As part of a series about students from rural areas, I talked to Timothy St. Pierre ’21 from Burnswick, ME about how the community at Swarthmore has supported him.
EW: Tell me a little bit about where you are from. What is your hometown like? What was your high school like?
TS: I’m from Brunswick, Maine, which has about 20,000 people, which in Maine is on the larger side. About 65% of Maine is rural so it’s not definitely not so urban, not so populated. It’s very similar to the town of Swarthmore, so it was kind of nice since it wasn’t a giant leap away from where I was from but there’s still the option to go to places like Philadelphia. You still have the option to go and see more urbanized and inhabited big cities which is cool. My high school was really nice, I went to a public school in the town and there was only about 170 people in my class.
EW: Why did you choose to attend Swarthmore, and what has your experience been like so far?
TS: The reason why I wanted to come to Swarthmore so much was that when I toured the school it seemed like everyone here really cared about education and really cared about progressing the idea of who they were, and trying to achieve the best person they can be. In high school it was kind of frustrating to me at some points, because it seemed like a lot of the people around me didn’t really care about being in school or about learning or bettering themselves. So it’s really nice to come to a place where everyone around you is so engaged and is so driven to better themselves and learn as much as they can.
EW: Are there any unique challenges that you think affect rural students at Swarthmore in comparison to their urban peers?
TS: I think coming from a relatively small town and from a really rural area in general, you don’t get exposed to that much diversity which is really unfortunate. I think Maine is about 96% white so it’s very monocultural. It’s nice to come to a place like Swarthmore where diversity is such a lauded ideal that we have. It’s nice to actually meet people who come from all these different backgrounds and get to interact with people who have had such different experiences from me.
EW: How does Swarthmore support you as a student?
TS: Oh goodness, so many ways! The students around me and the professors that I’ve had—everyone here is so open and accepting and very warm and charismatic. Especially the SAMs and the RAs and the other people on my hall are all wonderful, and will go out of there way to greet you and say hello and that’s always really really nice. My professors are the most brilliant people I’ve met, they’re amazing, you can just go in and talk with them and it’s really nice. Like, my French professor, if I’m having a bad day I’ll just go and spend an hour in her office just discussing life, it’s good.
EW: How do you describe Swarthmore to your family and friends from home?
TS: In general, I talk about the importance that is placed on achievement, but in terms of self-achievement. So I generally talk about that and the important of academics and learning as much as you can, and making yourself a better person.
EW: Why do you think it is important that Swarthmore admits students from rural areas and small towns?
TS: What I’ve found a lot here, is that the majority of people I’ve talked with have come from really huge cities, places I can’t even imagine living in just cause there’s like seven million, eight million people and I’m like “damn, alright.” A lot of the time they are facing issues that I myself from a really small town wouldn’t be able to understand, and I’m facing issues coming from a really small town that they wouldn’t be able to understand. Especially considering political issues and things like that—so just wondering about things like high unemployment, poor access to various things that you would have in cities that people aren’t gonna get in rural areas. So it’s good to have a variety of opinions on things like those.
EW: I know you’re a freshman, so this is kind of far away, but where do you see yourself after Swarthmore? Do you see yourself going back home or going somewhere more urban?
TS: I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot recently, and I’m not quite sure. I really, really love Maine even with all of its various faults, and there are a lot. I do really love it because it’s a beautiful place, and everyone that’s there by and large is a really warm and loving person. I think eventually I would wanna go back there and have a family, things like that. I think after Swarthmore though, I would like to be in a more urban area. I think there will be more opportunities in an urban place than in any rural area, but also I want to be able to just have that experience of living in a really large city before I go back to a small town.
EW: What is one thing you wish your Swarthmore friends could know about being from a small town?
TS: Being from a small town actually has a lot of analogous features, in terms of the environment and the community, with Swarthmore which is really nice. And, even if there are in large cities, all these places you can go, all these people you can meet, I think at least in my understanding there isn’t quite as much a tight-knit, close community in cities as much as there is in small towns. So I think that a really important part of being from a place like Brunswick is the fact that I can go back there, and there’s so many people there that I can talk to and so many people that I can understand on a very personal level, and we’ve known each other for so long. I think that’s really nice and a lot of that overlaps with how it is at Swarthmore. So many people know you by your first name, and you see people you know all around, and you know so many people who will talk to you and who will spend time with you.