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Saying Goodbye

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The summer I was eleven I got a hand-me-down dress from my cousin. The dress was perfect. It was pale green with little orange flowers and it fit exactly right. It wasn’t frilly. It was simple and wonderful. Wearing it made me feel quietly special, like Mary Lennox and Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls all rolled into one. I wore my green dress often that summer and into the fall, while the leaves were still on the trees and most days were warm. But the next June it didn’t fit right anymore. It pinched my shoulders and didn’t even reach the top of my knees. I was devastated. I wasn’t ready to give up that quiet specialness.

When I run through the Crum there’s a particular spot that makes me feel like I’m wearing that dress again. Past the water tower there is a trail where spicebush and witch-hazel flank either side of the path and bend towards each other, creating an archway. When leaves are just starting to appear on the trees the entire trail turns a pale yellow-green. There is never anyone there at 5:00 in the afternoon and it’s as if it exists for me alone. Shadows dance on the ground ahead of me as I run through my own light-filled tunnel—quietly special.

More often than not, goodbyes have been something that have happened to me and not something I have chosen for myself. In some ways graduation is no exception. I have been working towards graduation for four years now, and also its imminent approach is beyond my control.

There are undoubtedly aspects of Swarthmore I will not miss. I will not miss the stress of living in a community that uses overwork as its predominant coping mechanism. I will not miss the mentality that academia is the be-all-end-all of knowing. I will not miss the desperation of  trying to simultaneously understand a scientific paper and comfort a panicked friend at 2 am.

And there are many things at Swarthmore that I don’t feel quite ready to leave behind — my professors, my friends, the Crum. The lesson in that dress though, I think, is that saying goodbye is nuanced. I am saying goodbye to the Swarthmore community and to the Crum Woods. But I’m not saying goodbye to how these things have made me feel. I am not saying goodbye to stress, or desperation, or awe, or gratitude.

The summer I was twelve, when I finally did concede defeat and put my green dress in the pile of clothes that no longer fit, I had no idea that seven years down the road a trail in a small Pennsylvanian woods would make me feel just as quietly special. I’m trying to hold onto that now as we take on our last week of classes as undergraduates, tumbling closer to the inevitable end that is graduation. I am going to feel stress and desperation and gratitude and awe again, in new communities and new relationships and in many situations I would never expect to feel them. For me, there is comfort in knowing that I found quiet specialness both in a well-worn dress and years later on an early-spring woods trail. It means this is probably not the last time I will find it.  

Spring at Swarthmore

in Campus Journal by

Spring is the beginning of everything. A time when we can brush off the dust from the mistakes and regrets we kept hidden all winter, and step outside and find a refreshing new take on our lives. Even here at Swarthmore, the little college bubble we all (for the most part) happily reside in, spring seems to have taken on a persona of new beginnings. When spring rolls in, with its bright flowers and warmer weather, it’s as though a whole new persona has taken over the whole of Swarthmore College. It’s certainly a persona that’s worth enjoying, even if it’s only around for a short time.

Deadlines are still speeding at us faster than we realize, and exams loom closer with every warmer day that passes, and yet, a feeling of calm and serenity seems to have recently settled over us. A new sense of, “You know what? Maybe I can do it.” A bittersweet realization that yet another year has slipped right by, each class reacting to it slightly differently.

Of course, spring at Swarthmore is also so much more than new beginnings. For first years, spring at Swarthmore comes with the scary realization that the first year is almost over. The year when you’re supposed to take time to figure out who you are and what you want, the year where pass/fail protects you, the year where everything is new and nothing is the same as before — all that is gone. And soon you’ll be a sophomore and you’ll know what to expect and the surprises will diminish and with that comes the fear that maybe, the excitement might fade. But there’s also a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of pride in the fact that no matter how many times freshman year tried to beat you up, you made it through and you’ve almost come out on the other side. Spring means a year has passed since your last high school milestones, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be alright.

For sophomores, spring carries with it some serenity with the knowledge that they made it halfway through, and they can now confidently give straight answers to the big major question. Spring means another year gone by, another year full of ups downs, but another year conquered, and perhaps that brings about some fear — because in fact, the years are passing maybe just a little too quickly and maybe the flowers aren’t as bright as you remembered last year, and maybe you need more new beginnings than spring is willing to give you. But somehow, it will work out because it did your freshman year, and because the sun is finally coming out again and because people are finally smiling and laughing a lot more than usual and something deep down promises you that it will, in fact, be okay.

For our juniors, spring must be a mix of emotions. You know how things work, how the years always seem to fly by, and yet, you’re still surprised, slightly unsettled by how another year is wrapping up. You look to the future and may see a blank canvas just like you might see a bright watercolor of your hopes and dreams, but either way, you tend to avoid looking in that direction. That direction has uncertainty and is unsettling to try and understand and plan, so instead you focus on the here and now. Spring is the time you can unwind a bit, enjoy your friends and the campus you live on, and remember to smile a little more; you’ve made it thus far, an accomplishment big enough to smile about.


