My Life In Swarthmore
The Swarthmore Centennial Foundation is pleased to award the Edmund Jones Scholarship to 2019 high school graduate Lena Lofgren. Here is her winning essay about her life in Swarthmore.
On April 15, 2001, my parents brought me from the hospital to my first home — the attic of an apartment building on Chester Road. My mother, a newly-hired, bright-eyed professor at the college, and my father, an economist commuting to D.C. each week, had just moved to Swarthmore. However, while the town I now call home proved to be the intersection of their lives, getting here was quite a journey. My mother grew up in an impoverished refugee household in Jordan as one of 12 children, coming to the United States on a scholarship to pursue her graduate degree in anthropology. My father had a no-frills childhood in Stockholm, Sweden, where he was raised by his mother after his father died when he was ten years old. For both of them, the United States meant unparalleled opportunity — and, a few years later, the opportunity to provide me with the resources, childhood, and community that they never had as well.
My parents searched for a place to settle down and start their family, and everything fell into place when my mom received an amazing job offer in a town close enough for my father to commute to, with top-tier public schools and beautiful greenery. They moved into the Chester Road attic, and, a few months later, I was born. Eventually, we moved to the Strath Haven Condominiums and then to faculty housing by Crum Creek, until we settled into a little townhouse by the underpass near SRS — where I have now lived for 15 years. But it would not be fair to claim that the epicenter of my existence in Swarthmore has been my house; I have had many “homes,” spotted around town, that evolved as I did.
When I was younger, it was all about the SRS playground. I was there 24/7, receiving big pushes on the swings, and, being the nerd I am, reenacting the sinking of the Titanic on the “Big Toy.” I made by best friend running around on those woodchips and, during the summer of ’08, learned how to ride a bike on the tennis courts. On any given afternoon, I could be found taking dance or acting classes at the Creative Living Room — or, better yet, with my nose in a book at the library. I spent hours and hours wandering the stacks, reading everything from Nancy Drew to the Boxcar Children to the Princess Diaries.
Whenever we would walk there, I would cover my ears as we passed the fire station, scared the siren would go off.
Over time, Swarthmore changed, and I did, too. I got older and, all of a sudden, the walk from my house to the Ville seemed much shorter and less menacing than it had before. Every Friday in 5th grade, my friends and I would walk from SRS to Finely a Knitting Party, where we could pay $5 for an afternoon of knitting and cookies. In middle school and high school, Fridays with friends at the knitting studio became less frequent as I spent hours holed up in Hobbs doing group projects or working on math homework.
I found yet another home in Swarthmore this past year, when I was recruited to work for Mary Gay Scanlon’s congressional campaign. Every day, I would spend hours in their office, which was located on the same street as my first home, greeting engaged community members who wanted to get involved in the political process themselves, or who had known Mary Gay since she moved here decades ago to start her own family. Instead of just observing the many faces of Swarthmore through the window of Hobbs or in line at the Co-op, I got to know them personally and heard about their concerns and how they wanted to improve the town. It makes me tremendously happy and proud to know that something I did may have played even a tiny role in electing someone to Congress who can represent the people of Swarthmore and fight against what they struggle with every day.
I have never had the privilege of living close to my extended family like many of my friends; it takes an international flight to unite with anybody other than my mother and father. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, you name it — it was just the three of us. Or, Monday through Friday, just me and my mom. Above all else, that is what my life in Swarthmore has provided me with — a community, and a family. I recognize faces when I walk through town and bump into neighbors and friends when I go on a grocery run. That is something I am endlessly thankful for, and I know that, no matter where I go in the future, I will always be able to come back home to Swarthmore.