A lot of us have what I call, quite unoriginally, "the Dartmouth syndrome." TDS has a number of causes. The leading cause is pre-undergraduate success. Many of us were class leaders in academics, services, athletics, class organization. I myself was the valedictorian of my high school class. We were used to being told how smart we are, how our hard work in high school would open so many doors, and how we would make great future leaders and citizens of America. Exorbitant praise, coupled with the contagious and ubiquitous national euphoria of the mid and late 90s (yay DotCom era), created a real, but unjustified sense of self-worth. Our talents, skills, and in some cases hard work, gave us the luxury of being either elitists or perfectionists. Coming to Dartmouth changed all that perspectivally.

For many, their undergraduate years at Dartmouth was the unpleasant alarm clock after the "dream" that was high school. (Even in the cases when HS wasn't a dream, most people's memories begin to nostalgically romanticize and valorize the good old days.) Save for one person in the house at the moment, and an 04 who just graduated, all of our GPAs after freshman year were not where we wanted them to be (in the top 1% of the class); the reality of competition put all of our achievements into perspective. We may have been intelligent, but we probably weren't brilliant. Common stories from freshman and sophomore year include: persons confuse as to why their papers no longer effortlessly earned As, the discovery that the math department sucked and the 4/5 on the AP calculus exam(s) didn't make it that much easier, the endless wondering of why your high SATs scores didn't make this a breeze, the crushing reality that many of the people here with 1200s and low 1300s on the SATs appeared more intelligent than you. The reality of competition led to endless rationalizations-- I didn't try hard enough, the class wasn't really hard--, the avoidance of hard classes --I'll stick to these easy classes so that I can feel validated or that profs a hard grader--, and discouraged perfectionism.

The symptoms of Dartmouth syndrome are loss of self-respect, endless comparing of oneself to others, hyper-belief in standardized tests (see I'm smart the test says so), and discouraged perfectionism. The worse symptom, discourage perfectionism, manifests as excessive messiness and disorganization, complaining about bad professors, fear of failure, extreme procrastination, and the fear that Dartmouth is the last great thing that will happen to you. (Woe to those who have 3.0-3.4s. You are too smart to be pitiful and too dumb to get a job.)

All of the philosophizing occurred on the 14 March when I was reviewing my undergraduate financing award for my last term as an undergraduate. It dawned on me that even though I had about 1200USD in loans, outside scholarships and Dartmouth had completely financed me for four complete years. This financial safety of Dartmouth's generosity freed me to work quarter-time and study my way through college. I've probably earned 6000 to 6600USD over the three year period at Dartmouth, and even though a good chunk of that has been funnelled into books for class, Christmas presents, (very few birthday presents I usually don't bother), and to Mother, I have been able to live quite comfortably. I've been able to cook for myself every interim, buy books each term, buy a few books and Cds on the side, and go out to dinner two to three times a term. Not an awful lifestyle I assure you. I have also been blessed enough to be let into UChicago who will also finance me (with stipend support even). I don't think I will get a job for the first year so that I can focus entirely on my classes.

Nevertheless, to achieve title status, I want to close with three independent points of crystallization. The first is that money is freedom. This is largely true for persons, families, and nations. I encourage all persons who read this entry to give liberally of your finances and your taxes to supporting the least well-off. Society is deprived of a lot of talent because many persons scrape to get by and are not able to pursue other options. My second point is that Dartmouth is changing the world, class by class, through its financial support of promising young students from many backgrounds. Graduates of the college have a moral obligation to send at least $5USD a month to the college for the rest of their life. Resolve now to do so. The third point is that success is relative to your goals. You don't have to be the best to be successful. At the end of the day, you should be able to say that I got ought of this activity, this day, or this class the ideas, the experience, the knowledge that I wanted to receive. I may have gotten an A-, or G-d forbid, a B-/C+, but what matters is that I feel good about myself. It's more important to be happy with yourself and with the communities in which you socialize than it is to run the rat race.
I wanted to share.