As the only class to begin their college career fully remotely, the Class of 2024 attended every part of their first-year orientation, including First Collection, virtually. First Collection, a Swarthmore tradition held in the Scott Amphitheater, usually consists of speeches from the President of the college, a member of the faculty, and a member of the concurrent senior class, and is concluded with the lighting of candles and a hand-shaking tradition, all of which serve to bring the first years together. This year, the Class of 2024 participated in Swarthmore’s first “Second Collection” on September 4, 2021, now as sophomores.
Blaine Thomas ’24 told The Phoenix in an interview that she’d mentioned the idea of a Second Collection to Andrew Barclay, director of student activities.
“I was talking with Andrew Barclay over the summer about it, and I was like, ‘Hey, we should do this.” And he was like, “Yeah, let’s do it. It’s no skin off my back,’” she said.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Ell Rose ’24 recalled their experience attending the virtual collection last Fall.
“It was one mildly disappointing Zoom thing … in a year plus of mildly disappointing Zoom things,” they said. “It really didn’t live up to the beauty that I had heard First Collection could have just because we were all in our rooms, and we had fake plastic candles, and we were in really awkward breakout rooms with people we’d never met before, and it just it didn’t feel like it translated very well.”
Second Collection consisted mostly of students responding to queries posed by Dean of First Year Students Karen Henry, and Associate Dean of Academic Success Liz Derickson, following a period of contemplative silence to start the night. Henry invited students to share their thoughts on topics such as the uniquely difficult 2020-2021 academic year.
Thomas particularly enjoyed hearing the thoughts of her classmates, and their experiences over the past year.
“My favorite part was … hearing everyone speak,” she said. “I think that it was definitely very philosophical and very profound, everyone had really, really, really good stuff to say, and other people took different approaches. Some people talked about hope, some talked about their experience this past year; some talked about their personal life.”
Rose also spoke about what resonated for them about their classmates’ statements.
“I think the parts that resonated for me were the parts about personal growth in the bad, and I feel like a lot of them kind of had this refrain, either in one direction or the other, either things were bad, but there was some beauty in it or there was some beauty but let’s not forget things were bad … I think there is some light in the darkness, and I appreciate the people who brought that forward,” Rose said.
Thomas, who spoke during Second Collection, also said that sharing her experience was something she was happy she got a chance to do.
“I think for me it definitely made it just better for me to have spoken, to have said my truth and to have everyone kind of hear my thoughts about this whole entire year. I talked … about race, and how it was really important to me to come here [from Utah] and have Black friends,” Thomas said.
She was also happy that she had the opportunity to share her own positive experiences about the last year.
“My experience is that I actually had a really good year last year and I wanted to share that. And I do have some regrets of course, everyone does, but overall I had a really great time,” she said.
Though Thomas most enjoyed the collection itself, Rose’s favorite part was the traditional candle lighting at the end of the night.
“The actual candle lighting, the sharing of the light … to me was very much the most powerful part,” they said.
Though much remained the same, there were differences that came from having the First Collection experience during sophomore year instead of during first-year orientation.
“I actually worked orientation [for the Class of 2025], so I saw all the [first years] coming through … and they were all really excited. [The Class of 2024] kind of trickled in kind of quietly. It was definitely not as aspirational as First Collection usually is.” Thomas explained.
Thomas told The Phoenix that the feeling she got from Second Collection was different then she anticipated.
“I think it was a little bit sad,” she said. “Usually, First Collection is the exact opposite of that, usually it’s really fun and Last Collection’s like really sad and sentimental … In a way, even though it was fun to be there and do it, a lot of people said stuff that really made me think of course and ponder intellectually, but yeah, I wish it was a little more upbeat.”
Rose, who arrived and sat with friends at Second Collection, spoke about the fact that they knew many of the people who also attended.
“I think the one thing that stuck out to me … was the fact that I knew most of the people who spoke; they were friends of mine, or decidedly not friends of mine, but there were people who I had heard of, who I had spoken to,” Rose said. “And so, while I think there can be beauty in that as well in hearing from your peers that you already know and respect, I think there’s something about the anonymity of the real First Collection that no matter what I will never get to experience.”
Rose also explained that they thought hearing from people familiar to them was a positive change.
“Kind of on the other side of that same coin, I think being able to hear from people that you already know, and also having that opportunity to reflect on what was objectively an extremely weird year, I think that was something that we definitely gained,” they explained.
Thomas also spoke about the benefit of having a Second Collection instead of a First Collection.
“I think it was really valuable to hear what everyone’s experiences were,” she said. “I think a lot of people also met people they just didn’t know, maybe because they didn’t hang out with them last year, they weren’t on campus last year, or maybe they were transfer students. So I do think that we gained a stronger sense of class community, because all last year we were all spread out. Some people were on campus in the fall, some weren’t and whatever. So I think we’re definitely more of a class now.”
Rose emphasized that an in-person First Collection experience was just something that couldn’t be recreated.
“I’m glad that I had that experience and I feel like there was something kind of magical about seeing everyone together lighting all those candles together, that really just, it couldn’t come across on Zoom no matter what,” Rose said.
Both Rose and Thomas agreed that having a Second Collection was ultimately a positive experience and something they were excited about.
Thomas said, “I think it was pretty cool that we were the first Second Collection ever. And … I guess in a sense, it can mean a new sense of hope that’s instilled in our class. A lot of people talk about that and I think it is, honestly… It really was nice hearing a lot of, ‘I’m really hopeful and I’m really gonna make the best time out of here.’”