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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dear Swarthmore, Thank You.

On May 21, 2017, I graduated from Swarthmore College after four amazing years that went by way too fast. Attending Swarthmore College is, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have made in my life.  My journey there was anything but easy, but I would not trade my experience for the world. Swarthmore has given me innumerable opportunities to grow in ways I've never thought possible. If it weren't for this school, I wouldn't be the strong woman I am today.

In this post, I want to reflect on the four years I have spent at Swarthmore: my accomplishments and failures; the support I've received from alumni, administration, and peers; what I will miss; and what I would do differently if I could start over again.

It seems like it was yesterday when I walked onto Swarthmore's campus for move-in day. I was so nervous and excited. Swarthmore was my first choice college and I couldn't get over the privilege of being able to attend such a wonderful institution. But it wasn't always glamorous.

My first two years at Swarthmore were anything but easy. Halfway through freshman year, I seriously considered transferring to another university. I always prided myself on my confident and outspoken nature, but when I first arrived at Swarthmore, I was very intimidated by my brilliant classmates, who seemed so knowledgeable about everything. While the liberal culture was a refreshing contrast from my conservative hometown, I sometimes found the social activism overwhelming. At one point, I was unsure if a liberal arts curriculum aligned with my interests in finance and consulting. After much thought, I realized the pros of Swarthmore outweighed the cons, so I decided to stay — and I am so glad I did.

The thing about Swarthmore College is that it makes you work ridiculously hard, but it provides you with a plethora of resources and support, whether it is for academics, job search, or even for personal pursuits. In terms of academics, I remember my sophomore year when I was so ill that I lost 15 pounds in one semester and spent most days at the health clinic. My professors were so accommodating and met with me outside of class frequently to make sure I was caught up.

In terms of job search and personal pursuits, Swarthmore opened up so many doors for me, even though it is not a "target school," meaning that large companies may not recruit directly from Swarthmore, but the strong alumni network and career services more than made up for that. For instance, every fall, career services hosts a Wall Street reception, where they take students to New York to network with Swarthmore alumni.

The photo on the right was from the Wall Street reception my freshman year. It was my first time in New York, where I was exposed to the disguised dangers of the concrete jungle in the form of Mickey and Minnie Mouse robbing me of $10. (Not literally — I thought they took selfies for free until they told me to pay up after taking two pictures with me. Lesson learned.)

A key lesson I learned at Swarthmore was to not let anything stop me from pursuing my passion. One of the main reasons I was so drawn to Swarthmore was because of the emphasis placed on social justice, but as an underclassman, I had no clue how I was going to make a positive impact on society. However, once I became cognizant of how much Swarthmore was willing to support me, I started taking baby steps.

During my sophomore year, I founded the Swarthmore Consulting Group (SCG), a club dedicated to career preparation for consulting by working on real projects. Career Services sent me a list of alumni who are consultants, and one alumnus was generous enough to actually let SCG work with him on a client project. He also helped me prepare for my case interviews, and I was able to land an internship!

Junior year was all about internship recruiting, but it was also when I began to take bold initiatives. For instance, I noticed that SCG severely lacked brand recognition, which was preventing us from getting more clients, so I decided to found a branch of 180 Degrees Consulting at Swarthmore College.

180 Degrees Consulting is an on-campus, pro-bono consulting firm that works closely with socially conscious nonprofits and organizations. Founding a 180 DC branch at Swarthmore was the most challenging but also the most rewarding thing I've ever accomplished. I was starting a consulting firm at a school that had no reputation for business whatsoever. With a student body that was predominantly anti-private sector, I wasn't even sure if students would be interested. Fortunately, with the help of great friends and peers, the vision of 180 Degrees Consulting became a reality, with a strong group of consultants.

There are three things that I am so grateful to 180 DC for.

1. It made me look for opportunities to make social impact in anything and everything I do. I noticed this while I was recruiting for internships and jobs. Whenever an interviewer asked me why I was interested in a position or a department, my answer always had a social responsibility component. If I felt that a job didn't present an opportunity for social impact, I didn't bother applying.

2. It made me realize that I am capable of making social impact. 180 DC at Swarthmore is a small organization, but I am proud of the fact that I was able to utilize my education alongside my peers to help 10 socially conscious nonprofits under my leadership as president.

3. It made me realize that I still have a long way to go to become a more effective leader. While 180 DC grew significantly under my leadership, there were many times and situations that I could have managed better by being more empathetic, patient, and less stubborn.

