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

Rocky and Me: Peter Charalambous '20 Senior Reflection

Peter Charalambous, Class of 2020

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

After four years, I have reached the conclusion that Dartmouth College, and the Rockefeller Center in particular, are truly special places. While they’re special in more ways than one — historic, unique, and perhaps sentimental — what makes Dartmouth and Rocky special in my eyes is that they are one of the few places where nearly everything exists to support students. That’s a rare thing in the world as a whole, with most people out there to make it themselves with often little regard for others. At Dartmouth, though, everyone from the professors in your classes to the staff members you’ve never met before are united in the goal of student success. They want to see students grow and accomplish their goals, and they work towards that goal with unparalleled kindness and generosity.

Over the course of my time physically at Dartmouth, spending countless hours in Hinman Forum with friends, small seminar classrooms with peers, or Robinson Hall with fellow newspaper writers and editors, I never fully came to that conclusion about Dartmouth or Rocky, though I benefited immensely because of it. Seemingly everyone I met was committed to my success. I am reminded of a thoughtful professor who I have gone on to take classes with and work on a thesis with, a kind staff member who went from a stranger to my strongest ally in an unlikely if not impossible project, or a Rocky mainstay who has been a constant friend and advisor over the course of my undergraduate career. Moreover, I am reminded of these often forgotten individuals — secretaries, dining hall employees, or custodians — whose kindness and hard work have supported the experiences I am grateful to have had over my four years.

Thinking more directly about my time with the Rockefeller Center, I am particularly grateful for all those supportive individuals because I define my Rocky experience with both opportunities and challenges. On one hand, Rocky has provided me with educational and experiential opportunities I could have never imagined years ago. I am grateful for those opportunities in their own right. However, those opportunities ended up being meaningful because they challenged me in ways I did not expect. Navigating those challenges with the help of others at Rocky not only allowed me to benefit from those experiences but also deepened the value of those opportunities. Without the people at Rocky or the folks I connected with through Rocky, I don’t think I could have meaningfully navigated those challenges. I can think of three examples to demonstrate this point.

One of my earliest programs with Rocky was the First-Year Fellows program. I recall diligently fulfilling the application requirements, anguishing over my application, and stressing with my friends about gaining admission into the program, leading to the fateful day when I received an email from the program. Upon the first few words — “Congratulations…” —  I remember being filled with excitement, only for that excitement to be tempered when I learned that I was placed to work at the American Petroleum Institute (API). Learning that the API represented most of the US’ oil and gas producers, had a spotty reputation on climate change (highlighted in a viral John Oliver video), and generally attracted the scorn of the environmental groups, I felt cornered, between dropping the opportunity I worked hard to achieve and working for an organization I felt compelled to dislike. However, after seeking the advice and support of Rocky leadership, my professors, and an alumni mentor at API, I realized that I ought to do the work, especially due to the reasons that originally concerned me. Upon completing the internship, that reasoning was not only affirmed but supplemented by my time there. Working there showed me the importance of having individuals who not only did their work diligently but also disagreed on issues. Moreover, the fellowship showed me how policy was formulated through stakeholder engagement, a constant tug and pull from both sides of the aisle that ultimately shaped policy. Even if I did not agree with the broad policy goals, the job showed me more practically how policy gets made and shattered my conception of policymaking as a battle between purely good and the bad.            

Another opportunity for which I am grateful to Rocky for providing was studying at Keble College at Oxford University. Studying at Oxford was always a personal dream — to be able to be intellectually challenged in an environment that has educated leaders throughout history. However, once I found myself studying in solitude over the course of a cold Hilary term, I was often down despite the incredible opportunities in front of me. The combination of homesickness after four-plus months abroad, the solitude of independent work, and pressure about the upcoming year led me to feel alone more often than engaged. However, the friendship of others — both folks at Oxford and friends from Dartmouth — helped me stay connected to my work despite feeling isolated. The correspondence with others at Dartmouth and Rocky kept me connected to my world as I drifted away from it.  

My most recent and perhaps most meaningful opportunity I was able to pursue was planning a partnership between The Dartmouth newspaper and both the Rockefeller and Dickey Centers to bring a televised presidential primary event to Hanover. From the start, the project was a kind of moonshot, and it ended like most moonshot attempts — something you’ve never heard about due to its likely and eventual failure. While the project failed to manifest though due to a variety of issues that arose during the planning process, it was one of the most challenging and educational things I was able to do at Dartmouth because of how much it pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Without the help of the folks at Rocky and other parts of the College, I would have never been able to derive as much meaning and value from the project, since they were able to guide, educate, and support me through each step. While the other two examples I described could be described as successes, this one cannot, and perhaps that’s why it was such a meaningful project for me. It forced me to learn new things, to cope with constant issues, work with others, ask for help, and to accept when things are ultimately not going to come together.

Rocky has allowed me to do and become many things — an oil lobbyist, Oxford student, economic policy researcher, and presidential town hall planner to list a few — all of which have enriched my time at Dartmouth in ways I never would have expected. On their face value alone, I’m thankful to Rocky for providing these opportunities, but I am more so grateful for the folks who have helped me along the way to navigate challenges, derive meaning, and further my development. Any organization on a college campus can arrange internships and projects, but not all can provide the necessary social infrastructure to properly support students in these endeavours. What makes Rocky unique is its ability to support students unfailingly, not only by providing students with opportunities, but also by supporting and teaching them to cope with challenges and develop from them. That ability to navigate and grow has defined my time at Dartmouth, and for that, I am endlessly grateful to the Rockefeller Center. 

-Written by Peter Charalambous, Class of 2020

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