Carlos Polanco ’21 is an English and African-American Studies student from Clifton, New Jersey. He has received Dartmouth’s William S. Churchill Freshman Prize and the Hero For Change Award from RadioDisney. In 2017, he was recognized as the National Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Club of America, which led to him carrying out the game ball for the opening game of the World Series.
I am the first of my family to go to college. It seemed impossible that I would get into Dartmouth, but financial aid allowed me to choose the school I wanted. And I won’t be burdened with loans when I graduate.
It was an amazing moment when I found out that I had been accepted, but I wondered what I could contribute here. I like to say that my mission in life is to do a lot of small things that create ripples that will have a lasting impact in the world.
My experience as an advocate for young people has developed me in so many ways, and I hope to bring this to my time at Dartmouth. I have learned to engage with everyone you can imagine: CEOs, influential people at nonprofits, people who are just influential by their nature, and celebrities.
One of the best classes I have taken so far was an African Political Novel class during my freshman spring. It was phenomenal. Professor Ayo Coly pushed me beyond what I thought I could do—it was great. I walked into class slightly scared every day, but in a positive way. I wanted to be sure I was prepared for class. The professors here care about me as a person. I still go to see some of them after I have finished their courses. The small classes here are conducive to that.
Leadership is a strong theme at Dartmouth—for me, it’s really “service” leadership. A leader is someone who serves others and helps them thrive and accomplish their goals. As a result, the community gets better, because the people around you are better. Leaders can see something greater for their community, and then bring people together behind that mission and goal. It’s not dictating and telling people, it’s really listening, and being invested in others’ lives. You can give a lot of yourself to the world, and it always comes back to you.