Nearly four years ago, I attended a Phoenix interest meeting after the first day of classes and found out the paper was looking for columnists. I volunteered to write a column that week, hoping to get my foot in the door. Ever since, I have been a regular columnist.
I started writing with one goal in mind: to bring a conservative perspective to campus that I already felt was missing after only a week here. At the time, there was no conservative or even Republican-oriented group on campus, only rumors about why the last group failed. When I tried to start one with a good friend of mine, the StuCo board at the time was extraordinarily hostile, saying a College Republicans group already existed. We all knew that it did not exist, making the experience an unfortunate start to my time here.
I realized that by writing I would define myself politically early in my Swarthmore career. “Better earlier than later,” I thought at the time, and I embraced the label and the challenge.
Sometimes I regret calling my column “The Swarthmore Conservative.” While I am a conservative, I have written about more than politics in this column. Certain issues have arisen on campus that I felt I needed to address, and at those times I really wanted to be looked at only as a fellow Swattie. Advocating against the fraternity referendum, supporting Robert Zoellick ’79’s honorary degree, complaining about the Swarthmore tendency to not reply to e-mails, and explaining why Robert George ’78 did not deserve the treatment he received, are not “conservative” positions, per se. Nor are they minority views on this campus.
At other times, the label has been an important heuristic for understanding what you are getting yourself into by reading. Sometimes you may end up agreeing with my position, or at least realize that the conservative raises a good point. Thanks to all you Swatties who have come up to me in Sharples when this was the case. That experience is something many of us will never again have, as we go into the polarized political world.
One thing I have never shared in a meaningful way is how I came to be a conservative. Once people get to know my background, they are always surprised that I do not fit their mistaken perception of what conservatives are. Usually the dealbreaker is that I am actually on a full scholarship to Swarthmore right now, and not from some uppity suburb of an American city. Nor am I from some “backwards southern town” (their words, not mine) that, as President Obama says, clings to guns and religion.
I grew up in a small town of around 7,000 people, an hour from Boston, an hour from the ocean and an hour from the mountains. I definitely spent most of my childhood outdoors in all seasons, swimming in the many free lakes and climbing the mountains we have in New Hampshire. Going into Boston was a rarity, particularly due to the cost. The “city” was Concord, our small state capital.
When I was younger, the only politics I heard about were from my parents and the people at my church. Growing up, my parents identified as moderate Democrats like so many other working class Americans. They embraced the “independent” label we have in New Hampshire, where you can still vote in either party’s primary. But they were definitely Democrats. This has changed in recent years, as my parents have come to see Washington care less and less about the middle class.
Neither of my parents went to college, yet I watched both of them excel in jobs where everyone else had a college degree: my mom as an accountant, my dad as a financial sales representative. The 2008 financial crisis was hard on my family, and the Dodd-Frank regulations pretty much ruined by dad’s ability to do his job. The little guy was hurt by this new regulatory scheme more than you could ever know. As a result I spent my time at Swarthmore on significant financial aid.
Despite neither of my parents attending college, it was always assumed I would go. They told me about the “mistakes” they made in the past and how they have had to work around not having that college degree at this point. They still believe that getting a college degree removes a barrier to entry to the world. My parents want for me what was not so easy for them.
Over time, as I have written on these pages, I have come to see less value in everyone attending college. Many degree programs teach skills better learned on the job, and with much less debt. For myself, I want to become an attorney, which requires the type of education I am receiving. But I have no desire to push that education on others who have aspirations that do not require this experience.
This is one of the reasons I became a conservative many years ago. While I would never deny that many Americans face significant barriers to achieving their goals that cannot be overcome, I still believe that working hard pays off and should pay off. At times I thought coming to Swarthmore was really the end for me. I sacrificed a lot to get good enough grades in my small New Hampshire high school to attend an institution like Swarthmore. But over the past few years I have realized this place is only the start. Going to an institution consistently ranked as a top three liberal arts college means very little if you do not put in the effort, from freshman fall to senior spring. That’s something the elite in this country misses all the time. Right now, I can only hope this hard work will pay off in the coming years.
Work ethic is a value my parents instilled in me growing up and one that I am glad Swarthmore’s academics seem to uphold. I’m not convinced that this is the case at many colleges.
Perhaps this is the reason that despite all the recent controversy Swarthmore has endured, I still have a love for this place that is sometimes inexplicable. Perhaps I separate the few inept administrators I have dealt with during my time here from the rest of the institution (and the majority of the administrators’ for that matter). After all, what makes Swarthmore is the people — the students, the faculty and the staff.
Thank you for reading over these past eight semesters. Whether you agree with me or posted my column on Facebook complaining about my position, thank you. It’s not easy consistently writing a column every two weeks, on top of all the other demands we have as Swatties.
I ask you to remember one more thing — there are at least two sides to every story. You have not developed an opinion unless you have made an effort to comprehend the other side and see the opinion as legitimate. In the end, you’ll be better because of the effort. Understanding what others think makes our convictions stronger.