Simon Bloch '17 - Last Collection
In the words of Barack Obama: Hi everybody.
To my fellow members of the Class of 2017—congratulations! To the administrators, faculty, and other community members who are here today, thank you for being here. To the trees and stones, you had no choice. And to the Ville kids who are using this opportunity to vandalize all our bicycles: well played.
First and foremost: I have some serious thanks to give to the incredible staff of Swarthmore College.
To EVS staff like Melissa, Bruce, Brian, Naim, Val, and others, thank you for keeping our homes and spaces clean. Thank you for the conversations during all nighters in Sci, reminding me that I’m not alone in a world of 3D point clouds and routers and orthonormal rotation matrices.
To the staff of Sharples, Essies, and the coffee bars — people like Ed, Pat, Mutabar, Donnie, Shirley, Adam, Mare, Steve, Gil, Ameca, Marita, and Jenny, thank you for filling our tummies. For literally feeding us. Thank you for making me laugh when I really needed it. Thank you for making my thousandth Chicken Finger Wrap order feel like the first.
To the Grounds Department and the rest of Facilities! I’m talkin’ Sheila, Dwight, Adam, Nicole, Mike, Gus, Lars, Sandra, Susan, Chuck, Luis, Jeff, and others. Thank you so much! Thank you for planting trees and flowers. For picking up thousands—thousands—of red solo cups and cans of Natty Light. For pruning and mulching and raking and shoveling snow! Thank you for reminding me that physical labor, taking care of our surroundings, is just as important as doing papers or labs. For teaching me that you don’t need to go to graduate school to find a fulfilling career, but that you CAN go to graduate school and become a gardener! And thank you for wiping out weeds like English Ivy, Japanese Angelica Trees, winged euonymus, and garlic mustard. You might laugh but garlic mustard is a dangerous weed that spreads like wildfire, alright? Garlic mustard is a sneaky bastard that needs to be stopped. But I’ll get back to plants a little later.
So, to Swarthmore’s incredible staff, we cannot tell you how much your efforts and kindness have meant. And of course that holds true for the incredible professors who have shown us new methods and perspectives. And, it also holds true for those special administrators who have been our advocate and truly listened when voices were being silenced or ignored. To those administrators who have stood by us, you know who you are. We appreciate your wisdom, patience, and guidance.
But, to be honest, I feel strange referring to our class as a collective “we.” I feel weird speaking for y’all! We’re such a distinct group of individuals. We all have different majors. We all get different drinks at the coffee bars. We all deleted Yik Yak at different times. Right? We ALL deleted Yik Yak, right guys?
What we do share are our experiences. Our four years here have some interesting bookends. The Spring of Discontent happened in mid-2013, and three months later it’s our first day and we’re all watching Bare White. And our first winter here, all of the power went out. Now, in our senior year, an article asks low-income students to express gratitude and the country our school lies in somehow elects the world’s most bigoted fart. Those events are the front and back cover of the book of our undergraduate education. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but that cover is straight booty.
It’s genuinely humbling how much we’ve been through together. We’ve held each other close as we carefully trotted down the ice-covered path to Sharples. One by one, we all learned that Wawa was a thing. And when we first read one of Tom Corbani’s Phoenix editorials about his sex life, we realized: this IS journalism!
And now we move on—out into the “real world.” Out into a land of freedom and opportunity, where anything is possible. If you’re kind and you work hard, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.
I am of course referring to the land of the memes. The only true meritocracy on earth.
Hear me out: yes, memes are silly. Memes are small. But memes are not unimportant. Think about it—when times were tough at Swat, where did we go? What did we do? When we were sick, we made memes about being sick. When we were procrastinating, we made memes about procrastinating. When we were completely focused on our schoolwork, we—okay we didn’t make memes but who wants to read memes about productivity?
I think memes represent the best qualities in Swarthmore students. Obviously not all memes. #notallmemes. But the best memes can take an idea, boil it down to its essence, and put it in a completely new context. Think of the Caveman Spongebob. Think of the Arthur fist. Think of the expanding brain memes. I personally identify with the confused white lady with the equations floating in front of her face. Yes, they’re weird little jokes, but they have an incredible ability to capture what we’re all thinking and experiencing. And isn’t that what Swatties do best? We use abstract theory to tackle real world challenges.
