Tiffany Yu '18
Good morning, faculty, staff, friends, and family. I could not have asked for a better morning to be here with you all. I would love to thank you all for allowing me to fulfill one of my lifetime goals, to be able to give a school-wide speech in front of my family. Mom and Dad, I would not be here if not for your unwavering support. In the past 7 years, you have endowed me the privilege of receiving an education in this country and I stand here hoping to show you a little of what I have achieved and I hope you are proud of what you see. Shelby, my sister and best friend, you've paved me the smoothest highway a younger sister can ever dream of. Thank you for always looking out for me.
I would first like to acknowledge and connect with the people whose efforts made this exact moment possible. I want to give thanks to Mutabar, whose smile and two over mediums on the grill never ceases to brighten every single morning, to Donny and your fist bumps, and to Pat for that extra scoop of tortellini salad. Also to April, the ice cream lady, I am so sorry for every single drop of ice cream I've ever dripped onto the countertop. To all the unsung heroes at Sharples, Essie's, Sci Bar, and Kohlberg that work day in and day out to fuel the student body, thank you. I would also like to give thanks to the EVS staff whose Mondays are FAR FAR worse than any of ours, to the grounds staff that enabled the very grass under my feet to grow, and to PubSafe for literally running into lamp posts to keep us safe. Then, of course, to the professors and coaches that push us every single day to exceed our limits, thank you. I feel humbled as we are only able to achieve what we have the last 4 years because of your hard work.
So this is it then, the day we’ve all been waiting for from the moment we stepped onto campus. After today, we’ll all part ways, scattering around the country and the globe, into the uncertainty of the future. Spoiler alert: I don’t have any more advice or insight about taking on the real world than that squirrel on that tree. So instead I’m going to look back. So bear with me while I reminisce on a wide-eyed, idealistic, intended English bio major, 18-year-old’s journey to be here today.
My first impression of Swarthmore was during Ride the Tide. I remember stepping off the train at Swarthmore and arriving at this beautiful walkway lined with humongous trees, green grass on each side, flowers blooming, and I was absolutely blown away. It was a beautiful sunny April day and I scanned my eyes over the fields. On my right were people playing frisbee, people on a tightrope, then I saw some people running with brooms between their legs. Huh, alright. My eyes continued travelling to the right. More trees, a ski lodge, then I saw this majestic “S”-shaped metal frame in the middle of the green grass with strips of plastic streaming from it, reflecting the sunlight and fluttering in the wind. My optimistic logical assumption was that this was some new, state of the art technology that would concentrate sunlight and filter in rainwater to promote better growth of the grass. It took my brain a few moments to process what my eyes were taking in, but when it did, I nodded in my mind and said “Yeah, college”.
There’s a lot you have to get used to when you get to Swat. There’s the new people, the buildings (which Lang is which again?), the jargon like "Swat swivel" and "Swat 7", confusing lines in Sharples, but let me tell you, the most important thing you learn is the unspoken rule that if you’re not complaining about something, you’re doing something wrong. At this institution, you do not get rewarded for saying “Great!” when people ask you “How’s your day?” or for saying “Not a lot” when people ask about your workload. On a good day, those responses will met with blank stares or maybe, if you’re lucky, even a nod. Towards the end of the semester, soul sucking stares and passive aggressive insertion of earbuds would be more of a common reaction.
On the other hand, if you storm into Cornell, throw down your backpack with your glasses askew, hair in shambles, and declare in one breath “I have 200 pages of reading, 3 essays, 5 problem sets, 2 lab reports, and a presentation due within 3 hours and I have a WA appointment that started 5 minutes ago,” you will be met with sighs of understanding, food and tea from sci bar, a head massage, and coos of “There, there.” If it wasn’t academics, it was Sharples. If it wasn’t Sharples, it was the weather. If it wasn’t the weather, it was allergies, the Co-op being too expensive, the trees are better labeled than the buildings, the trees are better insured than the students. The list can go on forever. Complaining, maybe it's a Swarthmore thing, maybe it’s human nature. Who knows.
So I settled in. I can recount the classic Swarthmore stories that shape all of our experiences here. We’ve all had that heart-pounding experience of posting on Yik Yak for the first time and checking how many upvotes it has gotten. We've all struggled to do basic math at Essie's and felt the indignation at the deflation of points from 9 to 7 for late night snacks. We’ve felt the excitement and joy at the new found liberty of points in the 'Ville, the disappointment at the disappearance of Margaret Kuo’s, horror at the increasing strictness of the alcohol policy, shaking the solo cup on Saturday nights saying, “WATER PUBSAFE, IT’S WATER.” These experiences create a framework, the skeleton of the Swarthmore experience. But while the shapes are similar, the details are what makes each experience different.
