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Rose Wunrow '16

Thank you President Smith for your introduction! Arriving at the end of our four years at Swarthmore offers plenty of room for reflection. Thinking back, my mind goes immediately to those moments that stand out as pivotal in my own experience.

I remember, clearly, the a​ha! moment when I knew I wanted to go to Swarthmore, sitting in the bell tower during Ride the Tide, listening to Sixteen Feet sing and feeling like all of my plaid shirts could find a home here. There were the transcendent moments, running down a mountainside at night in Boulder, Colo., with my spoken­word poetry team, when I felt rawer and more willing to love the world than ever before. There was junior year, transitioning back from my study­abroad semester, when I seriously reconsidered my decision to go to Swarthmore, a thought­ process occurring often between midnight and six a.m., wearing an elegant coat of Rice Krispie Treat wrappers while writing incoherent essays full of four­ syllable words that don’t even exist. I remember moments of absurdity, such as an afternoon spent with a friend cutting up a canonical modernist novel that we didn’t particularly enjoy, throwing the shreds off of a balcony, and running downstairs to dance in the rain of paper with an umbrella. When anyone asked, we said it was an art project, and because this is Swarthmore, they believed us. I remember many nights of playing Bruce Springsteen songs on guitar with my personal hero and older brother, (Swarthmore Class of 2014), and having one of our biggest fights over an interpretation of a Faulkner story. I remember the moments of astonishing inspiration, such as when my honors examiner, after reading my creative writing thesis, told me, with a level of conviction that would rival that of Shia LaBeouf, to “just do it” and be a writer.

Through these four years, there’s always been my family’s incredible love, my mother’s uncanny ability to know when I need a phone call, and my father’s constant encouragement to go off and have some wild adventure. There continue to be, always, the friendships and connections that leave me inspired, humbled, and challenged.

But in knowing what has made my four years an adventure, I realize that, though we share so many spaces, relationships, classes, and traditions, each of us has had our own unique journey through Swarthmore. For instance: one among us has pulled 27 all­ nighters. Which, if he’d managed to pull them all consecutively, would’ve beaten the world record for the most time spent awake by 16 days. (There’s an opportunity lost). Others in the Class of 2016 have competed in the Crum Regatta and had their boat made out of balloons run over by a vessel designed by engineers. One of us went sledding on a Sharples tray after seeing real snow for the first time in her life during her freshman year.

There are so many memories and emotions overflowing in this amphitheater. And there are many of you who I don’t know, and yet here I am at a podium, speaking to you. There’s no way to “sum it all up.” But thinking of Swarthmore’s values, and its belief in consensus and collection as a way to bring our perspectives together, I decided to contact the Class of 2016, to ask you all what you will miss about Swarthmore. What you are ready to leave behind; what you consider to be one of your favorite Swarthmore memories; what you want to carry forward with you. I received 34 responses, and what follows is an exploration of some of the bitter and the sweet from these past four years.

Here are some of the things that members of the Class of 2016 are ready to leave behind. Several respondents will not miss the amount of awkward eye contact that inevitably arises from going to a school as small as ours. (One of us will also not miss making eye contact with the mice in his Wharton dorm room at 3 a.m.). Another expressed little nostalgia for the experience of meeting someone once, and then trying to figure out if you should just keep saying hi to them when you run into them several hundred times over, perhaps, the next four years. Ready to be left behind are the 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. work­nights, the endless computer­ science labs, and the 70-hour work weeks.

One student cited the trying experience of being overwhelmed while your friends are all overwhelmed. Another emphasized the stress of negotiating support systems when you’re leaning on people who also need support. The difficulty in figuring out priorities will not be missed – in one student’s description, “I won't miss work being the number one priority for people in nearly every situation.” The feeling that even when we’ve tried our best, it’s somehow still not enough. That feeling will not be missed. In the words of one student, “I will not miss feeling isolated, unwell, and lonely. I will not miss seeing people I care about suffering from mental health issues made more severe by a culture that values achievement but not gentleness.” Some answers reacted to elitism —­ intellectual and socio­economic elitism, elitism sensed in the attitude of students from urban areas towards students from rural areas. Several students cited the condescension directed towards those who decided to engage in more social activities rather than studying on any given night.

Responding to what will be missed about Swarthmore, some of us will miss Swarthmore for being the place of first love, and first heartbreak. Some of us will miss skinny­dipping in the Crum, climbing on as many campus rooftops as possible, and singing along to American Pie and Closing Time at Pub Nite. The flowers, the amount of green, and the campus dogs will be missed. Some spoke to the generosity of the abundant salad­ bar, the nine­ dollar meal swipes at Essie’s, and the perks of Wow­Butter (which is admittedly a site of contention for other students). Seeing the friendly faces of the Sharples and EVS staff will be missed. Others will miss engaging in those conversations with professors, religious and spiritual advisers, and friends where we feel as if our ideas are essential and deserve expression.

