Valedictory to the College by Brian Zheng ’24

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The pandemic, and the state of campus our first year, affected our class deeply. We have faced unimaginable loss and shown remarkable resilience.”

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One of my favorite poems is by Dartmouth’s very own Robert Frost: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” In the poem, the narrator, in the middle of a long journey, stops, for just a moment, in front of a snowy forest. The point of the poem, I think, isn’t where he’s coming from or even where he’s going to, but that he sees these woods, he stops by them, and he takes them in.

Every time I read that poem, I can’t help but think of the Dartmouth Class of 2024. When we arrived on campus in the fall of 2020, amidst a global pandemic, it truly did not matter who you were or where you came from. You could have been me, a child of immigrants whose middle name, Haixiang, literally translates to ‘flying across the ocean.’ Or you could have been someone who spent their entire life in the Upper Valley before coming to Dartmouth. The important thing was that you chose to spend your time here, in these woods, with these people, for at least a couple of snowy evenings.

The other important thing, of course, was that we actually didn’t get to see a whole lot of each other during our first few terms. I still remember the first time I was allowed to take a walk outside with one other person, or eat a meal on the Green with two. Compare that with the average sophomore summer weekend — especially for those of you who know me — and it’s hard to think that those things happened at the same school. The pandemic, and the state of campus our first year, affected our class deeply. We have faced unimaginable loss and shown remarkable resilience.

But as things returned to normal, I began feeling more of that classic Dartmouth feeling — like I was a part of something bigger than myself. Whether through singing a cappella, training early mornings in ROTC, joining Greek Life, or just studying in the library with friends, the people, places, and communities here in Hanover have given me an unforgettable experience — an experience both faithful to the idea of what college should be, and let’s be honest, pretty sweet too.

I know that all of you sitting here today have found similar spaces and given your hearts and souls to them. The ’24s have undoubtedly shown our dedication to this place and its people. Our football team has won two out of the last three Ivy League championships, our dance and improv groups never fail to amaze me, and our women’s rowing team is just straight-up cool. Importantly, we have also guided those who have come after us in those spaces, from training new writers at The Dartmouth to leading First-Year Trips, despite never experiencing them ourselves. In our time here, we have laughed, we have cried, we have grieved, and more than anything, we have learned what we can do for one another. That solidarity is what I will remember from Dartmouth.

The empathy and generosity I see every day on campus convince me that we are an exceptional class filled with exceptional people who will do exceptional things for the communities we join and the people whose lives we will touch. And now, more than ever, we are entering a world where our skills will be necessary, from geopolitical instability to economic tensions to a feeling that society itself is frayed at the seams. To leave here today with a degree from Dartmouth is a profound honor. On one hand, it affords us great liberty to pursue big dreams. After today, all of us will have the power to shape our lives as we wish. On the other hand, I think we ought also recognize the duty and obligation that comes with our time here. The world will expect us, with this opportunity and at this juncture, to give back to it. And I know, more than anything, that we will.

Because it is our curiosity that we have gained here in these woods, our passion, our caring, our drive that will and must propel us to lift up those around us and to lend a hand to those in need. I know that no matter what challenges we face, it is this generation, this group of peers, this Class of 2024 that will change the world.

President Beilock, distinguished Board of Trustees, fellow graduates, and honored guests, I see all of us as stewards of this College, its traditions, and its legacy. I know that everybody here can point to other stewards who have been incredibly important to their success at Dartmouth. For me, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my family, including my mom and my brother Bill, who is a ’26 here. To all my dear friends: Sophia, Ben, Kamil, Chloe — and these are only a few I can see up here near the front — I am so excited to see what you do in the future. To the faculty, from my Government thesis committee of Professors Westwood, Carey, and Valentino, to Professors Jerit, Binkoski, Gómez, Swaine, Coly, and Louis Burkot, you have truly expanded my intellectual horizons. To the Dartmouth Cords, to the cadets and cadre in Army ROTC, and to the College staff, from the library to the academic departments to the dining halls to the maintenance and grounds teams for this incredible day — thank you. You have made my, and our, experience here immeasurably better.

My favorite lines in Robert Frost’s poem come near the end. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” It has been the joy of a lifetime to have spent four years in these woods with you all, and I cannot wait to see where those miles take us. To the Dartmouth Class of 2024, congratulations, good luck. And Go, Big Green.