I don’t think I can talk about my time here without acknowledging that it is not a walk in the park.
Classes here are difficult and that is an understatement. I clearly remember the hysteric disbelief of staring at my computer as I try to code for the first time in my life in E6 and fully and literally experiencing what the definition of cluelessness was. The bar of what excelling in a class meant slowly but surely lowered as the years went by. The challenge was not only in the classroom. As you would expect from putting 1,600 stressed, antsy teens and young adults exploring and experimenting with who they are in a 425-acre campus, beliefs and values are challenged as we go through classic heartbreaks and the falling apart of friends. Here I experienced for the first time the feeling that no matter what I do, I will never be a good enough student, swimmer, captain, employee, friend, lover, and daughter. It was the helplessness and the feeling of loss of control that pushed me into a year-long battle with depression. But the beauty of this experience is that I’ve been lucky enough that even when I’ve given up on myself, when I’m walking in circles repeating to myself “I can’t, I can’t,” I was surrounded by people with so much warmth and love. I was lucky enough to find a compassionate friend that was willing to be there for me every single day for 5 months straight, even when I was crying, confused, and hurt. “You can,” he said, “You can.” I am grateful to be able to call another friend, 2 days after a training trip feeling invalidated, mentally and physically at my limit, crying “I can’t stare at that line at the bottom of the pool anymore,” to get the response, “You can, Tiffany, you can.” I found friends that are willing to open up a bottle of wine with me after a long, grueling day of work and just talk about everything and nothing and give each other massages until 2 a.m. “You can,” they said, “You can.” Slowly, I also started believing that I could again. While I joke about how much we complain at Swarthmore, the genuine understanding that students here have for each other is something intimate and unique that I have only been able to find in a place like Swarthmore.
These bonds not only form in times of hardship and discomfort but also in times of success and celebration. Swarthmore is a place where many a times I’ve felt overwhelming happiness and pride at someone else’s success. Nothing beats the awe you feel when you see the friend who have pushed you all around campus in a Target cart on a Saturday night now stand up in front of a crowd of professors and students in a dapper suit and explain Machiavellian theory in the context of Mao’s rule. Or the feeling when you see the hard work your teammates put into the pool every day paying off and all you can do is yell your head off at the edge of the pool and cheer them on with all the excitement and pride in your heart, staring at the clock across the pool, counting the milliseconds and knowing, just knowing that not only will they will hit yet another lifetime best, but also cross a personal hurdle and fulfill a lifetime goal. And watching dance shows? After making fun of friends for being NARPs all semester, I get absolutely blown away by what they can do with their bodies at every show and I wonder why they ever entertain me by dancing with me at pub night. So many people here have inspired me and the fact that I am surrounded by multifaceted, brilliant, and passionate humans is something that I have not taken for granted.
So that’s a little bit of my Swarthmore experience. Now, as a little less wide-eyed, still idealistic, and definitely not an English Bio major, 22-year-old almost-graduate of this college, I demand “What’s the moral of the story then? Where’s the lesson, the takeaway?”, waiting for that Eureka moment where I would be able to see the essence of this experience in clarity. Unfortunately, my journey here is not like a typical blockbuster movie, with a start, build, climax, and end. To describe the experience, it is more like a hodgepodge of happiness, sadness, content, uncertainty, surprise, regret, excitement, and everything in between. It is a mixture of these emotions, coming in lulls, waves, and bursts, in varying orders durations and magnitudes. To attempt to sum it all up in one neat overarching statement or lesson not only would give it injustice but also would be an almost impossible task. But take what you will from my story. Pick it apart, analyze it, psychoanalyze it, maybe even learn something from it.
Ultimately why I stand in front of you today is that I hope that everyone here can relate to some part of my experience. Each of us has taken different paths these few years, but I hope that by sharing my ordinary yet unique story, there is some little part of it, emotionally or situationally, that overlaps with yours, and we can realize that all of us have gone through something called the Swarthmore experience together. So no matter if you are just a familiar face in Sharples or someone I talk to every single day, I want to say thank you, because this story would’ve been different without each and every one of you. It has been an honor being part of all of your stories, thank you for listening, and happy graduation.