Swarthmore’s 151st Commencement a Celebration of Community
Callie Cho ’23 evoked the essence of Swarthmore’s 151st Commencement on Sunday with the concept of “the extended self” — the degree to which one’s consciousness exists in the minds of the people they know and are known by.
The senior class speaker related that to her classmates, “the characters in each other’s stories, be it major or minor roles,” before connecting it to the integral impact that faculty and staff had in their Swarthmore experience. And last, but far from least, to the family and friends who packed Parrish Beach.
“Our victory is no less yours than it is ours,” Cho said.
That spirit of community carried the day. In the lead-up to the ceremony, a series of the seniors’ memorable moments flashed on the video screen, as the Twenty One Pilots’ lyric, “Wish we could turn back time to the good old days” played over the loudspeaker. A dad with a selfie stick and a perma-grin kept pulling his daughter back for one more photo, while a grandmother tied a cluster of big gold balloons to a chair.
As the procession turned the corner from the Rose Garden toward Parrish, family and friends jockeyed for photo position. Faculty members and graduates stopped to give thanks or a fist bump to Environmental Services staff, and a group of celebrants gave a shout out to Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kathryn Riley ’10.
The procession moved past the tables offering water and gift baskets and Swarthmore merch — Parrish Boardwalk? — and crossed through a floral arch. The stage and seating felt nestled in the space, beneath the Bell Tower, framed 360 by trees.
The ceremony commenced with a land acknowledgement from the faculty marshal, Mark Wallace, to recognize and honor the history of the land on which the College sits and the Indigenous people who stewarded it throughout the generations. Koof Kalkstein ’78, chair of the Board of Managers, and the four honorary degree recipients touched on the virtues of exploration and community.
During her remarks, President Valerie Smith invited the Class of 2023 to take a moment to reflect on the many forms of support they received along the way.
“Our faculty members, who, through their scholarly work and mentorship, have nurtured your intellectual and personal development,” she said. “Our staff members, whose care for your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being has been a constant presence; and the many friends from the Swarthmore community and beyond, who have been there to comfort you, confide in you, and celebrate with you throughout your college years.”
One by one, graduates sauntered to the stage to receive their diplomas. Friends and family couldn’t hold back applause — mostly clapping and shouting, but there was at least one whistle blown and drum banged. The staff members dotting Magill Walk, including two cashiers from the Dining Center, beamed and pattered applause.
The graduates took turns bumping elbows with the president. One also fired a canister of confetti, which flickered in the breeze. The Bachelor of Science recipients, clad in hard hats and gowns, carried puzzle pieces that formed the message “Swarthmore Engineering Class of 2023.”
The ceremony ended with President Smith telling the graduates that “Swarthmore is now and will forever be yours.” Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” marked the recessional, with the graduates winding their way up the path off of Magill. One grad stepped out to embrace family and friends, grabbing a small child in each arm before he was hoisted up into the air.
Groups of people fanned out from Clothier to McCabe, carving out spaces for family photos. As always, the Big Chair presented the iconic photo opp, with one family fitting four generations across its seat and arms.
The graduates and their friends and families eventually gathered for a reception near the Rose Garden. One last round of congratulations and hugs, one last chance to soak up the splendor.
One of the graduates stepped away from his family to embrace two classmates. He shared three words with them that may well have applied to all.
“We made it.”