An evening of fun and exuberance for Swarthmore’s students was made even more special by the return of a very accomplished guest.
On Saturday evening, students from all corners of campus amassed for the return of the Yule Ball, a Harry Potter-themed winter formal. But adding to the festivities was a performance from Amy Vachal ’11, a singer/songwriter who reached the semifinals in the most recent season of The Voice.
For Vachal, a studio arts and economics major and two-sport athlete while at the College, the solo performance was her first since The Voice concluded in December.
According to Rachel Head, assistant dean and director of student engagement, Vachal's return to the College was engineered by one of the student booking directors of Olde Club. "We reached out and immediately got a reply from Amy that she'd be happy to return to Swarthmore," she says. "Knowing that she would attract a large crowd, we started thinking about a larger venue and proposed she open for the first big event of the semester: Winter Formal."
"Our hope is that students will continue to propose events like this," Head adds, "and that this will serve as an example of how, if a student has an idea for a program, our job is to help them make it happen."
With Vachal’s performance anchoring the event, anticipation was palpable for the Yule Ball. By the time students arrived in early evening, Upper Tarble had been transformed into something only comparable to the Great Hall of Hogwarts, thanks to the tireless work of the Office of Student Engagement. By the commencement of the ball, a waterfall of lights hung from above, seemingly of their own volition, as rays of light shot from front stage across the eyes of each newly arriving student.
Many students gravitated towards the candy land of Butterbeer and Chocolate Frogs at the back of the hall, where they had casual conversations with members of the Dean’s staff. With sugar pulsing through their veins, students were primed for Vachal’s performance with an exhilarating opening show from Honey Pickup, a student band encompassing Cosmo Alto ’16, an engineering major from Portland, Ore.; Hanyu Chwe ’16, an honors economics major from Santa Monica, Calif.; Dan Eisler ’16, an environmental studies and education studies major from Columbia, Miss.; and Andrew Gilchrist-Scott ’16, a computer science and engineering major from Middleton, Wis. They brought a feeling of nostalgia with their original songs. With each song, the crowd grew a little larger, and the smidgen of longing for someone who felt like an old friend.
When Vachal finally took stage, an introduction seemed excessive. The crowd immediately greeted her with screams of admiration and cheers of affection. After a five-year journey as an aspiring musician and vocalist, Vachal humbly thanked fellow Swatties for their support, and from the first note, her voice was felt throughout the crowd. With her guitar in hand, she performed several unreleased songs for the first time and ended with a cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” which she also performed for millions of fans on the show. Cleary grateful for the opportunity, she thanked students in attendance and even snapped impromptu photos with the capacity crowd.
Insanely warm welcome from my alma mater! God I love @swarthmorecollege !! Thank you for the heart explosion. ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/yelogUem8K— Amy Vachal (@amyvachal) January 31, 2016
After the show, members of Grapevine, a student a cappella group, exchanged best wishes with Vachal, who was a member of the group during her time at Swarthmore. Current member Emma Kates-Shaw ’16 of Ossining, N.Y., says that “even though we had never sung together, we shared an understanding about what singing together feels like, and how deeply appreciative we were of the community created by Grapevine past and present. It was so lovely to hear her perform.”
For Vachal, the return home led to reflection and an appreciation of her time at the College.
“Don't ever think you're bigger than you are. Whatever you add to it -- or remove from it -- do it with all your heart and don't you dare stop looking and learning around you,” she says. "Swarthmore forced me to start using my eyes like that -- in the studio, on the field, in the classroom. And I'm forever sharper and grateful because of that.”