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Tiara Tillis '21

I’m honestly really nervous to be giving this speech for a multitude of reasons but mainly because I am being tasked with summing up 4 years of Swarthmore for all of you in a few short minutes. That feels very daunting and almost impossible, but to be fair, so was graduating Swarthmore and obviously if you are listening to me ramble, then we did it! Can y’all believe we are actually sitting here about to receive our diplomas from this institution? If there is one thing you can confidently say, it is that you did that. You beat Swarthmore and you should be so proud!

Even in our caps and gowns, I can’t help but still have the lingering feelings of imposter syndrome. If you are anything like me and the friends I’ve made here, then you have either said or heard the phrase “ADMISSIONS MISTAKE”once or maybe a couple hundred times. At one point or another you have questioned if Swat is the place for you or if you should be here. I know I spent a lot of time on this campus wondering the same thing and while I was never able to come to a concrete answer prior to now, I found comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one and that I had people to laugh and cry about this issue with in my corner as I hope all of you did as well. As I am writing this speech and speaking to you all, I’ve come to realize that if we all think or have felt like this way then maybe we were all the best mistake Swat ever made. 

While I am on the topic of mistakes, I would like to acknowledge that there is nothing like a Swarthmore education to show you that mistakes are inevitable and they hurt, but if you are lucky, you come out the other end a better person than you were before. Whether that mistake be something as small as in the precovid days when you would try to throw everything in the trash in one trip, but your cup hits the floor and makes that irritatingly loud banging noise or forgetting to Swat swivel or even posting an out of pocket/ offensive comment on the facebook page, which if you were caught up in any of that I apologize for any flashbacks you may have just had. In any case, while these mishaps stung in the moment, each of the mistakes we’ve made at Swarthmore has made us into the people we are today. I know I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my time here and that I’m not the only one. I won’t dive into any of that because you know, growth, but I am thankful for the mistakes I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned and the people that held me accountable and helped me learn through them. 

As I mentioned at the start, I was really nervous to be writing a speech for you all, for us. This us, that even in the small, suffocating bubble that is Swarthmore, we still don’t entirely know. If you look in your surrounding area, how many people do you actually know the names of? Maybe you have seen their face in passing, but can you honestly say you know anything about them? I know for a fact that I don’t know many of the names or identities in the sea of people I am addressing right now, but that’s okay. We all came to Swarthmore and met the people who were meant to impact our lives for the better or worse. You may not know the person in front of, behind, or next to you, but collectively we make a family (some of us might just be the distant cousins you only see on holidays which again is totally fine).

In my time here, I have met some people that I will cherish forever and hope to take with me after this is all said and done. I don't know about y’all, but there is no way I could have done Swarthmore alone and considering the amazing people I have come to love here, I wouldn’t want to. We may have come to this school for the prestige or academics, but you stay and call this place your home because of the people. Those same people that 4 years ago were strangers to you, but now you call them family, you call them home. 

When I moved here from Texas, I didn’t think I would be able to make it primarily because being home and the love I have there is what kept me sane and made me feel safe. My mom, who I called every day, sometimes multiple times a day, knows that being away from home at first was really hard for me. Swat didn’t feel like a home for a few months until I met some of my closest friends here. It still blows my mind how a math class, an impromptu trip to McCabe, a random roommate pairing, or bumping into someone in the bathroom during a Paces party can lead to some of your fondest relationships. I’m sure we all have interesting stories for how we met our rocks at this campus and that is one of the beautiful treasures of Swarthmore College.

Now, in no way, shape, or form am I saying Swarthmore College is perfect or magical because it is not. Like not even close, but even though it isn’t perfect, it is our school whether we choose to claim it after this point or not. We make Swarthmore the place it is and the relationships we make here are what make the Swarthmore experience exciting, challenging, draining, but most importantly, full of love. Due to Covid, I think more than ever, we have come to appreciate the two week rotations of Sharples food, the fun Essie’s employees, the late nights in the libraries with our friends, and the list goes on. This place is dumb hard academically, mentally, and emotionally, but I know I will miss so much of what makes Swat, Swat and that includes all of you. 

As the class of 2021, we have seen and experienced a lot of moments that have shaped not only us, but Swarthmore as well. Multiple springs of discontent, Cupcakke at our first worthstock, and a full academic year of covid education to conclude our time here. It takes a very strong group of people to balance academics and our social lives with events like these happening in the background, but as I’ve said, we were able to do that and come out on the other side with a diploma, hopefully some lifelong friendships and relationships, great memories filled with love and laughter, and ultimately a better person than we were when we got here. All of that to say, I hope you look back on your time at Swat and think, “this was truly the best mistake of my life”. Thank you and congratulations class of 2021!