Grafton, NY

Talking with Alex Flowers ’20 from Grafton, NY

EW: So tell me a little a bit about where you’re from—what is your hometown like, and what was your high school like?

AF: I come from a very small town. It has about 1,000 people in it, and my high school had a graduating class of like 50 people and that was pulling from about four or five towns in the area. So all of [the towns] were about 800 to 1200 people so it was pretty rural. I was pretty close to Albany, so there was some escape 45 minutes away—there’s half a million people living there. But in my immediate vicinity there just weren’t many people. I went to a public high school and it was pretty rural, fairly low-income on a whole, but overall it was a really good experience.

Alex Flowers

EW: Could you give me a visual description of what your town is like?

AF: Right where I live is pretty mountainous, we live right near the Berkshires. So, it’s a lot of rolling hills and woods as far as the eye can see. My house is really close to a small lake which there are many of, which is really nice—but definitely not too many people or non-natural things.

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A lake in Grafton, NY

EW: Why did you choose to attend Swarthmore?

AF: A lot of it was that in my high school, one of the things I loved was—sort of the cliche—but small class sizes. There was a group of eight of us that went through high school together and had smaller groups with teachers. I really loved having that feel and access to the teachers, and the discussions that we had in class and out of class were really fun. So I wanted to continue that in some way, and based on what I had seen it was definitely this class of schools, like Swarthmore and [other small liberal arts colleges] that I was interested in going to. Swarthmore worked out in the end, and so far I’ve really felt that I’ve gotten to keep that aspect of high school that I really loved.

EW: So going off of that, what has your experience at Swarthmore been like so far?

AF: It’s been amazing, I’ve really loved it. I got to take first-year seminars and those types of small classes that I had [in high school] and overall it’s just been really fun to be exposed to all of the people. Because, in high school there were a few students that really took school seriously, but the majority, for all different reasons, just weren’t in a place to do that. So it’s just been nice to be surrounded by 1500 other students that really care about what they’re doing and feel driven.

EW: What unique experiences or perspectives do you think you bring to campus as a student from a rural area?

AF: That’s interesting, I…I think that coming from the place I did, there are some similarities in terms of the atmosphere. There’s a closeness and intimateness to Swarthmore that I feel like I was already very comfortable with in my high school. I feel like I can bring that [here], already having experienced a lot of what makes Swarthmore special. I can bring some experience in that regard and feel comfortable in the place and hopefully, maybe, make others feel more comfortable with the smallness if it’s something they need or want.

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Grafton Lakes State Park

EW: Why do you feel that it’s important that Swarthmore admit students from rural areas?

AF: In general, I know coming from my rural place, the majority of the kids there do not ever leave it. So, they’ll go to the local community college, and then end up living at home, and get the house next door to their family’s house, and then that’s the cycle forever. And I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing. But I think that the opportunity that Swarthmore could provide for someone like me who couldn’t really afford to escape if it wasn’t for Swarthmore being pretty generous about it, it’s really helpful to get out of that bubble. People talk about the Swat bubble, but definitely where I was from there was [a bubble] that a lot of kids don’t escape. So having places like Swarthmore allow people to see the bigger world and get exposure to it is really important.

EW: Are there any unique challenges that you believe affect rural students more so than your urban peers?

AF: I would say definitely it varies from school to school [depending on] the rigor of the schools. Like, my school had 2-3 APs total and there just aren’t as many resources to provide [academic rigor] at smaller public schools in a rural area. I think I came in prepared enough, and that’s something that Swat has told me a lot since I’ve been here this year, but that’s the big gap, that we don’t have access to as much academic rigor to feel prepared to get to Swarthmore in the same way. Which again speaks to Swarthmore being important for students to be able to go to, so that they have access to that which a lot of us, I think, don’t have in high school.

EW: How do you describe Swarthmore to your family and friends from home?

AF: Actually, I’ll tell a story about how someone else described it, because my dad’s work friend heard that I was going to Swarthmore and she was like ‘Oh, it’s just a magical place,’ and I feel like there’s a lot of truth to that. It has its own aura and existence that I think can be described as magical, so I like to tell that story about how I first heard it described to me.

EW: How does Swarthmore support you as a student?

AF: I think you can’t disappear at Swarthmore. There’s just too many people that will be looking out for you, for you to disappear. RAs, the three different types of peer advisors you have on every single hall, the faculty and the deans, there aren’t so many students that they can’t keep an eye on you, and so you can’t disappear even if you try to, which I think is important.

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A street view in Grafton, NY

EW: What is like going home after being at Swarthmore, and what are some important experiences that you bring with you when you go home? And also experiences that you bring when you come back?

AF: I feel a little claustrophobic at home. Because, even though I don’t get off of this campus as much as I’d hoped coming to Swarthmore, I feel like I really have nowhere to go when I’m home comparatively. So it’s always exciting to get back here and feel like I’m out in the world again, and certainly traveling to it, I always go through New York City and so there’s a sense that I’m getting to go places and see things by coming here. In terms of going back home, it gives a little perspective on where I come from as a small part of the world, and so it puts that into perspective that there is a whole world out there that I get to see when I’m at Swarthmore, in a way.

EW: Where do you see yourself after Swarthmore? I know you’re a freshman so it’s kind of far in advance, but do you think you see yourself going back home or somewhere else? Somewhere urban or somewhere rural?

AF: Definitely not home, there’s just not enough there. I think I would love to spend some time in a city. Not having lived in a city I don’t know if that’ll be a long term plan, but I would really like to in the short term. Beyond that I really have no idea.

EW: [laughs] That’s okay!

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