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Isabel McClean '20

Hi everyone, this is a bit of a weird situation isn't it? I guess the majority of you, Class of 2022, don't know who I am — and on the other hand, the Class of 2020 is probably far too acquainted with who I am due to my frantic emails trying to help coordinate a graduation ceremony two years after the fact. Either way, I’ll introduce myself: I am Izzy McClean. I graduated from Swarthmore in 2020. Since then I’ve been living in New York city and working as a software engineer.

Since we graduated I have only been back to Swat once before this. To be honest, until very recently, I didn’t think I’d be coming back again any time soon, especially not to graduate. But standing before you now, I’m glad I’m here. It's nice that we are finally able to do this. As the senior class president, I’ve been speaking with so many members of our class to get input on this very ceremony, so I know firsthand how much this day means to everyone. I am truly so happy that despite all of the challenges, this ceremony was able to happen in any capacity.

As cringe as this is to admit, pretty much all throughout my time at Swat, I thought about being our graduation speaker. I dreamt of all the crazy stories I would tell, and came up with inspirational soundbites that I imagined would send my class off into the world even more prepared than they already were.

But then, as you all know so well, our senior year got cut short and all those final experiences, last conversations, and bits of closure we were supposed to have were suddenly gone. And while I was sad about missing out on all those memories, in some ways, I was also relieved. All those lasts were so important. There was so much pressure to have the best goodbye, that I knew in some sense I might have messed it up, or worse, it wouldn't have been all I had dreamed it to be. But then again, I’d take a botched goodbye or awkward last interaction any day over graduating at home in England, an ocean away from all my friends, into a world that was effectively falling apart.

Most senior class speeches are not recited in these circumstances. Typically, they address one group of people who are at the same stage in life; all just finished with college and about to embark into the real world. Today, two years out, I have no idea what half my class is up to. I haven’t seen many of you since Spring 2020, when we were told our senior year was moving online. I am sure all our lives look so different now. Some people are going to grad school, some have worked in the same job since graduation, some have switched jobs 3 times and are planning on switching again. With all this in mind, I wasn’t really sure how to go about this speech. I guess I could talk about our crazy Swat stories, but I feel so far removed from those memories. And I definitely don’t feel like I can advise people — something I have learnt from my two years out in the “real world” is that I truly have no idea what I am doing with my life. And I know for sure that you cannot ever be truly prepared for what the world will throw at you.

So I settled on talking about five things that I have learned, in the hope that they might resonate with some of my classmates and maybe even help members of the Class of 2022, as they step out into the world.

Firstly, doing my laundry IS an achievement. In college, our lives were structured and we knew when we had completed an assignment or finished a reading, and in doing so, we felt a sense of accomplishment. Out in the real world, there are far less of these “Aha, I am done” moments, so really make sure to celebrate any small thing you get done in a day. 

Secondly, I should schedule some me time every day doing something I want to do, simply because I want to do it. I cannot oversell this one. Going into a 9-5 job, many of my waking hours are spent doing things that I can't control. But what I can control is working into my day, either before, during, or after work an hour, or however long I can spare, for doing something that I want to do. Some days I go on a walk, and others I mindlessly scroll Tiktok — it’s whatever I want to make of it.

Thirdly, although the world is falling apart, I do need to try and have fun. When we graduated, it was amidst the deep unknown. We were in the height of the pandemic, and we didn’t know how long it would last or how it might impact our lives moving forward. We didn’t know how many people we would lose, or when there would be a vaccine. Two years later, the pandemic is still as real as ever. These tragic circumstances make it even more critical for us to find joy and levity whenever and wherever we can. It’s important to laugh with friends, to celebrate the happiness of your loved ones, and to keep people close.

Fourthly, do not compare myself to others. I think everyone in my class can relate to this, where we have seen someone doing something impressive and thought, “Oh, I should definitely be training for a marathon.” But that’s simply not the case. I have to remind myself that I have to celebrate where I am right now, and understand that I am doing my best and that is more than enough.

Lastly, taxes are due in April, and that month might suck. 

The first time I visited Swat was in 2014. I came to visit my brother, who was a student here at the time. My first thought was, “Wow this place is small, and I will never go to college here.” Honestly, back then, I didn’t think college was really for me. I remember reflecting in my senior spring how much my opinion had changed over my four years here. Although Swat was never a walk in the park, it helped me grow into the person I was in 2020 and for that, I was really grateful. And now, two years later, when I am asked what it was like to go to such a small school and whether I enjoyed it, I can safely say that I am even more appreciative of the friends and the community I made here. They helped me survive a senior spring cut short, a pandemic, and all of the growing pains of navigating a world in chaos. And listen, if you can survive a spring semester at Swarthmore, you might just be able to handle anything.

Remarks as submitted to Swarthmore College