The Winning Centennial Foundation Essay

My Life in Swarthmore
By Kaitlyn Pell

To be an engaged Swarthmorean is as easy as walking down the street.

My earliest memories reside only 100 yards from my house in Little Crum Creek Park. Here I scavenged for Easter Eggs each spring, and even in early summer — if I looked hard enough.

Kaitlyn Pell

Kaitlyn Pell

Similar events, such as the Fun-Fair, Independence Day parade, Arboretum fair, and Halloween Costume competition, highlighted my early years in Swarthmore. Dozens of flashy bike tassels, homemade costumes, participation ribbons, and a 3rd place ribbon (if I may brag), collectively represent my childhood here.

As my level of competition became too much for tot-lot play dates and bike races, I focused my energy on sports. Town soccer and squash refined not only my hand-eye coordination, but also my first friendships.

Shortly thereafter, at elementary school age, I picked up dive team at the Swarthmore Swim Club, and tennis with Coach Loomis. I feel lucky that these activities were sponsored by my community and readily accepting of all children.

SRA sports camp was landmark for my understanding of the word “community.” Having Mr. Kane, Annalise Pennikis, and Pat Fisher lead us in organized sports activities everyday made me feel as though the school community was ever present and supportive — even on vacation. I recall scootering to Renato’s, or Cheng Hing (on special occasions), to socialize with a large group of fellow nine-year-olds after camp.

Seemingly unnoticed by others, I was in awe of the welcoming environment Swarthmore physically and organizationally provided for the children to play and build strong friendships. When I became too old for SRA, I could be found at the Swarthmore Swim Club everyday from 11 a.m. to closing — unless there was a thunderstorm, then I was undoubtedly at Renato’s.

Upon entering high school, I became deeply involved with my academics and sports teams. I could feel myself identifying less as a Swarthmorean and more as a Strath Havenite. The few things that grounded me back into town were the Appalachian Service Project with the Swarthmore United Methodist Church (ASP) and the Swarthmore Co-op.

ASP is the only activity I engaged in during high school that predominantly consisted of Swarthmoreans. By becoming more familiar with fellow students, their parents, and town figures, such as Linton Stables and Marty Spiegel, I began to sense constant support from my community. Meeting these incredible people led me to gain trust in the kindness of strangers.

During my senior year, I felt there were so many people in town I saw day-to-day that I did not know. Working at the Co-op provided me with an avenue to meet these people. The hours I spent swapping stories of past travels, memorable experiences (and discovering where mine overlap), provided me with a new outlook on Swarthmore: Clearly we are a very small town, with a big world perspective. Here I feel safe and accepted, instilled with the confidence and trust I need to engage the world. And with that, it is time for me to move on.

It’s hard to know were Swarthmore ends and I begin. It seems to me that everyone is a representative of their past experiences and relationships. The same can be said of me. While it is obviously true that our town has provided me with a fantastic start and a great education, Swarthmore has done more for me than that. It has provided me with a place to belong and be affirmed as an individual. While so many people define themselves by where they work, the church they attend, or the clubs they belong to, I am defined by one simple thing — I’m from Swarthmore.

The support I have received from the community has allowed me to become my own person. I don’t feel the need to conform to the expectations of others, and I don’t feel the need to let others define for me what success means. Just as important, I’ve become accepting of others that don’t necessarily share my values or goals. We are all different, but in some ways we are all the same. We are all looking for our place, and we are all looking for a community that affirms who we are.

I am Katie Pell, and I’m from Swarthmore.

Kaitlyn Pell is the daughter of Julie Haveri and Charlie Pell of Swarthmore. She will be attending Colorado College in the fall. Her essay won a renewable, four-year scholarship award of $1,500 per year, for a total of $6,000 from the Centennial Foundation.

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