180 DC consumed most of my time junior year, so I decided to only work on one client senior year.
My senior year was by far the best time I've had at Swarthmore. I was busy with full-time recruiting in the fall semester, which was way more stressful than internship recruiting junior year. I was flying out of the Philadelphia airport every week for interviews and was essentially living out of a suitcase, but fortunately all that work paid off! Below is a photo of me and an airport employee who was kind enough to give me a ride to baggage claim.

Once I got my full-time offers, I decided to take some interesting classes. Alas, I didn't do so well as I'd hoped in some of them, like my art class, but hey! It was fun. And I learned that I should probably avoid art for the goodness of humanity. My last assignment for my art class was a self-portrait, but you can see how well that turned out in the bottom right photo.

Now that I've graduated, I realize that there are so many things I'm going to miss.

I'm going to miss the big group trips to Soop Bin, the Korean bar in Upper Darby. I'm also going to miss the delicious Korean food from Moo Jin Jang, my all-time favorite Korean restaurant in South Philly. I'm definitely going to miss the bougie restaurants, like Morimoto.

I'm going to miss the amazing Professor Mark Kuperberg! Intermediate Macroeconomics was one of my favorite classes. He made macroeconomics so fun and easy to understand. Not to mention, he is literally one of the funniest people I have ever met. I will miss his quirks, especially the weird sounds he made while lecturing. "English, English!" He can find humor in anything. He came up with the funniest terms that I'm not sure other economists would understand (e.g. destiny). I hope I can see him one more time before he retires! It will be difficult to meet another person who gets as excited and tense as Professor Kuperberg about whether Janet Yellen will raise interest rates. I remember asking my friend Isaac what he thinks Professor Kuperberg thinks of Yellen, and he said, "I think he digs her."

The delicious coffee (and very friendly staff!) at Hobbs will be dearly missed. Now I'm going to have to find a new cafe to visit regularly for taking basic latte Instagram pics. Some of the staff there knew my name, but I didn't get to know theirs. Kinda awkward when that happens. I regret not trying out the other restaurants in the Ville soon enough! There is a really cute breakfast place called Occasionally Yours. It's super cozy and perfect for catching up with a friend over delicious eggs and toast. Hobbs is way too busy on the weekends and you can end up waiting 15-20 minutes for a bagel.

While I was a student, I took the beautiful fall foliage and winter beauty for granted. I will miss walking through the fallen leaves on my way to class. I will not miss walking through the snow, but I will miss the feeling of being mesmerized every time I opened my dormitory door to find Winter Wonderland outside.

Last but definitely not least, the wonderful friends I've made here. They are so bright, genuine, and I'm so lucky to have made so many great memories with them here.

I really could not have gotten through my time at Swarthmore if it weren't for their emotional support. 

I remember Isaac helping me with stock pitches and technical interviews, even though I was distracting him from his weird battle games. Also we worked on three case competitions together! Each one was a challenge, but it was fun in retrospect.

I remember Meiri petting my head like I was a sad puppy while I was emotionally chowing down on Insomnia Cookies on her bed after a bad day, before gently telling me that I needed to leave her room so she could take a nap. Oh, Meiri...

If I could redo my Swarthmore experience, there are some things I would do differently:

Branch out and try things outside of my comfort zone. I spent a lot of time on SCG and 180 DC, which I don't regret, but I could get a more diverse campus life experiences by joining clubs like debate, meditation, and swing dancing.
Take classes to truly learn without being so concerned about GPA. I took way too many economics classes. My friend took a prison class this semester, where he visited prison every week and helped prisoners prepare for life once they got released. How cool is that? Way cooler than my econ classes.

Get involved in social justice issues. By this, I mean actual involvement, not just sharing articles on Facebook. I didn't start attending social issues-related events until senior year, and I was surprised that my not-so-conventional opinions were better received than I originally expected. Had I started participating earlier, I would be more well-rounded and informed on these issues.

Study abroad. I didn't study abroad because I wanted to focus on recruiting, which was a legitimate reason, but all those fancy photos of Europe on Instagram were tantalizing.

Take piano classes. Prior to Swarthmore, I was a pianist and competed in many competitions. I took piano classes and private lessons in high school, but I decided not to in college. Taking piano classes at Swarthmore would be fun and cathartic. I miss playing the piano.

All in all, it was a great four years. Swarthmore was a safe place where I could make mistakes and learn from them. I am so grateful to my parents for always supporting me, especially my education, no matter the cost. I'm looking forward to give back to my family with all the blessings and opportunities that they've given me. Thank you, Swarthmore, for always challenging me to think outside the box and pushing me to my limits. I am forever indebted to you. As an alumna, I can't wait to give back to the school that has given me so much.


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