“They’re like an extension of me when I was trying to find myself and explore and have fun and live my life.”
That’s what Arka Rao ’18, says when asked to speak on his party shoes, a pair of white Vans with blue soles. To be clear, party shoes are those usually ratty, beat-up sneakers that you slide on every time you go out, especially if you have plans to hit up DU at some point. These shoes usually get wrecked in the time it takes to go to one party, but they can be, and usually are used for a relatively long time.
Upon first glance, they may not seem like they hold much meaning, but Rao further comments, “I’ve used them around the world to go out, so I’ve seen a lot of different types of parties and met a lot of new people that I may or may not cross paths with ever again.” Some of these places include Tokyo, where he spent a semester studying abroad; Montreal, where he was able to go sophomore spring break to relax with some friends; and of course, Swarthmore.
In truth, the shoes have come a long way from the pure white color they advertise themselves to be on the Vans website. They hold memories of times long gone and the promise of more good times to come. Their stains are reminders of memories threatening to fade away, they will never be removed from the shoe so long as he vows to sport them. The fact that the shoes themselves are slowly coming undone, dirt and alcohol decorating them, is the biggest and best reminder of all those adventures long gone. So it only follows that a man with such shoes would have more to him than meets the eye.
Found sitting in Cornell hunched over some intricate chemistry problems, Rao is a man of many layers. Though quiet, he is contemplative and understanding, often the man friends go to when the stress becomes too much and everything seems slightly impossible. After all, he himself is a model Swarthmore student — the perfect example of an ambitious student who gets involved in everything and then sets a wild schedule in order to keep up.
As a chemistry major, Rao admits that time definitely gets away from him. He not only has to study and understand all the science being thrown at him, but as a senior, he has major, real-life responsibilities headed his way. He now has to plan around interviews for after graduation and start mapping out his future, while remaining as present as possible on campus, trying to hold on to the last little bit of college still left.
As a senior, he has been through many groups and activities throughout his Swarthmore career. Similar to the shoes, a recent addition to Rao’s life, many things have changed throughout the years but will forever remain as fond memories that make up part of the man Rao is today.
In the past, Rao was a Sexual Health Advocate as well as a Teaching Assistant, and is currently a tutor and a grader. He is heavily invested in his academics, just like most other Swatties, but especially enjoys getting involved in the chemistry department to help those who are perhaps looking to follow his path as a chemistry major.
Rao also used to be a member of Deshi and work at Paces, but now he sticks only to the swim team, remaining an extremely valuable member. Although he carries fond memories of both Deshi and Paces, he’s using his senior year to focus on spending time with his friends and making memories to carry on after graduation. Swim team, according to Rao, not only provides that time to cultivate friendships but also gives him the mental break he needs during the day.
Rao not only has time to engage in swim team through practices and team dinners, but also acts as one of the swim team party captains – hence the need for durable party shoes. As a party captain, he rallies the team and gets everyone together to go out on Saturdays and any Thursday which is not within 48 hours of their next swim meet. Although during their extensive dry season he is forced to take a break, the rest of the year gives Rao new chances to break out his beat-up, once-white Vans and get his friends together for another throwdown, likely to end in lively dancing in DU.
His living arrangements are the stuff of dreams (at least his own). Walking into Worth J, 3rd floor, during his sophomore year, he had no idea what that place would mean to him a couple of years later. Today, that small space holds many treasured memories, and the fact that he’s able to make new ones now with his best friends is really amazing. Although he just moved in this year, he describes it as the place that put him on the map for swim team party captainship his sophomore year, and he says he is happy he was finally able to live there for his last two semesters. After all, this place is where half of the stains from his Vans come from – memories that are refusing to be wiped away.
Described by friends on the swim team as “a quiet guy with so much more going on behind the scenes,” it makes sense that Arka Rao’s party shoe of choice is a shoe that has more to it than meets the eye. A man that is known to be reliable and important in times of crisis should very well be sporting the most reliable shoe available.
And so as it is with Arka Rao, it may perhaps be with you. Look at your party shoes, what do they reflect about you? Why those shoes? Do they hold the same meaning and importance to you as white Vans do to Rao? Perhaps there’s more to those shoes than you might even think meets the eye.