A Love Letter to Swarthmore’s Peripeteia

I first heard about the group Peripeteia soon after I arrived at Swarthmore. An email about it appeared in my freshly activated Zimbra inbox, whose announcement noted their first open office hours — I believe — ever, located in Shane Lounge. I planned to drop by after one of my classes on a weekday afternoon. Upon arriving, I was immediately offered donuts. I had never met any of the members, but graciously approached them with a question about the opportunity. Amidst my excitement, I expressed my persistent passion for teaching. When asked about my ideas for classes, I shared my vision of doing one on the 2000s sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. The members of Peripeteia all welcomed my enthusiasm with a brief explanation of the program’s purpose and, of course, encouragement to officially participate. In the following months, I was duly initiated into the process.

Throughout my first year, I privately anticipated teaching my course, gradually and independently forging the components to my instruction. I was assigned a specific contact within the committee scheduling my course, and met with them about designing and providing for my course. They met with me individually, offered faculty assistance, and liberty in deciding any additional course designations. Any friends I acquired in that time heard about my journey through my enlistment and excitement for its concept. Along the way, of course, I was already carrying its banner in explaining its meaning. By way of the group’s infectious hospitality, I would satisfy the occasional inquiry, telling those that “Peripeteia means a sudden ‘shift’ or ‘reversal in circumstance.’” (I would only find out later this was a riff off Reed College’s older tradition of Paideia.) And no wonder, I was steadily brainstorming and organizing the details of my course through and up until that second week of the Spring semester — the inaugural Peripeteia weekend. I dedicated hours away from focus on my studies to plan my presentation.

Though still adjusting to the Swarthmore workload, I garnered the confidence to fully structure about an hour-long lecture, finally titled: Malcolm in the Middle & Wholesomeness: An analysis of character, consequence, and conferment. Despite my minimal training in film or media theory, I planned to touch upon character development, plot arcs, and moral motifs identifiable within the series. The moments before commencing, one of the members checked in on my classroom to confirm everything continued as scheduled. Through a bit of small talk, I brushed off the bit of anxiety creeping up. Not too long after, there began the gradual trickle and then a completely surprising stream of people entering the classroom. There may have been over a dozen attendees, very, very few of whom I knew personally, yet all of whom voluntarily sought to attend my talk that cloudy Saturday afternoon. Before turning off the lights, I realized these peers of mine expressed genuine interest in seeing my talk, and every single one of them intently watched as I swallowed my slight stage-fright and commenced my lecture. Despite my own doubts, I flipped through several diagrams, and analyzed and played clips during my allotted time-slot to my audience’s delight. It was the first time I had the chance to occupy that many people’s attention for so long on a subject of my total choosing. I retired right after, too tired from preparing and presenting, unfortunately missing the courses of my fellow instructors. I attended the Winter Formal later that night with my friends who I had urged not to come in my typical nervousness, despite their intended support.

Later that semester, after thinking I would not encounter Peripeteia for another year, I received a personalized message from a member of Peripeteia, inviting me to join their planning committee. News of this travelled across states as I shared this ecstatically with everyone including my roommate at the time. I felt immense gratitude for having been recognized by such innovators. I replied the next day affirmatively to their request and, of course, confirmed my attendance to their next meeting. For the remainder of the semester, I attended and spectated at their almost perfectly-attended weekly meetings. I was already a rather quiet freshman and was especially so amidst this group of people. Every single Saturday, I trekked out from my Mary Lyons dorm room, up the hill, and onward to the complete opposite end of the campus.

The days got longer and the temperature rose steadily during my first rainy spring at Swat. Soon enough, I had become one of them: unconsciously committed to our weekly 4 p.m. meeting in the lounge-kitchenette on the primary floor of the-now-extinct Papazian Hall. One could hardly note the serious business conducted within those walls. I only remember seeing them slung over the couches, propped against the side of them, or seated attentively on the them as the high sun shone through the drapes on the windows. On those days, I considered it my privilege to be gradually acquainted with the juniors and couple of sophomores on the team. They were mostly S.T.E.M. and social science majors with a heavy interest in mathematics and linguistics.

