The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Rocky and Me: Daria Zhao '17 Senior Reflection

Rocky & Me_Zhao

"My experiences at Rocky have given me the quiet confidence to know I am prepared to embrace the unexpected." Daria Zhao, Class of 2017.

Rocky & Me_Zhao

Daria Zhao talks with First-Year students about opportunities available at Rocky during the Center's Fall Term Open House. (Photo by Sally Kim.)

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In our Rocky & Me series, Seniors reflect on their experiences during their time at Dartmouth.

I found the Rockefeller Center my freshman fall and was most involved my first two years: as a First-Year Fellow, through the Policy Research Shop, for the public policy minor, in VoxMasters, with the Rockefeller Peer Mentoring Program, and the Management and Leadership Development Program, D-LAB, and of course, working with Elizabeth Celtrick, the Center's Assistant Director, as a Student Program Assistant my sophomore summer. But the lessons I learned at Rocky – on leadership, on presence, on good citizenship – have guided me throughout my four years at Dartmouth, and I’m sure as well once I step into the real world.

College for me has been a process of slowing down. I’m always humbled by what my friends and classmates are accomplishing. But the traits that got us here – drive, motivation, perhaps a hunger to prove ourselves – are also the traits that may compel us to keep the blinders on and get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.

What I learned most through my prolific participation at Rocky is this:

While it’s both good and efficient to have goals, the ensuing process often becomes less a process of discovery than one of execution. When we’re young and barely twenty years old, goals lend us a false sense of security – the closest equivalent to a GPS for life. We set out to prove what we know rather than learn on our way there. But it’s precisely in the wayward paths that we learn the most.

When I registered for PBPL 45: Introduction to Policy Research as one of two freshmen that fall, I did not expect to be sitting next to that same professor (thank you, Professor Shaiko!) ten months later at my first-ever American baseball game. When I signed up for the Dartmouth Leadership Attitudes and Behaviors (D-LAB) program as a prerequisite to First-Year Fellows, I did not expect to enjoy it so much that I’d return to facilitate the next winter. When Susan Miller, a professional voice trainer, coached us during Civic Skills Training, I did not expect to be using those very vocal projection techniques for a rehearsal PRS testimony to the Center’s Board of Visitors the next spring. When I sat down with Sadhana to talk about an overwhelming sense of loss my sophomore year, I did not expect it would take two years and two more off-terms before I finally tried meditation and yoga and found something remarkable in both. When I worked with Elizabeth on a marketing campaign to the Class of 2019, I did not expect to land a design internship along the way.

Next year I’ll be working in finance and, for the first time, I don’t really have a specific plan for what’s next. It’s not easy letting go of “lifeplan.xlsx” and letting fate share the steering wheel. But life is so much richer as a quest for understanding than a beeline towards a destination. And what my experiences at Rocky have given me is the quiet confidence to know I am prepared to embrace the unexpected.

Try telling that to freshman-year Daria!

Written by Daria Zhao, member of the Dartmouth Class of 2017.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences