Skip to main content

Reflections from the Unknown

A CIL Intern Project by Andrés Perez Correa '22

The Center for Innovation and Leadership invited all members of the Swarthmore community to participate in a special project designed by our student interns. This project was created to help inspire people to use creativity to make something as we all reflect on how our worlds changed since the start of the global pandemic. The impacts of the pandemic are felt by everyone and processing the range of emotions and experiences can feel immense. The point of this project is to provide one way to help guide our community through that process and should stimulate creativity however you choose to reflect.

In the CIL, we believe that creativity can be a useful tool for us when we feel isolated or overwhelmed. As we reflect and grow, staying in tune with our creative selves can open new ways of thinking about our day-to-day reality. We also see reflection as an important skill in becoming a leader and we hope this process teaches you something new along the way.

This was our prompt:
Walk us through a challenge, or an experience, you have faced since everything changed in March 2020. This could be something you are currently working through, have made progress in, or have overcome. We are specifically looking for participants to submit their responses using something visual like a painting or drawing, words like a poem or short story, or anything your mind wants to use to describe, show, and share the many and valued experiences you have had this year. 

Note: The responses below are unedited and left in their original submissions to keep its authenticity for each of the individuals.

Alexandra Specht '22

“The top drawing is me cooking and failing, and the bottom drawing is me cooking and succeeding! I had fun trying different media to set my scene.”


CW: Car accident

“This piece is a reflection on a car accident that occurred last semester. Although it was a stressful period, the sun still came out the next day.”


TW: Self-harm, verbal abuse

"Ever since I entered college, I've been avoiding any type of contact with my family since it's a quite toxic environment I'd rather leave as quickly as I can. The pandemic definitely did not help in any means - not only because that I had to move back and stay at home the whole time, but also that my family decided to host an international student with whom I was compared to whenever possible. I was constantly singled out on dinner tables, being called as a weird, lazy, unmotivated, underperforming human-being that can't get things right whatsoever. Despite my effort to avoid any type of conflict, things became way worse in the summer, and eventually I took a spoon, heated it on the stove, and gave myself a quick burn on the right hand. Fortunately, I sought help after that and got some in the end. It was painful to have a conversion regarding why this happened with my family, but to my surprise they began to show some understanding bit by bit, and shortly after that things has become slightly better.  I guess the moral of the story (at least for me personally) was that sometimes it's worth a try. Even if we think the possibility is zero, it could be actually higher than that. By making a first move, we might be able to open up more possibilities (Of course, it doesn't apply to all situations and sometimes it's better to leave an issue alone). After almost a year, the mark has lightened to a point that neither me nor my friends can notice it, but I now still have flashbacks of what has happened that made it even a thing. But instead of calling it as a failure or a tragedy, I prefer viewing it as a breakthrough point that allowed me to face the problem in the end. 

I created this piece with washi tapes and crafting papers provided by CIL during the break. I started off with a quick sketch using my own hand as a reference, then applied the tapes to the areas I want them to be. I tried to use scissors to trim the part of the tape to create smoother and cleaner shapes, but ended up using my finger nails to tear those unwanted parts off. You could say it's a piece that's both about hand and created by hands! I used the rose-gold tapes for the burn mark and the pencil help by the hand to show the connection of pain and story telling and sharing."

Hatice Zeynep Emanet '24

“An excerpt from the poem Cile by Necip Fazil Kisakurek, translated from Turkish to English by Tolga Atabas ’23

A voice came from the unknown: This man
Can walk emptiness in the nape of his neck!
And suddenly a barn flew from above me;
Sky falling, piece by piece…

I ran to the window: Red apocalypse
Fulfilling what you said, old woman!
Eternity, in hand a blue scarf,
Aiming an arrow from above me, a hunter.

I felt the poison of this arrow from the fire.
Destroying my diamond soul in a moment.
As if my nose felt nothing’s nose,
I vomited, through my true mouth, my skull.

The world swashed like a cup of water;
The direction has set: emptiness has fallen.
Here is reality, here is fantasy!
Saneness, drunkenness!

A sledgehammer on my necks lattice,
I curled up in bed as a last resort.
In a bloody dawn, a freckled rooster
Gifted me a brand-new world.

What kind of world?, its story is hard;
Places are superficial, time is subliminal.
Entire universe a plastic décor,
Entire humanity submitted to a lie.

What are you? Become reality and leave!
Blindness, catch up, don’t wear those glasses!
Let it sit, it is in me anyway;
My homeland, love, friend and teacher!”


TW: body image, disordered eating, depression, suicide ideation

“I'm working on healing my relationship to food and my body, which has always been fucked up but gotten much worse during the pandemic. Witchcraft and weed have been new ways for me to manage this as well as my depression and anxiety -- everyday rituals, getting into nature, working with plants, self love through nourishing food choices, etc.”

Destiny Samuel '22

here’s your flowers
not for death
but for the acknowledgement of your life
for the pieces forever ingrained and mixed with the particles and molecules of this earth
for the journeys your tongue has embarked on
for the stories and memories fumbling through people’s minds
it’s strange to think about how one might be eulogized while they’re still alive
does that etch away moments from your timeline?
i hate writing about death and loss
i don’t ever think i can say what i really want to say
never my best poetry
too dark
and gloomy
and deniably real
still, an era where my mind has been untouched by death
is now drowned by a year suffocated by enough death for a lifetime
and i feel responsible to write, to hand you your flowers
though still, i’d much rather not write
i’d much rather hand you your flowers in its materialized form
not as these words



My formative years were spent understanding this word – distance
Holidays – a time spent with family became a time spent with peers
Summer break – do I go home or do I stay?
The pandemic added a caveat to this word – distance
Do we all now understand it the same?
Nah mm mm

Social distance from strangers, distance from family
Facetime for 9 months, is now facetime for 2 years
Can I catch a flight? Not so, you can’t go
Isolated, physically distanced but not socially distanced
We still connect, make our time to connect

New meaning, this distance
Peers AND family on facetime
Too much time apart
While I can’t hold you, I hear you and I feel you

I dance to remind me of our community
I blast my music to vibe to our tunes
Next time I have to choose
Summer break – I choose home

Open back up, open back up
In a few months, I will see you
International students, I feel you

“I've been wanting to reflect on lots of things about this pandemic, and distance, in this moment, feels the most prominent. I allowed myself space to truly reflect on what this pandemic means for students/people like myself who are in foreign lands for years at a time. Did the pandemic really change our relation to distance when we think of the ease at which we can see our loved ones? For me, this is a clear yes! I've made peace over the years with not being able to see my family during the academic year, but have reserved the Summers for family reunions - flying back home at affordable prices. The pandemic took that away from many of us. Connecting with friends was our only solace, and that was taken away too (to some degree). This poem holds space for that. In many ways it feels unfinished, and that is okay. Thank you CIL!”

Janet Barkdoll '22