One of the hardest things about Swarthmore is losing the now. Constantly, students are charting their weeks, whether on their calendars or “Get Your Life the F*ck Together, Ryan” lists. Emails for campus events go out and flyers go up weeks in advance to catch students while their schedules are moderately free, but staff are often confused about why more students aren’t filling LPAC for every Shakespearean play or SCI101 for the next guest speaker in biology.
One of the most prominent things that has pulled students out of the everyday is summer projects. Although I’m only in my second semester at Swarthmore, I realized over spring break how much time I spent solving the summer puzzle, and speaking with other students about last minute changes and submissions the Divisional or Lang Center grant programs, I recognized how Swatties generally look ahead so fervently.
This quality might just be built into many of us, borne in our DNA or developed while we’ve been growing up. Maybe we took our forward-facing eyes after our role models, or we constructed them through determination, trial, and error.
My worry is that we will outrun ourselves. Throughout high school, being present was something I often failed at. I would be up at 5:45AM to get to school by 8:10AM. Lunches were often skipped for extra time sprinting through the theater to put up more lighting gels or programming more cues. Walks to and from the Metro were spent organizing my Google Drive and the following week. By my sophomore year, I was hitting walls, and by senior year, I was trying to scale a chimney. I lost why I did what I did and simply checked boxes as I could. By dashing from one department meeting to the following Kitao talk, we don’t have to enjoy the clubs, meals, and ideas with which we join and engage. Our time here is defined by the going, not the being.
Now, going isn’t always a problem. Regardless of how we built our focus on the future, it speaks to the dedication and drive that students across the campus have to explore what they are curious about. Most of the time, students are pushing their horizons; with summer planning, students apply their coursework to more concrete projects. I’m lucky to utilize the knowledge I’ve gained in my Policy in Practice course with Prof. Erica Dobbs and my time at the Phoenix to work in D.C. this summer. This intentional work is meaningful and worth it in the long run, but the preparation for these programs shouldn’t overshadow what we do now, whether at Swarthmore or elsewhere.
Over spring break, I knew I had to engage with the present before coming back to Swat. By lottery, I got tickets to the Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum, and a friend from home and I went and saw it. Each room reached the horizon, but we only had 60 seconds in each small universe. There was almost no time to appreciate the miles of lanterns, patches of glowing gourds, and layers of stickers. Yeah, we snapped a picture in each room, but we made sure that was not the focus of our time in the exhibit. We took time to glide around the platforms and dodge the hanging lights and creeping vines, knowing that we would only have another 30 seconds left before the door would open and the universe would merge with the museum again. My friend and I were able to connect and reconnect as we caught up in the space between us.
We shouldn’t have to run to the end. It’s worthwhile for us to work ahead to reach for goals, but remembering to take time in the present is crucial, so we don’t miss those things and people around us in the meantime.