Advice to the Class of 2020 & Beyond

My dear reader,

Spring is officially in full swing! More and more people are climbing the cherry tree, which is a sign that students are relaxing and that the weather is getting warmer. People are lounging on the white adirondack chairs outside of Parrish and playing Frisbee on the lawn. Professors are holding their last few classes outside on the Science Center quad to soak in the longer, brighter days.

This upcoming Friday marks the last day of spring 2016 classes. Next week is Reading Week, where classes are no longer in session, but professors stick around to hold office hours. The semester is coming to an end, and all that’s left is finals. And once that’s over, it’ll be summer!

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That’s me in the cherry tree – hello from up here!

As the year comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on how I’ve grown as a person since my first semester many, many moons ago in the fall of 2013. One really big change was realizing how to be my happiest, instead of trying to cross off a million things on a to-do list. I’m slowly realizing that happiness usually nestles itself in the little but meaningful things.

Moving from high school to college is a big change that comes with a lot of new responsibilities, but being calm about the process will help you settle in! Below are some pieces of advice that I wish someone had told me before I arrived at Swarthmore. Hopefully, reading these can help make your transition easier.

Tip #1: Spend time doing what makes you happy

Well, that’s awfully vague. But it’s true! You should give yourself the freedom to spend time defining your own happiness rather than box yourself in to a regimented schedule. Even if the things that make you happy might seem like time-wasters at that moment, they might be the exact study break you need in an intense week of midterms or finals. Since it’s hard to go into detail, I’ll list some of the more important things that I’ve realized make me incredibly happy in the midst of a busy day. Although these things don’t take very long, they leave me feeling refreshed and energized for another day:

  • Laughing over a meal in Sharples with a friend after a long morning of classes
  • Sniffing the magnolia flowers even if it means later I’ll be sneezing
  • Talking to a professor about an NPR article featuring work on folic acid that is similar to our experiments in the lab
  • Climbing the cherry blossom tree
  • Celebrating Holi, the festival of colors originating in India that symbolizes the beginning of spring (at Swarthmore we usually have it at the end of spring semester classes)
  • Playing Cranium with my friends on a Friday night
  • Going to poetry readings and later getting a signed copy of Sam Taylor ’97’s book!
  • Working on an opera with my beloved music friends and finally performing it after many hours in rehearsal
  • Browsing the course catalogue for classes for next semester
  • Going to an SGO-hosted study break to pet cute farm animals
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My joyful reaction while hugging a baby goat.

Tip #2: Pick classes that interest you

My first time preparing to register for classes at Swat was a whirlwind. I was interested in German, English, biology, physics, and music, but I also wanted to get started on my pre-med track, which requires two years of chemistry among other things. I was in a total state of conflict. However, my helpful Resident Assistant (RA) and Student Academic Mentor (SAM) came to the rescue. They told me that I should take advantage of my first semester being pass/fail and choose a broad range of classes to get a sense of what subjects I would want to explore more in later semesters. That was really good advice, because I ended up picking classes that interested me rather than staying with a narrow mindset. I ended up taking Introduction to German Studies: Verlorene Unschuld, Foundations in General Chemistry (Honors), Cellular & Molecular Biology, a first-year seminar in English on Old Worlds/New Worlds, and a half-credit of chamber music which led me to my current fascination with operas. You never know what you might be interested in if you don’t take a class in that subject!

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Under the microscope in Intro Bio: a two-day old chick embryo and its beating heart!

Tip #3: Everyone adjusts to college a little differently  

Don’t get too worried if it seems like someone else is going about college differently than you are. No two journeys are the same, which is entirely normal. Honestly, the most important piece of advice that I could give is to be true to yourself while keeping an open mind. Is that a contradictory statement? Yes and no. Undoubtedly, after four years at college, your personality, your values, your friends, and your academic interests will change, but it doesn’t mean you should feel peer-pressured or obligated to behave in certain ways. You are your own unique star! Also, grades are not as important as you might have thought they were in high school. At Swat, people barely talk about grades if at all. It’s not that we’re not allowed to or that it’s taboo, but more that grades are not really the end-all, be-all of your experience here. Instead, it’s more important that you come away learning something new in a class, or that you improved in your reading/writing/public speaking skills and that you can now carry those things with you into your future.

Besides the academic parts of college, it’s important to keep healthy habits, to stay in touch with your family, and to explore everything that there is to explore! College is a four-year pocket of time that is really special. Just the other day, I was talking to one of my friends about how this was her last chance to perform in a fully-staged opera. And it’s probably true for me too. So while you’re here, take the chance to do something different. Maybe you can join others in a group or club for comedy improv, community service, a cappella performance, or cultural heritage activities. I found that joining Saturdays of Service gave me a group to volunteer with on weekends, and that being part of the chorus and wind ensemble helped grow my passion for music. Sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone and doing something totally different—like maybe taking a dance class—can change your views and open your eyes to undiscovered worlds.

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Carving pumpkins at Dean Braun’s annual Halloween party!

I’m getting a little sentimental as I write this, knowing that the Class of 2020 will be here next year when I’ll be a senior. My time at Swarthmore has flown by, but it has been full of good memories: tree-climbing, pumpkin-carving, specimen-under-microscope-viewing, goat-hugging, and friend-making. I hope your semesters at Swat bring you many new and cheerful experiences!

All my best wishes,
Iris

 

 

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