Quite simply, I didn’t. After the end of finals my freshman year, I had about a week at home and then I was back on campus to start my internship in the Admissions Office. I began the job on May 29 and dutifully gave tours and stuffed letters right up until August 31. Even while I may have not physically left campus for an extended amount of time, the feeling of being “at school” noticeably changed.
Campus over the summer, as well as the town of Swarthmore itself, dies down to a quiet buzz with a softer underlying energy. The walkways are empty and the noise of construction displaces the sounds of students talking and laughing during the year. The students who are on campus are often holed up in a lab or classroom, or working in Philadelphia. Finding signs of life on campus is a task. Not a particularly difficult one, but still requires some effort. Essie’s at lunch and the Matchbox in the evenings were consistently the places I could be reminded that people other than my coworkers existed.
Swarthmore in the summer was unbelievably and uncharacteristically relaxed. Having no assignments, readings, quizzes, tests, problem sets, or anything of that sort made being on campus eerily stress-free.
I was able to go into Philly, and eat at Nifty Fifty’s during the weekdays. I even went bowling a few times and cooked my own meals (which didn’t always go so well). It was really nice being able to spend time with my friends and not worry about a daunting laundry list of homework that needed to be done.
I did, however, encounter something over the summer that is hard to find during the school year: boredom. And I don’t mean the kind of bored while sitting through an extra painful lecture, I mean “having no idea what to do with yourself that you go to bed at 8 p.m. repeatedly” bored.
But soon enough, Swarthmore started to come back to life and, at least for the moment, I am really excited to not be bored anymore.
I get asked a lot if I’m sick of campus and I was surprised when I realized I don’t feel that way at all. In a way, being in this weird, dystopian version of Swarthmore over the summer while having to give almost 100 tours talking about how great the college is during the year really geared me up for my sophomore year to start. Yes, I am terrified of the sophomore slump, but I am ultimately excited for the year to come despite knowing how difficult it is going to be. But as I say to a lot of prospective students who ask if we have social lives or if it is really as hard as people say it is, that’s kind of the point and that’s why we chose to be at Swarthmore in the first place.
On my campus tours, I see a lot of dead expressions with glazed-over eyes while families are on their ninth college visit of the week. I also get a lot of high school students who are glued to their phones, or scolding their parents because they asked a question and subsequently embarrassed them or, my personal favorite, students who had no idea that we don’t have a graduate school. But on rare occasions, I’ll get that one high school senior who is so excited to go to college (or at least excited to not be in high school anymore) and brightens up at the mention of classes and actually laughs when I talk about Screw Your Roommate. I see how visibly animated those students are and I think about how much I wanted to go to Swat and be in college as a high school senior. I think about finally moving in and about getting immediately swept away by the incredibly fast pace of things here. While my sentiment at the end of spring semester was one that dreaded experiencing burnout again, experiencing a watered-down, slow-motion Swarthmore made me crave the vitality of campus, stress and all, during the academic year.
Watching campus slowly come back to life as first years arrived on campus for orientation and then as returning students moved into their rooms helped me forget that I had been at Swat since May. I missed taking way too long to get from one place to another because I keep running into people I know. I am also beyond excited to take classes this semester even though it technically means I should be one step closer to having to decide what I want to major in.
Even though I literally never left, it does actually feel like I am “back” on campus. This year will be crazy, difficult, and crazy difficult. Realistically, I know that at some point I will be sick of all of this. But as I am sitting in Cornell talking about cactus humidifiers and dolphin testicles with a mountain of work to do when I am only three days into the semester (typical Swat), I am really glad to be here for another year of Swarthmore.