Damien Ding ’18: Swat after 3 years without school? I know how you feel.

4 mins read

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.

I am 21— 22 in October, and an incoming freshman at Swarthmore College.

I haven’t been to school for close to 3 years now.

I used to love math back in high school, but now it just seems like a distant acquaintance. I used to hate exercising but I almost ran last week. My irresponsible idealism has been replaced by a cautious cynicism. While many of the incoming freshman are still shaking off the “high schooler” designations, I am struggling to recall what that ever felt like.

I remember my last months in high school as a white blur (everything in my school was white from the façade to the uniforms to the piles of notes). Everyone around me was studying 24/7 for the ‘A’ Levels, the (not American) test system that’s not IB, and only used in most Commonwealth countries everywhere around the world. I was part of that blur —, wearing my uniform and binge drinking tea while devouring my notes. It all culminated in a mass hysteria of test taking.

The release of results left some very happy and some very sad, but, just like that, high school was very much over.

Two months later, I was in the military. I slept in mud, fired 50 caliber rounds atop armored vehicles, talked to an Indonesian general, and fractured two fingers on my dominant hand. It was a compelling period, but the whole time I was thinking of picking up my pen again. After that, I started a YouTube news commentary show with friends to satiate my hunger for critical discussions, skydived because “Why not?”, and am typing this while working at an art gallery. Having looked forward to starting college for 3 years, now that it is less than a month away, the prospect of hitting the books again is slightly terrifying.

I have been wondering what the first few weeks at Swarthmore will be like for me. It wouldn’t be too difficult to live in a dorm, since I slept in the same room with 10 other guys in the military. But other than that, would it be difficult to connect with others? Is my weird Singaporean English accent understandable? Can I ever bring myself to accept that “color” is spelt without the “u” and it is “realize” not “realise”? Will I ever get used to eating non-Asian food at Sharples? Does Sharples really suck? What about clubs? Oh my god what club am I going to join?

Hey, maybe I do still have some of that high-schooler-excited-for-college feeling.

Class of 2018, I am sure there is one word to best describe how we are feeling: Hyped. It’s going to be a great four years of suntanning on Parrish beach, walking around the Crum Woods, and staying up until 3 am every night because that paper due the next morning is still less than halfway done.


  1. “I remember my last months in high school as a white blur (everything in my school was white from the façade to the uniforms to the piles of notes).”


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