Swarthmore College Seniors Lean Forward Beneath Perfect Skies

Maurice Eldridge at the Class of 2016 Commencement on the campus of Swarthmore College on Sunday,May 29, 2016, in Swarthmore, Pa. (Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

Fifty-five years after his own Swarthmore College graduation, this was the final commencement procession for Maurice Eldridge, Swarthmore College’s former vice president for college and community relations. He retires after a stellar career — spent in large part at the college — as a leader and administrator in academia, where as one observer notes, “he made his colleagues better, directed many students toward fulfillment and success, and promoted town and gown mutually.” Photo by Laurence Kesterson

On a lovely May morning at the Scott Amphitheatre, Swarthmore College’s Class of 2016 last Sunday came to the end of their shared undergraduate academic journey, and began their individual journeys from Swarthmore to destinations both intended and unforeseen. The class of 2016 included 359 graduates, 346 of whom received Bachelor of Arts degrees and 25, Bachelor of Science in engineering. (There were twelve double degrees.)

Chosen by her fellow seniors as commencement speaker, Honors English major and writer Rose Wunrow confronted the challenge of her office, and addressed it creatively. “There’s no way to ‘sum it all up.’ But thinking of Swarthmore’s values, and its belief in consensus and collection as a way to bring our perspectives together,” she said, she sought classmates’ musings on “what you will miss about Swarthmore, what you are ready to leave behind; … your favorite Swarthmore memories; what you want to carry forward with you.”

Class of 2016 Commencement on the campus of Swarthmore College on Sunday,May 29, 2016, in Swarthmore, Pa. (Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

Seniors awaiting sheepskins. Photo by Laurence Kesterson

She wove together a tapestry of the moments of joy and heartbreak, giddiness and enlightenment they described, concluding “that Swarthmore is a place where you can often unexpectedly find echoes of yourself in other people, while recognizing what makes our experiences unique.”

Wunrow quoted Jack Kerouac in closing, as she and the class of 2016 prepared to hit the road: “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

Class of 2016 Commencement on the campus of Swarthmore College on Sunday,May 29, 2016, in Swarthmore, Pa. (Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

Senior engineers pulled their traditional prank, rigging the Clothier bells to ring at the push of a bright red panic button. Photo by Laurence Kesterson

Swarthmore College President Valerie Smith differentiated between the formal and serendipitous aspects of the college experience of the seniors. “Your academics and your organized activities are your foreground experiences … background experiences shape you as well … Years from now, you may be surprised to find that, in your memory, these background experiences make their way to the foreground, while others fade away. We cannot always anticipate, plan, and predict the moments that will shape us. What matters is that we are fully present for each of these counters, whether big or small.”

Knowledge is but one takeaway for the graduating seniors, Smith said. “As you leave this place, take time to reflect on the ways that it has shaped you. And as you move forward into the next stage of your life, I urge you to cultivate the habits of open-mindedness and open-heartedness you’ve learned in our residential community … This habit of mind can help us to perceive the web of connection that binds our moments to each other; it can hone our intuition; and it can cultivate our sense of compassion towards others.”

Commencement for the class of 2016 in the Scott Amphitheater on the campus of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa on Sunday, May 29, 2016. (Photo by Dan Z. Johnson) 2016_05_28_Swarthmore_Commencement 2016 ©2016 Dan Z. Johnson 267-772-9441 www.danzphoto.net dan@danzphoto.net

Ben Marks ‘16 received his diploma from college president Valerie Smith. Photo by Dan Johnson

Political science professor Cindy Halpern addressed the senior class at Saturday’s Baccalaureate services. Senior Joe Boninger and retiring Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor Barry Schwartz were chosen by seniors to speak at a Last Collection on Friday, at the point of their departure from a college community which has nurtured and benefited from the presence of each.

President Valerie Smith awarded honorary degrees to three eminent scholars with connections to the college (photos by Laurence Kesterson):

Honorary degree recipient Leo Braudy '63 at the Class of 2016 Commencement on the campus of Swarthmore College on Sunday,May 29, 2016, in Swarthmore, Pa. (Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

Honorary degree recipient Leo Braudy ’63. (Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

• Doctor of Human Letters to cultural historian and film critic Leo Braudy from the class of 1963;

• Doctor of Sciences to climate change researcher and ecologist F. Stuart “Terry” Chapin III from the class of 1966; and

• Doctor of Humane Letters to linguistic and cultural researcher Carol Padden, a longtime adviser to Swarthmore College professors and mentor to students, who delivered her address in American Sign Language.

Honorary degree recipient E Stuart Chapin III '66 at the Class of 2016 Commencement on the campus of Swarthmore College on Sunday,May 29, 2016, in Swarthmore, Pa. (Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

Honorary degree recipient E Stuart Chapin III ’66. (Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

Honorary degree recipient Carol Padden at the Class of 2016 Commencement on the campus of Swarthmore College on Sunday,May 29, 2016, in Swarthmore, Pa. (Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

Honorary degree recipient Carol Padden(Laurence Kesterson / staff photographer)

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