Honored to have been tapped to join the club, I graciously listened and learned as the cohort threw ideas, names, places, etc. around at their weekly assembly. While there was no explicit leader or chain of command, they worked better than a well-oiled machine.  You could barely tell they were a simple band of friends breathing life into a dream-turned-project-turned-campus-tradition. They playfully and diligently compiled and shared proposals, brainstorming, task items, and meeting notes virtually every weekend that semester. And every time, we would take turns announcing updates, relaying messages from administrators, or revealing our latest idea or conversation with a fellow member. Everyone had their respective strengths and responsibilities. It was only appropriate that I eventually assume a vital position on the crew thereafter. I was eventually tagged to be the treasurer for the group  — to conduct my first Swat budget proposal on a wet, cloudy weekend evening later that semester — a Swarthmore rite in itself. They even seamlessly switched their established line of communications on Facebook to Slack because I was (and still am) “not on Facebook.”

That spring, I watched as they planned additional Prelude events where they collectively arranged and executed a panel discussion with faculty from separate disciplines gathering to discuss a single topic. The custom at that point was to have a single person in the gang take charge of their own Prelude but receive help from the fellow members in carrying out the logistics. My chance wouldn’t come until the following Fall when I was appointed to organize the second Prelude of the semester. We had just grown our P.I.L.E. listserv—Peripeteia’s Interdisciplinary List of Events — a weekly digest of departmental events, and it was time to further expand our presence. This event, as per design, was supposed to draw attention and press to the upcoming 2nd Annual Peripeteia Weekend.

The timing of the event happened to fall the week of the 2016 Presidential election and the topic — even more timely — happened to be on the delicate topic of “Diversity.” I headed the effort that managed to secure the presence of Professors Allison Dorsey and Sa’ed Atshan and President Valerie Smith. Unfortunately, however, I had chipped my front tooth, scarred my chin, and locked my jaw from attempting to hang posters on rollerblades that week. And yet, I dressed up, introduced, and moderated the event as my colleagues watched from the sidelines. And to this day, I have felt only debt to the group for guiding me and assisting me in coordinating an event of such scale.

I continue to feel gratitude for my elder counterparts in Peripeteia whose endeavors have left a mark on the campus and who have heavily contributed to my own personal growth. I write this anecdote as a commemoration to the earnest roots of Peripeteia. Its development stems from the collaboration of individuals seeking nothing more than to enrich their own, along with others’ liberal arts experiences. As I remember it, Peripeteia was founded on curiosity, cooperation, and magnanimity. The sincerity of the group’s mission fundamentally reflects the bonds between their founders. And its survival today hinges on those who have graduated’s demonstrated support and faith in me as their successor in maintaining Peripeteia’s identity, presence, and impact.

My experience as the subsequent torchbearer of Peripeteia could best be exemplified by this one moment my sophomore semester. Before the wheels really began turning that semester, the grand Activities Fair took place on Parrish Beach for all the campus to behold. I agreed to help table at Peripeteia’s post and watched as the group faced the entire community in presenting itself as the viable entity it had proved it was. And I tried to absorb all I could of their confidence in the enterprise. Not before long, however, did the arguable mastermind behind it all, turn to me and prompt me to brief the passersby on the background and intent of Peripeteia myself. We plan, finance, and execute a Weekend-long event where students, faculty, staff, or anyone can instruct their own course on anything they want. Also… Still, though I stumbled on my delivery, not finishing it the first time, this single act captured the sentiment of encouragement despite fear, persistence in the face of uncertainty, and risk for the sake of gain.

I have been very proud in having joined and most recently, directed the Peripeteia Planning Committee. I have learned so much from my former peers that I would not have otherwise. To this day, although practically the most authoritative voice on the team, I refuse to call myself anything more than simply its most senior member. The Swarthmore-chartered group continues to possess and wield its original creative freedom, still with much support from the Dean’s Office and faculty all around. Joining Peripeteia, from the very beginning, however, was more than just participating in a campus activity; I felt akin from the very beginning. Everything from its flexible concept to its robust execution lends itself to the Swarthmore personality. Four years later, attending several courses, I was only reassured of the reliability for Swatties, when given the opportunity, to deliver on their purposeful passions and knowledge.

Peripeteia has offered an unprecedented model and venue for Swarthmore students to share and effectively expound upon their quirks and niches. Though in the works for a couple of years amongst the elder members of the committee, their finally inaugurated festival weekend had only written so much in stone. Longevity and success only meant continued dedication, communication, and memory. As a solely student-run group, the organization must continue to foster the connection between class years and cohorts in bequeathing best practices and measures. The same way they had invested in me like any offspring budding into a family, I hope my own successors, and beyond, follow with the same attitudes. As I am sure my own mentors intended, I wish for Peripeteia to further sprout in this spirit as it courageously establishes itself on Swarthmore grounds.

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