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ISSUE 116 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/21/2003

Four year transition, first-year ambition call for senior reminiscing

By David Fine
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 21, 2003

In four years, the entire world around you can change. Sometimes, enlightenment or disillusionment are just a lecture away. A talk with a spirited first-year student and two members of the senior class reveals how much can change in four years and how much can stay the same.

The desk of Christina Dokmo ’06 could be on the cover of an admissions brochure. Next to thick Great Conversation texts and a diligently humming laptop, an essay sits on the desk, awaiting polishing. Above is tacked a dean’s list certificate, helpful memos, and a photograph of a young girl that she is sponsoring through Compassion International.

"What I love about St. Olaf is the nurturing atmosphere," said Dokmo, who considered several elite schools before deciding on St. Olaf. "It’s an education that is nurturing. It doesn’t set students against each other. We come together to learn."

Dokmo’s impressive class of 2006 boasts an average high school GPA of 3.63 and 48 National Merit Scholars, a St. Olaf record. Currently, Dokmo is majoring in English education and psychology (she recently dropped her math major). Her academic aspirations are ambitious, but thoughtful as well. She speaks of variety in education and the need for initiative as well as flexibility. "I don’t want to be foolish in my choices. I have a plan," she said, "but it’s subject to change."

What is not apt to change is her ambition. When asked about the future after graduation, her answer is swift and matter-of-fact. "I want to help people."

Rachel Lyle ’03 tempers first-year optimism with a St. Olaf experience that has been academically rich. From working in admissions, Lyle knows that a St. Olaf education is not the highest ranked, but she still praises her academic experience. "I came in expecting a rigorous education, and that is what I received." Lyle notes the particular value of the Center for Experiential Learning and study abroad programs, while concluding, "People graduate pleased with their education."

Lyle, a religion and psychology major, is as ambitious as she was in her first year. But now she can quote Niebuhr and Joyce on a whim, and her ideals have developed. Lyle says her education has taught her the importance of several perspectives, including her personal needs. Lyle understands that she is called to nurture others as well as herself. "When you’re being called to a vocation, you’re also being called away from something else, and you have to weigh a lot of factors. It’s a little more complicated than ‘I want to help people.’"

For Will D’Ambruoso ‘03, college is a time of personal examination. He says that college "forced me more than anything else to confront myself." It is in this vein that he is critical of the honor code, which, he notes, tends to avoid confrontation and often reduces students to "the equivalent of fifth grade kids, whispering and tattling on each other."

D’Ambruoso is certainly not typical admissions brochure material. He is wearing a "Great Con Dropouts" T-shirt, speaks with an oppressive sarcasm, and his facial hair is precariously awry. But though he may not be a poster child for Fram Fram week, it is D’Ambruoso who has the most to say about St. Olaf, namely the R.I.C.H. statement. "The honesty part is not often upheld," he says. "Instead, we have ‘good face,’ but it’s all ‘Minnesota Nice,’ not honesty." As he speaks, others around him nod their heads in agreement.

D’Ambruoso is blunt about his gripes, but he is quick to emphasize his happiness with St. Olaf. The math and theater major is "fueled by the thrill of teaching," and aspires to end up in a classroom of his own. His eyes light up as he discusses his classes, professors, and the quality of education that he has received.

Some seniors may discount wide-eyed first-year optimism as a product of Week One indoctrination and excessive corridor bonding activities. But the classes of 2003 and 2006 have more in common than one would think. In their first year, the class of 2003 also had the best high school GPAs and highest SAT scores on campus.

But beyond similarity in statistics, both classes know what they value about their college experience. For Dokmo, the decision to come to St. Olaf was based largely on the school’s pervasive sense of community. Reminiscent of her days as a prospective student, Dokmo said, "I knew immedeately that I wanted to come here. People went out of their way to make me feel included."

Perhaps no one would agree more than members of the senior class. In the past four years, the class of 2003 has witnessed a streak of devastating accidents that took the lives of students and professors.

Recalling the accident in spring 2001, which claimed the lives of three fellow students, Lyle said, "Everyone including the faculty and staff was affected. It reaffirmed our community and gave us a new appreciation for people and for life."

Though in four years perceptions and ideals grow, change or completely unravel, there are some things that will never change. D’Ambruoso, who himself has quite a few Great Con texts atop his desk said, "I’ve learned the most by being around my peers, having arguments, debates, and conversation. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by such amazing people."

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