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Sannan Dhillon '23 - Last Collection

Sannan Dhillon speaking at podium

Sannan Dhillon Last Collection

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Honorable and beloved faculty and staff, and friends of the Class of 2023, good evening!

As I sat down to write this speech, I went back to look through my color-coordinated diary where I’ve been recording my happy memories in green and sad memories in red ink (freshman year me thought this was really cute). A green entry from April 20th, 2023 mentioned this incident:

I was walking up Magill Walk with Sameer after Ramzan’s last suhoor. After crossing the second set of stairs, Sameer looked up at Parrish, which in the early hours of the morning looked as majestic as it did the first time I saw it and said to me:

“When you are enamored or overwhelmed by what’s in front of you, it is precisely in those moments that you should turn around and appreciate how you got here.”

Of course, I promptly turned around and looked at industrial mining equipment, the ruins of what used to be Sharples, and some caged-off oak trees.

But now, as I stand here, enamored by the thought of us wearing that beautiful black regalia on Sunday and walking across the stage to get our diplomas, and overwhelmed by the promises I’ve made to my friends to stay in touch, by the thought of meeting my professors for the last time and hearing them say “Have a great life, Sannan, and good luck with the future!” rather than “see you next week!” Seeing my room for the last time, bare of all the pictures, posters, and poetry I’ve had up on my walls, this is precisely the moment when I want to turn back to the last 4 years and reflect on the journey that brought us here.

I want to start with First Collection. We sat right here as a class for the first time.

Overwhelmed by all the orientation events but excited for classes to start, I was sitting back there in the right with people who would go on to become my best friends, but at that point only knew me as a note in their notes app that read “Sannan Dhillon, Pakistan, econ, cool guy, maroon shirt” (it was a Garnet shirt, Rez). Dean Henry asked us to reflect on how open we were to change. I, being the over-enthusiastic first-year that I was, took the mic and said, “I haven't come 7000 miles away from home to go back as the same person I am today.” I wasn’t sure how or even why I would change but I knew that I would.

Three days from now, I’ll be back home. I’m proud of the way I’ve changed, and I’m grateful for the part you all have played in that process.

You’ve taught me resilience. Amongst us are people who lost a loved one in the last four years and yet had the courage to continue in the face of unimaginable grief. Those whose countries were being bombed, occupied, or devastated by earthquakes, who were battling the guilt of being survivors while juggling the responsibilities of a normal college student. Those who couldn't go back to the warm embrace of their homes during covid and were stranded in an alien country. From each one of you, I learned the strength of the human spirit.

You taught me dedication. I learnt it from professors who made themselves available at ungodly hours to accommodate students in different time zones. Who understood that due dates were more of a vibe than a rule. Who went above and beyond to support their students because they genuinely cared for them. I saw it in student-athletes who took gap years so they could play for the teams they were recruited for – teaching me what true passion and commitment looks like.

Above all, you’ve taught me compassion and empathy. You were there for your friends in moments when they were having to be far too resilient. In moments when I needed a little extra support, my friends read me like a book and always knew how to put a smile on my face. When I was down with covid, my roommate brought me food and medicine for a week and checked up on me. My friends celebrated my achievements like their own even when they were still waiting to hear back from their internship or job applications. I learnt the importance of caring for others in challenging times, about how the smallest, thoughtful gestures can uplift others. I don't know if I can ever repay these acts of compassion but I promise to pay them forward and as I do that, I will remember you for being kind to me and teaching me to be kind!

Your contributions, however, surpass me. When we were sent away during covid, the campus was a hauntingly lifeless space. The impromptu conversation with an old friend in the long line for General Tso’s chicken at Sharples, the Facebook post about people losing one solitary airpod somewhere between Willets and Wharton, the nights we told ourselves that we’ll actually get work done in Crumb Cafe but spent the time talking with friends, or all the other moments that fostered a sense of community and shared experience, vanished.

We are the last batch to have seen a pre-pandemic Swarthmore and it was on us to build it all back. To try to leave our college better than we found it. And we did it! We consoled those who were grieving, cared for those who were struggling, and celebrated those who were thriving. We revived student clubs and embraced the incoming classes who started their college journeys online. With one little smile, wave, and head nod to a familiar stranger at a time, we rebuilt the bridges that had been broken. We made it feel like the close-knit community that we mentioned in our Why Swarthmore supplement essays. We made it feel home, again!

In the entire history of the College, there is just one parallel to this experience and it's a fitting one. The only other time when students were sent off-campus was in 1881 after The Great Fire turned Parrish Hall to ashes and students resided and took classes in rented houses in Media. When the students came back the next year, the Class of 1883 started the college newspaper and named it The Phoenix. Let me read you the first sentence of the first edition of The Phoenix:

“As our patron, The Phoenix, arose from her ashes more glorious than before, so shall the halls of our Alma Mater rise from her ruins more beautiful, more lasting, and more useful than ever before.” 

One hundred and 40 years later, these optimistic words describe the hope we carried in our hearts when we were away. We came back, united by a shared sense of commitment and deep love for one another to breathe life into this campus again. Albeit metaphorically this time, we helped Swarthmore rise and be more glorious and vibrant than ever before. This makes me confident that as we enter a still traumatized and precarious world, we’ll leave it better than we found it! I’m honored beyond words to be a part of this extraordinary class, the Class of 2023, that made it happen!

In this way, the story of how you touched my life and this college is intertwined. Just as each one of you will light up a candle to illuminate this space tonight, you all have brought warmth and light to my life and that of this college. And like the stars above us that have long gone away but have left their impression on the night sky. You, too, shone your light on this college when it needed it the most and left an impression that will stay long after you have left.

Before I end, allow me to thank my family.

Mama, Baba, Amani Bahawar, Nana Nano — You have sacrificed far more than I have for this day. You are my first friends and first teachers. You are my all superheroes and I love you!

My parting words are borrowed from the assistant dean of international students, Jennifer Marks-Gold, who has been a pillar of support throughout my time at Swarthmore. As I turn around to reflect on the last four years, here is what I see. Behind me are countless beautiful memories with you. Moments that I will cherish forever! Ahead of me are all my dreams. Around me are those who love me. And within me is everything I need to go through life. For that and everything else, thank you!