Shruti Pal '18 - Last Collection
Just over a month ago, with great difficulty, and with the promise of good food, I convinced my friends to get off campus and make the trek out to Bryn Mawr. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a quick lunch turned into a three-hour long shuttle journey home as we were hit with the first bomb cyclone of the season. Upon returning to Swarthmore, which was overcast with mist and darkness, and I mean, literal power outage darkness, the very dining hall we had tried to avoid earlier today was now a beacon of light.
At the tender age of seventeen or eighteen, all of us here today, made a decision. A decision to spend four years of our lives at Swarthmore, a small liberal arts college right outside of Philadelphia. Implicit in making that decision was a strong statement about our character. Although it isn’t difficult to appreciate the beauty of the arboretum, the amphitheater, or the quaint train station that runs through campus, it takes a certain kind of teenager to be excited enough by academic rigor to move to a town with three restaurants and four laundromats. And that is why Swarthmore is as unique as it is – because of us. If Swatties aren’t born, then they are made, perhaps because there is something either in the air or hidden in the curriculum that forces students of this institution to care about making a difference, to care about wanting to see change. As an international student in this country at a very turbulent time, Swarthmore, with its powerfully kind people, has given me hope that our future is safe.
So now, four years and thirty-two credits later, we are deciding what to do with our lives. We are deciding who we want to be. How we can make a difference. As we make these decisions, I encourage you to ask yourselves one question: what would you want to do if nobody was watching? I say this because this past Sunday, I was at a concert, and there was a girl standing in front of me, on her phone, scrolling through her own Facebook profile, to see how many likes she had received on the pictures she had just posted of herself at the concert. She was doing this while the artist was singing on stage. The idea that our generation is subconsciously compelled to live their lives for validation from an audience that is waiting for them on the other end of their phones, is terrifying to me. Luckily, one of the most important lessons we have learned at Swarthmore, as harbored by the quirkiness and accepting nature of this community, is to unapologetically be ourselves. And so let us remember as we walk out of the amphitheater on Sunday, and every day after, that we need to be ourselves, FOR ourselves, and not for an audience. Who would we want to be if nobody was watching?
Swarthmore is a poetic place. We started our college journey, in a candle lit amphitheater on the outskirts of the woods, and today we come together, in the same place, as we are forced to realize that it really is coming to an end. Sometimes I think we forget just how magical our experience has been, and take for granted the opportunities that we have been given, and the people we have been so lucky to meet.
That day of the power outage, as I was setting up camp at Sharples, my best friend was sitting next to me and laughing uncontrollably, watching her favorite episode of Friends. In that moment I was struck with the realization that I wouldn’t ever see her like this again. Now I know I’ll see my friends after graduation, but not like this. Not just doing their own thing. Living. And it wasn’t just my best friend – it was everyone – that girl that was in my freshman seminar, that boy I feel like I definitely know everything about but have also definitely never spoken to, or the dining hall staff that put our comfort above their own convenience that day. I can always make plans to meet people in the future, but I wouldn’t see them like this, just going about the mundane tasks of their lives. Living.
Class of 2018, it’s closing time. Light your candles, give out your green bottles, and say your goodbyes. It’s time for commencement. And let’s remember what that word really means: it means it’s the start of something new. And whether it’s this next chapter, or the chapter after that, we will always bring with us a little piece of this place. A little piece of Swarthmore.