Flipping the Script

With their graduation from Swarthmore fast approaching, seven seniors ruminate on the excitement and bewilderment of their first days on campus, what advice they have now for their 18-year-old selves, what they still hope to do at Swat before they go, and other parting thoughts. (Think exit interview on a sunny day on Parrish Beach!)

Early Memories

students
First Collection, 2011

The strongest memory I have of my first days at Swarthmore is First Collection. Sitting in the amphitheater, I was absolutely overwhelmed at the size of my class [and] was convinced that I could never make any profound relationships in a group of this size. However, as dusk turned to nightfall and we began to light our candles, I literally and then symbolically became aware of how I would need each person’s light to see. I started a conversation with the person whose light I was borrowing for my own candle and slowly the social aspect of college became a more comfortable prospect. - Wynter

I still remember wandering around the Science Center with my brother [Class of 2010] during orientation week, feeling stressed about which classes to take. In particular, I was stuck trying to decide between the first-year seminar (only 12 people? yikes) for honors linear algebra, or the equivalent full class. We sat down in the math lounge and, before I knew it, a few math professors stopped by to introduce themselves and help me sort out my (perceived) crisis. They were so personable, friendly, and ready to help — and I couldn’t believe that they were taking time out of their days to help a dazed freshman. That moment is when I first felt that I had chosen the right school. - Amy

I locked myself out of my room on the first night. My RA helped me out. I was happy to find everyone at Swat to be supportive and accommodating. – Minh

My first days at Swarthmore are such a blur, but incredibly fun! I remember grabbing my roommates and the boys from the quad next door and rushing from icebreaker to icebreaker, getting to know other Swatties. I had no idea where I was going and absolutely no idea what everyone was talking about. One of my most favorite and strongest Swarthmore friendships grew out of this feeling of being lost. My neighbor and I immediately became attached at the hip because apparently it’s way better to be lost with a buddy than lost alone! - Emma

I fondly remember moving into Wharton AB 1st and going through the whirlwind of icebreakers that were planned during orientation. I loved Monday Morning Kickoffs on my hall. My freshman year RA, David D'Annunzio '12, was just an amazing, supportive guy. We had the best imaginable hall life. I had a couple XC/Track teammates and also met my best friend at Swarthmore on my freshman year hall. - Jason

Orientation week was a blast. I was excited, overwhelmed (in the best way possible), and in complete love with my new hallmates and friends. We spent our days exploring campus and the surrounding neighborhoods together, and our nights giving each other massage chains and laughing. I also remember being particularly impressed by all the interesting conversations that I would have with others, just through our casual interactions. - Amy

Any Advice?

If I could tell my 18-year-old self anything, I would say just to expect the unexpected. This applies to any number of settings. If you expect to get to bed by midnight, there will likely be that extra reading you haven't had the chance to complete yet or a conversation with a hallmate that goes until 4 a.m. because neither of you want to go to bed. - David

I would tell myself that Pass/Fail semester REALLY IS Pass/Fail! Coming out of high school, I somehow believed that the institution could not possibly be this understanding, and I had to demonstrate how high achieving I was right off the bat with no undergrad experience. Had I spent less time obsessing over my competency as a newcomer, I could have found the student activities I currently care about and participate in them earlier. – Wynter

Take the opportunity to imagine the impossible, either an intellectual endeavor or anything else. You will find the support at Swarthmore to make it! - Minh

Don’t be afraid to try new things! Swarthmore has a lot of clubs and activities, and you don’t need to feel bad if you don’t like them. But try them! Or else you’ll never know. – Amy

The huge number of opportunities here are some of the things that make Swarthmore so great and that have paid off dividends today. I think I would say things like "dance more," "speak Spanish more often," "invest in people as well as activities," "cast a wide net but don't feel compelled to be drawn into everything," and, most importantly, "breathe, breathe deeply, you'll be alright.” – Chris

students
A performance by Rhythm n Motion, one of more than 100 campus clubs and organizations.

The best advice I have for myself at Swarthmore is to not get intimidated. I spent so much of my freshman year playing into the theory that I was the admissions mistake and didn’t deserve to be here. At this point, I’m not far from graduating and I know that I absolutely do. This school has taught me so much, even when I actively tried to hide from it. I would tell myself to spend time with friends over working myself into anxious fits over homework. And to cherish the fun parts of each year because you are smart enough! - Emma

It is extremely easy to feel/make yourself overwhelmed with all that you have to do. You just need to figure out what balance works for you. Take things one day, one hour at a time. Look into the future every once in a while and see where you're at compared to where you saw yourself. Don't forget the values you hold above all others, and don't forget to take care of yourself along the way. Oh, also, don't be too concerned if you don't know what you're doing. In truth, no one really knows what they're doing. We're all trying to figure out our own lives. – Jason

Worry less about others and more about yourself. There are a lot of amazing people on campus and it can be intimidating to hear about everything they are doing. You’ll find what works for you soon enough and it’ll be rewarding when you do. – Amy

Write well, very well; take a lot of seminars; be both a practitioner and a theorist; grow as an entrepreneur; find your intellectual passion; develop leadership skills; run an organization. - Minh

Go into Philly!!! Take advantage of the fact that the train is at the base of campus. Really, it will be worth it. - Amy

Keep at it and don't give up. Enjoy and respect the company of everyone you come across. Look for the positives and don't be so quick to criticize and critique. Learn to love what you're learning about. Appreciate what you have at Swarthmore. - Jason

