Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
There’s something of a tradition at the Gazette of profiling an incoming student, to bring the rest of the community an annual dose of nostalgia and to make the hundreds of new faces on campus that much more human to the rest of us. This time around we spoke with Philmon Haile and Daniel Cho, both members of the class of 2013.
Daily Gazette: Where are you guys from?
Haile: I’m from Seattle, Washington.
Cho: I’m from Fargo, North Dakota.
DG: So what did you think of the movie? [to Cho, in reference to the Cohen brothers film]
Cho: I had never seen it before, and I think it met my expectations, but I didn’t really understand why it was like a trademark movie for Swarthmore, and maybe just colleges in general. Well, I don’t know if it’s a trademark — not like The Graduate or anything — but I had just heard it was a tradition here at Swat.
DG: How was orientation?
Haile: It was pretty good. They gave us a lot of time to relax, to get more used to the campus and that kind of stuff.
Cho: I think it was definitely worthwhile. Sometimes it felt like we had too much time to ourselves, but in retrospect I think the downtime was definitely worth it, since we get to meet new people, and get adjusted to college life and dorm life.
DG: But you’re ready for classes to start?
Cho: Definitely. Towards the end, you just kind of get—
Haile: —a little bored.
Cho: Yeah, all these workshops, but…
Haile: In the newspaper you can put that we’re finishing our sentences like that, that’s what orientation did.
DG: What’s your least favorite icebreaker?
Haile: The wind game.
Cho: Yeah, the wind game. The Great Wind Blows.
Haile: I mean, it was okay, but after two rounds you run out of things to say. “The great wind blows for people wearing red shirts,” and there’s only one person wearing a red shirt, you know who’s going to lose that round.
Cho: And then you get to a certain point where the person in the middle stands there for a minute or two and then is like, “I really can’t think of anything, guys.”
DG: And your favorite moment of orientation? Or any good moment, doesn’t have to be your favorite.
Cho: My favorite moment was, if this counts, coming here on the first day. I really felt like I was comfortable in this atmosphere, plus I really liked how all the CAs helped us move into the dorms, the CAs were very generous.
Haile: Mine I guess would be just hanging out with your CA group, because it was a good way to make friends, to get a solid group of people that you knew and that you could talk to. The trust walk was pretty good, it was a little long but it was good. I think we walked like a mile during the trust walk.
Cho: I think we walked more than that.
Haile: We walked for like an hour. It was a good thing to hang out with your friends, though. CA groups are a good idea.
DG: Why Swarthmore? You don’t have to recite your admissions essay, but briefly.
Haile: It’s small, especially the small classes. I like how everyone’s really diverse, and especially how it teaches you to aim towards being a globalized citizen, that you’re living not just at Swarthmore and not just in America but as a global citizen. I like that a lot. I really like the whole small town feel, that Philly’s right next to you but you don’t even know. I’ve been here like four days and I have not even stepped near Philly.
Cho: I never really had a lot of support structure back in my school, and so I really like the WAs, the Career Services office, that kind of thing. I thought that it was really impressive: you just feel secure here, because you know that there are programs that’ll help you out when you’re struggling in class or applying for internships or grad schools.
DG: And what are you looking forward to this semester?
Haile: Getting good grades. I hope so, anyway. I guess, really, making friends, meeting people in classes. Orientation’s pretty good that you get a good group of friends from your CA group, but I’m more interested in political science, peace and conflict studies; people in my CA group liked dance and music and that kind of stuff. That’s cool, but I want to make a good group of friends with the same kind of interests and the same major and then we can study together, that kind of stuff.
Cho: Getting to know the professors really well, and seeing how much we can learn, I suppose.
Haile: Yeah, getting to know the professors is good. Add that to mine, make him look bad. [Laughter]
DG: What’s one unique thing about each of you?
Cho: I can speak about four hundred words per minute.
DG: Can I get a sample?
Cho: Well, I need something to read.
Here Cho read from an introductory economics textbook Haile had with him. He read at an impressive speed while still being comprehensible, but said that he was unsatisfied with his performance. His speed reading skills come from practice for parliamentary debate tournaments, and since he hasn’t debated in a while he doesn’t think he’s anywhere near his peak right now. After the interview (and a little bit of practice), he recorded a 99-word paragraph from that text in 17 seconds, for a speed of about 350 words per minute. Listen below.
Haile: I can’t talk that fast, for sure. Hmm. Well, I can speak three languages fluently: English, Tigrinya, and Mandarin Chinese. I was in China for a year, and I was born in Eritrea; I came here when I was five. Tigrinya is the national language of Eritrea, which is an East African country. Other than that, I don’t know. I’m a first-generation immigrant, that’s it. Take that, four hundred word-per-minute speaker!