Testimonial: Ali Vannett ‘20

6 minute read

I came to Dartmouth in the fall of 2016, eager and excited for all that was to come. I am a North Dakota native, a rarity among my class of fellow '20s, something I was so deeply proud to be. Little did I know, I would wear the North Dakota identity like a scarlet A on my chest. The token girl from the Midwest, meant to fulfill the College's supposed need to advertise its we are proud to have students from all 50 states agenda. I did not think I cared too much about this until I saw it leak into my interactions with classmates, into classrooms, with alumni and even in 1-on-1 interactions with professors at the College.

But let me back up.

I joined the Lightweight team during my freshman year as a walk-on. I had been a multi-sport athlete my entire life until coming to college, and deeply missed the team component in my life. Through very random connections, I got a meeting with the rowing coach who agreed to give me a chance as a coxswain on the team. I showed up to practice that same evening and was immediately hooked. The rest is history.

I was not asked about where I was from, I was only asked if I was willing to put in the work it would take to be a contributing member of the team. It was so refreshing to me, to come in with a blank slate. I was not judged by anything other than my hard work, dedication, sense of self, character and loyalty to the team. Everything else did not matter; it did not need to. It was irrelevant. While this should be true in every aspect of college, and life I suppose, I am not naive to the actuality of its absence in place of something else; something I could never wrap my mind around and perhaps never will.

Perhaps you know what is best for the College, best for the students, best for the alumni, best for the future of Dartmouth. Perhaps you know the decision to remove these teams from the College is what is just and what is right. Perhaps the scarlet A tattooed on my chest was correct, and all I am is a naive girl from North Dakota who has no business commenting on this issue. Perhaps I am incapable of understanding matters as complex as these seem to be.

But here are some things I wonder if you know.

I wonder if you know the satisfying sound of the snap of eight blades in unison. I wonder if you know the numbness in my fingertips on a cold morning. I wonder if you know the footprints in the mud and the snow I would follow on my walk to practice. I wonder if you know the drop in my stomach as we sit lined up on the Connecticut River right before Coach says, "aaaand you're on!!!". I wonder if you know the feeling of having a family of dozens of the strongest, smartest and most dedicated men and women you have ever met around you, knowing they would have your back in any situation at the drop of a hat. I wonder if you know what it is like to fight back the tears, to grit your teeth, to fail, to lose, and then to wake up the next morning with an insatiable hunger to try again—just one more time. I wonder if you know what it is like to crave the rush, the feeling of the mountain air filling your lungs, the slivers of paradise, the fractions of moments in which you feel invincible. I wonder if you know what it is like to have eight guys sitting in front of you, their total trust in you, to guide them, motivate them, keep them safe, to steer them to victory, all with the mere sound of your voice and the strings beneath your thumbs. I wonder if you know the weight of the responsibility it takes to keep that trust.

I wonder if you know what it is like to be called "bottom of the barrel" by a highly praisedDartmouth Professor, assuming that because you are from North Dakota, you must not be aware of what is going on in the world, and are thus incapable of making any meaningful contribution to any conversation of importance. I wonder if you know what it is like to leave a meeting with that Professor, your voice completely silenced, tears brimming your eyes, only to show up to practice an hour later with a room full of people convincing you otherwise. I wonder if you know the vulnerability of being exposed as an “other” in front of your classmates. I wonder if you know what it is like to successfully defend a high honors thesis a year and a half later in the very subject you were told you had no future in, all because your teammates believed in you.

I wonder if you know what it is like to battle through and overcome personal trauma, only surviving it because of the lessons you learned from this team. To silence the deafening voice in your head that claims you are not worthy. That you are too stupid. Too small. Too innocent. Too naive. Too... different. I wonder if you know what it is like to show up to practice anyway because of this new voice inside your head. The new voice that exists as your coach, your hero, telling you that you are enough. The voices of your teammates, the incredible men and women constantly reinforcing that you are strong and tough and valuable. I wonder if you know what it is like to have these invisible scars, only bearable because of the team you have who believes in the content of your character, the strength of your heart, your unwavering loyalty and your unselfish sacrifice for something so much bigger than the individual could ever be on his or her own.

I wonder if you know the incredible pride and honor and humility that comes with having your name take up a space on the roster, right next to members of the team who have changed your life for the better. I wonder if you know the fragility of moments, the pressure of split-second decisions, the unstoppable brevity of time, the constant need to keep a steady voice and aura of calm amidst chaos, the impossible and unselfish pursuit of perfection.

But the lightweights are in the business of pursuing the impossible.

Just as I wonder if you know these things, I also wonder if every single class that will ever pass through Dartmouth after me will know these things. Not because they did not have the courage to try, but because you deprived them of the opportunity.

My name is Alexis Vannett, but my teammates call me Ali. I am and will always be a proud member of the Dartmouth Men's Lightweight Rowing Team. Please forget my name, forget everything about me except for the team whose name I wore on my uniform. I would give all I have to change your mind. I would give you back my Dartmouth College diploma, and every memory I have in Hanover, New Hampshire. I would not be a graduate of Dartmouth College without also being a member of this team. This family. All I have does not exist without them. Please know this is the highest, greatest and deepest offer of which I am humanly capable.

At the bottom of the hill, in our boathouse hidden in the trees, I found a reason to walk back up - to the College on the Hill. Where a girl, deeply proud of her North Dakotan roots, found the granite of New Hampshire after all. And it is made part of me 'til death. So here, from the bottom of my broken heart, I am begging you. Please reconsider.

Alexis (Ali) Reagan Vannett ‘20