And last, but certainly not least, our seniors. Spring for you, well, spring is something else. Spring is the start of a new person, once again, the start of a new life outside the bubble we all have grown to be so familiar with. Along with the blooming of the flowers, you wistfully smile and remember the years you were still able to be at ease with the idea that next year, you’d be back in another cramped dorm bed. But now, for the very first time, you aren’t sure where you’ll be in a year. So spring means everything to you. It means the end of so many chapters, the end of what you’ve known so well for four years, which may seem a bit sad. But spring also means the opening of doors, it means the start of a new life and the start of a new adventure, one that you have little to no clue how it’ll end. It means something new and yes, maybe a little scary, but nonetheless something exciting — for seniors, it’s a time in your lives you’re unlikely to ever forget, a time you’ll probably carry in your hearts forever.


So what is spring at Swarthmore? Honestly, it’s debatable, and I can’t pretend to sit here and have all the answers. What I can say is that spring is full of new and wonderful beginnings for people here at Swat, a time to find themselves again after the cold winter months and a time to enjoy the vitamin D instead of sitting hunched over a textbook in McCabe. And yes, of course, it’ll be different for each and every one of you, but it most certainly will not be a disappointment.

Changes to senior giving program prompt considerations to college giving

in Around Campus/News by

This spring semester, the Alumni and Parent Engagement Office and the Student Philanthropy Council have encouraged seniors to donate to the college before their graduation this May. This year has prompted more discussion, however, due to initiatives that include a gift-matching program as well as an option to allow seniors to choose to which college group their gift goes. Seniors have largely appreciated these measures as a way to make their gifts more meaningful, but they still hesitate to give to the college so immediately.

In past years, the Alumni and Parent Engagement Office found problems in attracting donations from the graduating class and having students train others in the program. Assistant Director of Marketing for the Alumni and Parent Engagement Office Sarah Thompson outlined issues in the program that this year’s changes hope to remedy.

“Senior giving at Swarthmore used to be tied to fundraising for a particular item on campus such as bench or tree. This model proved problematic over the years as students who were not interested in funding for this initiative were not able to direct their giving to another area of campus,” Thompson said. “We’ve now changed this model so that students may donate to any of the over 600 current use funds within The Swarthmore Fund. This allows students to support what they are passionate about on campus. So, if, for example, you want to designate your senior gift to the President’s Climate Change Commitment Fund to support sustainability issues on campus, you can do so.”

SPC has filled a noticeable gap in the giving initiative. Its members have undergone training in sessions with Thompson and the college’s student phonathon program. Thompson went on to describe the role SPC has begun to fill this academic year.

“Few students were interested in running for [the Senior Gift Officer] position, and there was no continuity or institutional knowledge that could be passed down after the Senior Gift Officer graduated. There are also were no underclassmen educating their peers about why philanthropy matters before their senior year,” she said. “Student Philanthropy Council is open to students of all years and everyone plays a role in helping with senior giving events and in running philanthropy education events for students of all years. The students are hopeful that model will be more sustainable, and they can better pass down knowledge about how to improve senior giving year after year,” she continued.

SPC has provided more structure to the giving process. By adding giving-themed activities and opening communication with different campus organizations, including dialogues with athletic groups, the philanthropy organization hopes to educate seniors about the impact their donations make. Co-Chair of SPC Sarah Tupchong ’17 stated SPC’s mission and its attempts to fill its new role.

SPC’s mission is to educate the importance of philanthropy to underclassmen, and promote giving back to Swarthmore to Seniors … We have completely revamped the senior gift campaign by having more senior-giving-related events, and with the #BreakValsBank challenge,” Tupchong said.

The #BreakValsBank challenge is an initiative through SPC, President Valerie Smith, and Manager David McElhinny ’75 to increase the money going towards campus groups. For every donation a senior gives to the college, Smith and McElhinny will each match the gift, meaning a senior’s gift will be three times the initial amount.

This initiative and the ability to donate to specific campus groups have become a draw for seniors. Kat Galvis Rodríguez ’17 detailed how these changes to the program made her more inclined to give.

“I did not plan on giving this year, but after I found out about the new challenge and about how we could donate to specific groups, I ended up donating during the wine tasting with President Smith senior class event, which is also when she announced the #BreakValsBank challenge that she was participating in,” Galvis Rodríguez said. “Honestly, I never really gave before because I didn’t know too much about it or where the money would go. But with this challenge she announced and in talking to some students in the Philanthropy club, I was more motivated to donate.”

Galvis Rodríguez expanded on her thoughts, arguing that her gift was impactful to a meaning

“[The #BreakValsBank challenge and the group-designation initiative] made me way more inclined to donate because I knew that even if I could not donate a lot, it would be multiplied. Also, … you could donate it to the dean’s discretionary fund for underrepresented students, to a specific affinity / identity group, a club, a sport’s team, [or] financial aid,” she said. “I felt more secure in the fact that the money I was donating was going to a group I care very much about and one that I have been involved in since my first semester Freshman year, which is ENLACE (the latinx student group on campus). I also plan on donating again sometime later in the semester to other causes on campus that I am passionate about and I hope others do as well.”

