The Shirt—and Dartmouth—Were a Great Fit

Gifts to the Dartmouth College Fund help make great things happen for our students. Here is one of their stories.
Juan Zepeda

A thread of serving the underrepresented runs through this Dartmouth experience—and into the future.

I didn’t know much about colleges outside of Mississippi, but my tenth grade English teacher gave me a Dartmouth sweatshirt and said, “I think you’ll be great here.” His wife just happened to work for a T-shirt company. Just to be courteous, I said, “Yeah, of course, I’ll take the Dart-Mouth.”

I attended several college fly-in programs for first-generation students and applied to Dartmouth. I went to Dimensions and all the students were on the Green and it was such a pretty, sunny spring day. People were throwing Frisbees and dogs were everywhere and that changed my perspective of what an Ivy League school was. I thought there would be a lot of little Albert Einsteins walking around. I went to First-Year Trips. My group—all first-year, first-generation international and Native American students, went cabin camping. It was a wonderful experience to connect with individuals for the first time.

I was considering a government major because I knew I wanted to make change in some capacity, whether it be at home, nationwide, or even on a larger scale, and I thought government was the way to go.

But then I took the geography class Food and Power. I have an interest in food and the power dynamics associated with it as my dad is a cattle farmhand and I worked with him in Mississippi for four summers before coming to Dartmouth. I got to experience the dynamics that exist within the food system that are not talked about, for example between farm bosses and the cattle hands. I wrote my final paper on the knowledge contributions that Latinx cattle farmhands bring to the beef industry in Mississippi. I got a citation for that paper, and it sparked my senior thesis.

Dartmouth develops leaders
There are many opportunities to be a leader at Dartmouth, whether it be with advocacy work or in roles in organizations and clubs. With COVID, we’ve seen a huge disruption in student clubs and organizations. We’ve worked hard to keep these organizations operating after we leave, so we’re always looking for student leaders.

I started with the Coalition for Immigration Reform and Equality at Dartmouth my first year as an ambassador and now just completed a year-and-a-half rotation of being the co-director. It represents undocumented, DACAmented, and students who come from mixed-status families. We host trainings for faculty and staff and have trained more than 65 to become allies to the immigrant, undocumented, and mixed-status community here on campus.

My internship with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics was an enriching experience, just to have the opportunity to be there and be trusted with such important work, like helping to edit and create a first-year guide for Hispanic students that was distributed on the Department of Education website.

I didn’t feel like I was prepared for Dartmouth. But I’ve become such a confident person in my decision-making, especially as a senior. I’ve grown so much personally, intellectually, academically, and in just realizing who I am.

I would like to say thank you for allowing me to have these opportunities and enriching experiences. Many students wouldn’t be at Dartmouth if it weren’t for the financial support that we receive.

After graduation, I will be returning to Morgan Stanley to work in the Human Resources division. I’m really fitted to the HR role, communicating, and connecting with people, but also being able to understand others and reach those with different experiences and perspectives than mine. Beyond that, I would like to go to graduate school and work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in some form of rural project initiative focused on small or marginalized farmers.

It would mean a lot to be able to create real tangible change. As my grandmother likes to say, “If you have a dollar or a minute, you can make a difference.”