Academic rigor is something that all Swatties love to hate. More than pride, it is an intrinsic part of Swarthmore culture, perpetuated by misery poker and shirts proclaiming, “Anywhere else it would have been an A.” The most recent ranking by Cappex that marks Swarthmore as the #1 hardest school acknowledges what most students already knew.
Stress is no stranger to people on campus. Considering the high achievers that comprise Swat’s student body, students probably prefer some amount of pressure for motivation. as it allows them to achieve more than they thought possible. But like with anything, moderation is key. This is the paradoxical situation I sometimes find myself in, something I know I am not alone in feeling that I want to be involved in everything at once while not wanting to do any of my work, at times, overwhelmed by the number of commitments I’ve made.
Again and again, I’ve been told I have plenty of time in college to explore new fields, but each time pre-registration comes around, I find myself struggling to choose between this course or that one, because although four credits is not enough to satiate my academic interests, I know realistically that anything more would limit my depth of learning. From cultural to occupational to recreational, the endless list of clubs is astounding. Signing up is easy, but actually becoming involved is another story; only when several organizations decide to schedule their meetings all on the same date, at the same time, does it become apparent that there is never enough time to do it all.
Time is precious — a point emphasized in college. If one weren’t fully occupied enough with readings, essays, lab reports and presentations, there is still the never-ending slew of events on campus ranging from symposia to concerts to cultural events. Amidst a constantly stimulating environment when is one to rest? To take a breather? The onslaught of FOMO — fear of missing out — transforms what might have been a free hour of relaxation into a foosball faceoff with friends.
There is a distinct difference between a lazy day at home and a lazy day at Swarthmore. Between the 24/7 academic and social stimulation — burning the wick at both ends — the thought of free time is a misnomer that only freshmen would be fooled into believing. Even during breaks, there are tangible laundry lists of assignments that need to be completed, readings to catch up on, worksheets and essays looming. There comes a point when you realize that the usual 3 a.m. bedtime is, in reality, not normal at all. Burning out isn’t an option, it’s an inevitability — the only variable is when it will happen. Maybe you’re able to avoid it an entire year, using the pent-up academic boredom and frustration from high school to fuel your ambitions, so it becomes the generic “sophomore slump.” Or maybe high school senioritis slithers over so that YOPFO becomes a motto to live by.
It isn’t that you lack ambition — if anything, it is the opposite of that. The issue is that you are overly ambitious and want to capitalize on every presented opportunity: yes is more. But always saying yes is also not a sustainable lifestyle. How does one effectively deal with this? Complexity is something that compounds, and life only gets more convoluted with more factors, more history to complicate and influence every decision, so it’s best to figure out how to deal with it all now.
So, what does it really mean, that every student at Swarthmore has intentionally chosen to be in this high intensity environment? Are we all crazy or prematurely preparing ourselves for the future like the overachievers we are? Surviving Swat is a feat recognized by many. There is a reason that the name Swarthmore — no matter if you say it SwARTHmore, SwOTHmore, or Swat — garners an impressed pat on the back, raised eyebrows and bragging rights. More than merely being statistically difficult to be accepted, having a large endowment and employing a notable array of professors, Swarthmore is a mental test. It is having the willpower to struggle through the mountains of work. It is being overwhelmed with obligations and not knowing where to begin, but beginning somewhere anyway. It is knowing when to sacrifice what you want to do for what you need to do, and learning, as difficult as it may be, the power of no. Swarthmore is going to give us an education, but it’s also going to teach us to understand the value and long-term benefits over short-term costs of engaging in any given activity. By graduation, we will ideally be able to evaluate, prioritize, schedule and feel some semblance of organization and control over all the craziness thrown at us. Regardless of the grades we leave with by the end of four years, as long as we’ve successfully passed the Swat stress test, we should be prepared to handle whatever is going to fall upon us once the bubble pops.