Thompson stressed the potential for the benefits gifts can provide the campus community and its constituents.

“The old model also focused more on dollars, and now the focus is more heavily focused on participation. We know that seniors don’t necessarily have a lot of money to give, but it truly is the act of donating and donating consistently that matters most,” she said.

The Alumni and Parent Engagement Office has put in place different measures to make the senior giving program more accessible and impactful. Seniors seem excited by the program, but it will be seen how the Class of 2017 will interact with the college as it heads towards graduation.

Threshold: thoughts on senior fall

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

This opinions piece doesn’t have much of a thesis. That is not to say that it doesn’t have a message. As I get older, I realize that life and its academic study cannot and should never be boiled down to neat argumentative statements. While I embody an array of identities, I nonetheless cannot live as simply an amalgamation of cultural notions, the likes of which can be studied through some sort of theoretical system or best understood through this or that school of thought. I suppose all of these thoughts are happening at the most opportune time. Going into this semester, I knew things were going to be challenging. I am a senior Honors major, applying to more than ten graduate programs, and studying for my Graduate Record Examination while also scrambling to find a way to pay for my graduate education. This summer, as I was mentally preparing myself for this adventure, I knew that it would all come together, and I am still confident that it will. Yet, I still find that I wake up certain mornings flustered and confused despite all of the work that there is to be done. I have so many obligations that I often don’t have time to just procrastinate or enjoy what few days of sunshine are left. As the winter approaches, I’ll lose much of my enthusiasm and drive. All of these thoughts crash about in my head as I walk to class with my headphones on, trying not to be there.

As I write this post, I glance down occasionally at the introduction to my Honors thesis. I keep telling people “it’s going to be over a hundred pages,” which is nearly 30 pages over the average maximum page count. I say this not because I am masochistic — although I am — but because I realize that my topic is perhaps too encompassing and my passion for it too engrossing to stop at the suggested 70-page limit. In my head, I want to do a good job, for my thesis has political and personal implications. I approach my work not simply as a student charged with an arbitrary task, but as someone legitimately invested in using the opportunity to write a paper on a topic as a way of “uncovering” the often understated or overlooked realities of the world. I know, it’s quite a grandiose and self-serving idea, to think that you are “discovering” something, but I cannot help it. I am quite zealous about writing, and in many ways it makes me deeply self-conscious. This is the third time I have printed this chapter of my thesis. With a red pen, I will meticulously go over my writing, pick and prod here and there until it makes sense, only to return with a black pen to question my first set of comments. I am wondering if this is actually productive or just another manifestation of this never-ending process of cutting myself down to size. Everyone has idiosyncrasies, but I find that mine reveal disturbing parts of my personality I am reticent or perhaps afraid to address.

I am already beginning to feel burnt out by senior year. At first, I went to parties and had fun, finding that time was moving too slowly for my tastes. The first few weeks of September moved at a slow crawl, but now time is beginning to accelerate at a pace with which I am not at all comfortable. I find that I am focusing on things that other seniors are not: grad school and fellowship applications, various jobs around campus, running student organizations and planning events. As I try to stay focused and induce tunnel vision, I find that I still glance around and feel quite lonely where I am. There aren’t many people I can talk to about this process without being lauded for “having my shit together,” although in my mind, I do not. I’ve found that I don’t have time to be anxious this semester, to take a day off from class to lie in my bed and watch TV as I would have when I was younger. I subconsciously avoid situations which would cause me distress, which is both lovely and bizarre at the same time. It is such a strange sentiment to think “Damn, I wish had less going on in my life,” but I find that that is what I think when I sit down every morning and write out my to-do list.

All the while, I feel less and less tolerant of Swarthmore every day. Although I didn’t necessarily want to go home during break—primarily because there’s just as little to do at home as there is to do here—I nonetheless found, after being back on campus for less than thirty seconds that I did not want to be here, either. My time here is quickly coming to an end, and while I am sad to leave my home of three years, I am more than ready to make that plunge into the mysteries and obscurities of “adult living.” My future remains completely undefined and ominous, but I still find that I am more accepting of whatever awaits me than the idea of staying here any longer.

This piece is just an assortment of thoughts which I have found the energy to boil down into words in the passing period between classes and meetings. It doesn’t have much of a purpose, but it does have a message. Despite the ways that we perceive the lives of others, using ourselves as the only decent metric by which we can arbitrarily determine the worth of others’ lives, we nonetheless live with the same degree of uncertainty and disquiet, which manifest in the actions we are conscripted to accomplish and the conditions which inhibit our ability to act. While I may promote the illusion of put-togetherness, I find myself, just like everyone else, wondering what’s the point of it all, flinging my eyes open to the sun every morning and wondering, “Why bother?” And although I wait momentarily for a response that will never come, I still get up and move about my day with the hope that one day it’ll be clear to me, even if my faith, with each passing day, starts to run dry.

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