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My Swat Story: Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon ’12

Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon '12 outside

Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon ’12 (photo by Laurence Kesterson)

She’s Bringing Things Full Circle 

Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon ’12, a scholar of Slavic studies, returned to her high school alma mater in Dayton, Texas—population 7,734—and taught seventh- to 12th-grade history.

As a native of a rural town with a struggling economy,  St. Julian-Varnon taught students whose parents are in prison or going through rehab. At her current job, teaching history at a nearby community college, she has students who bring toddlers to class as well as students in their 60s. But her message doesn’t waver.

“These doubts you might have, these negative things you might be hearing from others, well, I thought and heard the same things,” she says. “But you can transcend them.”

A TV Miniseries Sparked a Love of Russia

She grew up fascinated with Russia at 13, once she saw the History Channel’s Russia: Land of the Tsars miniseries. Russian became her academic focus at Swarthmore, after she took a first-year seminar on Lenin and Stalin with Isaac H. Clothier Professor of History and International Relations Robert Weinberg and roomed with Jacqueline Bailey-Ross ’12, another African-American student with Slavic proclivities.

St. Julian-Varnon went on to earn a master’s from Harvard in Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian studies. She speaks Russian, French, and German, and she has worked or studied in the Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Serbia. 

Swarthmore Altered Her Trajectory

St. Julian-Varnon relished the Swarthmore ethos. She delighted in the opportunity to interact with scholars of color, and threw herself into activities ranging from Peaslee Debate Society to rugby.

“I blame Swarthmore for ruining my dream of being a corporate lawyer making lots of money, and sometimes for not being able to sleep at night,” she says. “But I wouldn’t want it any other way."