Think of how much theory we’ve studied here. SOOO much theory! Swat really puts the “HEO” in theory. Like t-H-E-O-r-y? Like “Heyo, that’s a lot of theory!” Anyway, think of how much theory we’ve studied here! As we go out into the world, we can make the real life version, of memes! We can use our unique perspectives to change hearts, minds, and real world structures.
Okay. I think that’s enough with the meme metaphor. I was testing out other metaphors, like a Hunger Games analogy, where Swat’s like district 12, because we aren’t taught useful skills like how to fight, get sponsors, or get a job, but we have weird quirky skills like archery and decorating cakes and memorizing 100 digits of pi. Also, I wanted to compare Liz Braun to Effie Trinket. Think about it.
Then it was gonna be a whole Harry Potter analogy, where Swat’s like Hogwarts and the real world is the world of muggles. And then it switched to Swarthmore being Hermione, and the Ivy League being Harry since he’s the famous one with all the money and luck while Hermione works her ass off but still gets bullied by those classist Slytherins.
But I want to revisit a metaphor from earlier: plants. I think Swarthmore students are like the plants in the arboretum. We started out as seeds with so much potential. We used resources to grow, learn, and photosynthesize.
We successfully worked hard, played harder, and endured for these past four-ish years! Or, alternatively, if you don’t believe in free will: we were successfully a product of our biology and upbringing for these past four-ish years!
And if Swatties are plants, then we, my fellow seniors, are the weeds. Weeds, plural. Like with an “s.” Sheila Magee, a gardener on Grounds, defines weeds as plants that are not supposed to be there. We have become weeds! We represent the living embodiment of disorder. It’s time to be driven out!
Did you all feel the transition into weeds? I did. After fall break of this year — sophomores and juniors started looking at us different. They know it’s really isn’t our school anymore. They’ve begun to spread their roots, just as ours are finding new foundations elsewhere. We’re not long for this world!
We’re obsolete — we completed our majors, and we’ve uncovered all the hidden truths about the school itself. For example, we know that the best courses we take here will likely be outside of our major. We know that sometimes, taking a few minutes to watch the sunset from Underhill is the only study break we have time for, but sometimes it’s just what we need. We know now that Donnie and Pat are just Beyonce and Solange undercover.
And speaking of weeds, we’ve learned that just because the school mentions our beautiful Crum Woods on every tour and brochure, it doesn’t mean that we’re doing a sufficient job taking care of it by any means. These woods, which I’ve grown to love so much, are not healthy. Vines are killing trees, invasive species are pushing out native plants, and yet we currently don’t have a single dedicated staff member to effectively steward the woods, promoting new growth, and helping make the forest independent. Just saying.
So yeah: we’ve learned too much, and now we must be eradicated — or in our case, given a diploma and sent to one of 5 cities around the world.
But I’m not worried about us. Even if we are weeds, we’re gonna get pulled, and composted, and grow into something incredible. If you’re at all like me, you still think of yourself as a kid. Maybe it’s the title of student, maybe it’s just a mindset. But I see y’all: you’ve been grinding for almost two decades. You’ve put in the work, taken some breaks, lost some sleep maybe, but you’re here. It’s been long enough. At this point, we have enough in our bodies and brains to get out there and make the kind of changes we want to see happen.
I’m genuinely so proud of all of y’all, and so honored to have studied, laughed, cried, and grown with you. In my time here, my understanding of the world has transformed, and I genuinely can not express how significant you all were in that process. You are an extraordinary group of individuals: in character, patience, eloquence, and profound capacity to change the world.
I want to end with a quote from my best friend, Nader Helmy:
May we find or make a friend in every city we grace.
May we make room for other tongues in our language, other currencies in our country.
May we make every institution as human and as far from bureaucracy as Sharples Dining Hall.
May we all come to know ourselves more every day.
May every Swattie be a sanctuary.
Thank you so, so, much, and congratulations.