How I’ve Grown

Some of my favorite memories here are late nights with friends talking about anything that comes to mind, from conversations about what we hope life after Swat looks like to those important debates over which meals at Sharples are objectively the best (the answer is Local Foods Night!). It’s those nights when you're completely exhausted but also excited enough to keep the conversation going, even though you should've been sleeping hours ago. – David

students
Sharples Dining Hall

Recently, I was interested in learning more about the role of religion and psychotherapy, but did not know whether to begin researching the connections between the emotional or structural aspect of religious practices. I went to my clinical psychology professor, who gave me some studies that brought up a related theory I remembered learning about. I then went to a former professor who specializes in family systems therapy who was able to integrate my conversation with the other professor into theories she worked with and give me a fuller picture of the options for treatment. So, not only are professors in constant dialogue with students, but they are more than willing to synthesize these collaborations in the spirit of helping students. I am grateful to have been part of an institution that facilitates these discussions. - Wynter

Soon after getting acclimated to college life, I jumped right into getting engaged extracurricularly. Freshman fall I decided I would give fencing a try, though I had zero experience, on top of my track commitment as a sprinter/hurdler. Kevin Buczkowski '13 was a great saber captain. I learned a lot from him and really learned to love the combination of tactical and athletic ability necessary to succeed in fencing. - Jason

students
Collaboration is key

I have memories my first year of working with other class members on homework in impromptu study breaks in my hall lounge. As I got older, I found myself working with professors more, and the relationships in many ways seem to be characterized by guidance and mentorship. In some sense, I worked with professors to find topics both of us were excited about and, with their knowledge of the topic, we were able to work together to create a smart way to answer a question. Academics became more about working together to solve difficult problems that had rewarding solutions. - David

I think joining the Ultimate Frisbee team was a really great move my freshman year (thanks brother and RA, both former captains). I met a lot of really fantastic people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have known, and it’s also helped me make friends in the ultimate community outside of Swarthmore. Also, the sport is a lot of fun and the traditions between the teams are really great and quirky. There’s no doubt that I’ll remember them when I think back to my time here. - Amy

students

I once went into my psycholinguistics professor's office to talk about a paper and had been having a bad day. My professor did not let me start talking about my concerns until he had brewed me a cup of coffee and talked to me a bit about my life. It really meant a lot to me and I've always been grateful to him for that. Other students, staff, and faculty have done the same, whether it has been my friends and I taking care of one another during Hurricane Sandy or the staff at the Office of Student Engagement helping me organize a large student performance showcase just because I wanted to make one happen. - Chris

I've made new friends in every class year during every season I've been on the track team. It's impossible to be good friends with everybody, but you still respect everybody for their dedication and contributions. There's nothing that I appreciate more than some of the spur-of-the-moment intellectual debates/conversations that have happened during warm-ups and stretching circles or after practice and at dinner. We also have strong traditions that I love seeing played out everywhere, such as our pre-pre-season camping trip, freshman teammate group Halloween costume, winter and spring break training trips, and track prom. - Jason

One of my favorite things about being a Swattie is that, even though most of my friends are science majors, they are constantly willing to engage with me on questions I have about my work in the humanities and vice versa. - Emma

Left to Do

students
Crum Woods

The only things on my academic bucket list were to take classes outside of my comfort zone (check), and to take classes with certain professors (only partly checked). Here are a few other things I still need to do: go to a Motherpuckers practice, memorize all the lines of American Pie, and ask a few friend crushes on Sharples dates. – Amy

While I do feel like I have achieved closure academically, there are some silly things I would like to try before I leave. For instance, it may seem crazy, but I am from NYC and have never much appreciated nature — that is, until I saw a deer as I passed by the outskirts of campus! So I would like to spend and entire afternoon in the Crum Woods for the first time. - Wynter

I've asked people on Sharples dates, I've had in depth "only-at-Swarthmore" conversations with total strangers, climbed to the top of the climbing tree, been an emcee, taken classes I thought I'd never take (quantum mechanics), auditioned at slam poetry events, organized open mics, and someone told me I could dance well. I feel like I now have the tools to be an artist and a scholar. I'm still trying to figure out if there really is a tunnel from Parrish to Sharples and if students can use it. But I'm pretty content, just waiting for Honors exams. - Chris

students
Climbing Tree

My list of things to accomplish grows as I make more friends on campus. Many of them are top secret because everyone should make their own bucket list. Swarthmore is filled with an incredible amount of lore and tradition. When you get here, listen to what the people around you had the most fun doing, upperclassmen know all the tricks. What I can say is that most of my tasks that I wanted to accomplish, I have - go to Restaurant Week in Philly, take a class with Grace Ledbetter, pull a non-academic all-nighter, do research with a professor, eat at Media’s diner under the stars, and other crazy things. - Emma

Final Thoughts

Swarthmore students push themselves to their limits academically, in group activities, as leaders, and everything in between. Professors, administrative staff, and peers offer the tools necessary to make this happen in the form of support, both pro-actively and as needed. Swarthmore consistently raises the bar for your personal best while offering the support you will need along the way. - David

students
Poster session from 2015 Lax Conference for Entrepreneurship

What I most appreciate is the fact that I could talk to everyone about my academic interests without the pressure to conform to any. - Minh

Looking back on the four years, I am so proud of how much I have loved every possible thing I’ve done and how successful I’ve been. I’m a captain of a varsity sports team, a double major, a club president, and I just got into graduate school! I am so proud of myself for leaving on such a high note. – Emma

It’s pretty amazing what a lot of passionate, intelligent people can do when you put them on a campus together. - Amy