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Riding the Wave

How lessons of the ocean guided my Swarthmore experience

I have always been a child of the ocean.

Born and raised in New York City, I spent my summers diving in the Atlantic surf outside Sag Harbor, a historically Black whaling village on Long Island. My father, an Afro-German scholar, would point to the cresting waves and remind me of how the  ocean was a bridge to a home across the Atlantic.

My mother, a historian on the transatlantic slave trade, would gently add how the same sea severed us from our ancestral homeland. For my family, the ocean both connects and divides. It is vast and dangerous and gives me life. Beyond its geographic importance, the lessons of the ocean have guided my time during Swarthmore. Beach etiquette taught me to always test the waters, to swim in community, and that the best swims happen when you are fearless (not reckless).

Similarly, I have spent my time at Swarthmore opening myself to new opportunities — pushing myself to do the Honors Program, singing for the student band Funk the Patriarchy, playing on a nationally competitive volleyball team, and supporting local expectant families while leading the SwatDoula club.

More important, my time at Swarthmore has been intensively tied to the people I am surrounded by here. They have taught me to be collaborative, to trust in my skills, and to carve out spaces of joy in a world where fear can become paralyzing.

The ocean is rough. So, too, are the various tempests at Swarthmore.

There have been challenges navigating the rocky seas of institutional accountability, student activism, and liberal arts education in the age of the Trump administration. Yet, the morning after a storm, the newly configured shoreline is beautiful and beckons us to dive in again, even before the waves settle. As I conclude my time at Swarthmore, and begin my own transatlantic journey as a Marshall Scholar in the U.K., I am thankful for all that Swarthmore has given me and what directions it points my ship toward.

Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20 is one of 46 U.S. students to receive the highly selective Marshall Scholarship.