One student stated his appreciation for details such as stating gender pronouns in conversation and talking about privilege in ways not experienced in other environments. Many spoke about the moments and the memories that were precious along the way. One student coordinated a “special research knock” with a professor with whom he was working on research, so that the professor would know who was knocking on the office door. Another student remembered dancing with friends in the rain when classes were canceled during Hurricane Sandy.

Memorable moments at Swarthmore include the engineering prank that extended the Crum Creek Meander through Sharples. Seniors among us once went to Target, bought swimming­ pool floaties, and floated all the way back to campus down Crum Creek. One of us remembered being caught naked in the stairwell of Willet during a fire alarm. During one semester of walks between Dana and Sharples, two friends would look up at the night sky and invent conversations between the moon and the stars. Another senior reflected nostalgically on working in the Science Center late one Saturday night, extracting wasted gourmet food from the trash can, and eating it, before making snow angels with a friend on the way back to the dorm.

Many students spoke about the relationships developed along the way. One spoke about the importance of his friendship with Tom, one of the Tri­Co van drivers, describing the delight of their conversations about politics, sports, education, and experience that occurred over four years. One senior described walking into Sharples feeling low, and as she stepped in line at the Cobb salad bar, Donny said, “Let’s bring that smile back!” and gave her an extra avocado. She said, “I was so touched, I almost cried.” Invoking his experience on the men’s basketball team, one senior wrote, “My favorite memory is of after the last basketball game of my career, hugging all of the guys on the team and realizing just how much time and effort we had spent together and how I would never be a part of a group like that ever again.” One student described the connections formed within the group Students for Peace and Justice for Palestine, working intensely with two friends on the Spring Projects, and, after handing out flyers, explaining the project, and saving posters from the rain, saying, “That moment when all is done, when the last poster is secured, and the last chain link fence hammered into the ground, we can't help but feel proud of ourselves that our efforts made a (tiny) difference in the way at least one student thought about the issue.”

Thinking of what lessons would want to be carried forward, one student spoke to the development of unconditional respect for people and their experiences. They said of their time at Swarthmore, “I was such an unformed mess before coming here and at least now I'm a sort of formed mess.” Many cited the invaluable connections formed within a tight­knit community that have shaped their attitudes towards friendship. One student once sat on the stone ledges by the tennis court with her best friend, because though it was 2am and pouring rain, they both needed to talk to someone and knew exactly who to go to. And for this senior, moments like those demonstrated what kind of people she would want in her life going forward. One student spoke also about the importance of learning how to spend time alone with yourself, in what she described as “a story told over Saturday nights with your homework and dinners alone in the middle room” of Sharples.

Lessons to carry forward that seniors described include living with empathy. To become self­aware, acknowledge when you have been incorrect, and apologize for those mistakes. To invest fully in someone else’s life. In the words of one, “I want to carry with me the resolution to learn about suffering and turn it into advocacy, for myself and for others.” Many spoke about the importance of living with passion, and letting that passion constructively drive what you do. One student said she has learned that it is acceptable to stand up to authority and address a situation head­ on, in standing up for what you believe in. One student said that, leaving Swarthmore, he will take forward the lesson that “while not everything is possible, a lot can be possible.”

In collecting these answers from my peers, I have been thinking about the way that Swarthmore is a place where you can often unexpectedly find echoes of yourself in other people, while recognizing what makes our experiences unique. This is still only a small cross­section of perspectives from the Class of 2016. In closing this speech, I do not have advice for you. I think I’d need to have some part of life mostly figured out first, and I recognize that I am only 22 years old and still searching for greater wisdom. Perhaps I would recommend taking a moment sometime soon to write this list for yourself – maybe to share with someone, or at least to keep in a drawer so you can bring it to Swarthmore’s bicentennial reunion, when we’ll be around 70 years old and probably real nostalgic by then.

Despite, and because of, everything during these four years, I look forward to the continuation of our journey as Swarthmore alumni after we walk out of this amphitheater today, and continue to find out who we are in new contexts. Congratulations to the Swarthmore Class of 2016, and I’d like to end with a quote by Jack Kerouac: “What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? ­It's the too­ huge world vaulting us, and it's good­bye. But we lean forward to the next venture beneath the skies.” 

Watch: Commencement 2016 - Rose Wunrow '16