From the Other Side of the Sharples Bar

We talk about having passions. Every Swattie has their own passion(s), like the environment, or dance, or perfecting their creative writing skills. What we don’t talk about as much is our meditative passions. You know, that “other” thing that calms you down and resets your mind after exhausting days, no added stress necessary: video games, walks through nature, poetry. If you, as a high school student, know yourself enough that you know what your personal meditative practice is, then more power to you. I somehow never got that far down my checklist of self-realization. Not until I stumbled upon it in my sophomore year, that is. 

Now, I am no stranger to campus employment. I have received paychecks from: PACES (a student-run cafe on campus) SwatTeam (a student-run wing of the Office of Student Engagement that offers security for campus events), Athletics Communication (which films and broadcasts Swarthmore sport events), and (as I write this) I’m seeking van certification in order to become a shuttle driver. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a student first and foremost, but the combined needs of work-study and resume-building pushes me towards campus employment. 

Now Sally knows this, after all. Sally staffs the Sharples check-in table where you can always see her studying her German flash cards for a class that she takes at Swat. We would talk at length whenever my late lunch coincided with her lunch break.  The day after my PACES job was discontinued, I was in need of weekday employment and when I told Sally the news, without hesitation she happily said to me “What about here? Here, let me take you to Therese’s (the head of dining hall operations) office right now!” Within five minutes of entering Therese’s office, I was telling Therese my free hours and she was setting up a follow-up meeting for the next day. Within 48 hours of Sally bringing me into Therese’s office, I started my first shift as a Sharples server. Although it is not unusual for students to work in the dining hall, I could not help but remember what happened to the last person I knew that worked in the dining hall, beautifully immortalized in Swarthmore folklore by Kwate Quarty. 

You’ll hear from most Swatties how their campus job is not super demanding. This is because a lot of campus jobs involve manning a desk that may or may not receive much traffic, so the student worker can just study while at work.

That’s not what working in the dining hall is like at all.

My job is to alleviate the dinner rush. During most days (particularly in the popular pho bar) the combination of hungry athletes wrapping up practice and study-breaking McCabers made for a 1-2 hour wave of students. On some of the busier days, the peak of the rush doesn’t die down until almost 7 o’clock.I have never said this to my bosses, but I think they may have noticed it over time: for me, this repetitive intense work is the equivalent for me of what a walk in the Crum Woods is for a lot of my fellow Swatties, or dance, or writing, or acting, or soccer, or watching Steven Universe on Thursday nights. Somehow, despite all of the options available, I found my solace in serving pho and grilling cheesesteaks in Sharples. No grades involved. No project to turn in. No performances. Just keep on serving, and keep the trays moving. Sure, it looks responsible that I can hold down this side job alongside the academic demands of Swarthmore, but the truth is, I think that what people describe when they walk through the woods is what I feel at Sharples. 

As the school grows, Sharples does become subject to some overcrowding at times. The administration has made changes to help alleviate that overcrowding: students can use meal points in the Ville, there are grab-and-go boxes, we’ll have more kitchens in the newer dorms. We will most likely have to build a second dining hall somewhere down the line, but quite frankly, I’m a fan of our singular dining hall. I love recognizing the faces of close friends and classroom acquaintances (as well as occasional professors!) as they try to decide whether or not they are willing to ask for a second plate of sweet potato fries, or awkwardly wait for the person in front of them to load up their plate with vegetable medley. It’s a shared space in Sharples. I’m not quite sure if this is what the old Quakers had in mind when they founded the school, but my cross-section of Swarthmore from the other side of the serving table is something like looking at an aerial picture of your hometown. Everything you know, do, and see on a regular basis passes by your face in the span of two hours, so seemingly minuscule, so graspable, so extraordinarily wonderful.

Somehow, I found a way to make an already small Swarthmore just a tad smaller and a whole lot more familiar. 

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