College is often described as the stage of our lives when we can explore our academic, personal, and professional interests. After years spent taking required courses I wasn’t interested in during high school, wasting time on unnecessary homework assignments, and constantly feeling anxiety and stress from my GPA, I looked to college as a place of freedom. When I got to Swarthmore College, I experienced that freedom—living independently, working multiple jobs, and having the agency to craft my own schedule towards my passion and interests. For too long, education has been structured to generate competition, not collaboration. By constraining student choice through the GPA system, we create an experience that fails to prepare us for the real world. At Swarthmore, I was able to radically reimagine what academic freedom and agency could look like to me.
Swarthmore was able to prepare me and other students for the betterment of society. The innovation, productivity, and progress we aspire for don’t come from atomized individualism: it is rooted in radical collaboration among our peers through peer-support groups, among other things. From student organizations to student movements/activism on campus, we’ve observed the power of collective action in generating meaningful change.
When I got to Swarthmore, I was positively surprised. It was a school that prioritizes collaborative engagement: a system with less interest in ranking students against one another and more interest in producing and executing creative ideas. I sat in classrooms where students were focused on learning, not grades; where students wanted to be in every class they take, and are never begrudgingly “fulfilling a requirement,” and where students were taught to utilize the full set of skills at their disposal, instead of being forced to memorize textbooks. Most importantly, these classrooms were filled with change-makers, innovators, and creatives who continuously inspire me each and every day here as a student.
I believe that humanity’s greatest challenges are not problems with easy solutions one person can offer. They will require radical collaboration and a mindset that cares about what we can give to the world to enrich the lives of all people–the common good–not just ourselves. The classrooms at Swarthmore not only teach my generation to make a living, but they taught us to lead a life.