Today, I logged onto Facebook and was reminded that this day, two years ago, had been one of the happiest days of my life: the night I received my acceptance letter. Getting my early decision acceptance had its downsides, however. One was the fact that I would never know if I had been good enough for my early action school – a close second favorite to Swat. Another was my sentence to six months of teasing at the hands of my track coach. Towards the end of the year, his favorite joke was the promise of his graduation gift to me: a simple posterboard – lest I find myself joining my first Swarthmore protest empty handed.
Swarthmore’s reputation as a school of highly socially engaged individuals isn’t at all understated. People here, in some way, shape, or form, are unhappy with some aspect of the status quo. (Yes, some of us indeed, do a fair bit of protesting) And all too easily sometimes, this atmosphere reads to outsiders as one of foreboding liberalism. As one of these typical Swatties – overflowing with this sense of social responsibility, yet coming from a very conservative, Adventist-Christian upbringing (that I loved and wasn’t entirely running away from) – there were moments where the reality of my next four years at Swarthmore seemed daunting.
Earlier this fall, President Obama expressed a criticism of students who expected their ideas to be “coddled” in college. Interpreted by most as a light scold of liberal campuses across the country where discourse is said to be growing one-sided, I found a lesson in it for myself as well. I could have easily chosen a school where my own values would have been “coddled.” After all, there are plenty of options in that direction as well. But I followed through with my commitment to Swat. And in doing so, I found one of the most beautiful faith communities I have ever been a part of.
Towards the end of my first semester, I became an SCF regular. SCF, or the Swarthmore Christian Fellowship, is one of several student group that facilitate Christian community on campus: from focused small group studies to the weekly Large Group night of worship, as well as all the dinners and special outings in between. The year culminated with the Chapter Camp retreat to Upstate New-York, where we Swatties joined many other Intervarsity groups in the region for a week of study, dare-deviling, and friendship . To this day, I consider it one of the most spiritually exciting weeks of my life. To describe it would require an entire post unto itself, but this video from one of my talented newfound Tri-Co friends provides a glimpse:
This said, it would also be folly to come to Swarthmore and confine yourself to this little community. I look back on my freshman year and some of the conversations I had with my next-door neighbor, a devoted member of the MSA (Muslim Students Association), stand out as some of my most cherished memories. Out on the broader campus, outside of even this interfaith community, some of the most loving and intelligent people await you. And this fact continually excites me.