“My Life in Swarthmore” by Anya Hooper April 2020
I was three years-old when I moved to Swarthmore, but I don’t remember moving. I do, however, remember the new neighbors. Most of them were middle and high school students, and they embraced my younger brother and I so lovingly from day one. Ever-consistent, these young adults always treated us kindly from playing with us at block parties to babysitting us to greeting us enthusiastically outside of the neighborhood. From the moment I arrived, I had at least eight brand new role models, some of whom I’ve gotten closer to as I’ve grown up. My first taste of this town was given to me by these teenagers who probably had no idea of their impact on me at the time. They made a lasting impression through their neighborly kindness which is the epitome of what makes Swarthmore a special place.
Our Swarthmore community impressed upon me at a young age the importance of loving your neighbor. What makes Swarthmore special is that everyone is your neighbor. It’s no secret that we pride ourselves as being a family town, and vital to the core of family, is safety. Thanks to this environment and its inhabitants, I was able to bike to and from school starting as early as third grade. Eventually my younger brother was able to join me and we rode to school together. Swarthmore’s safety allowed us to stay active and develop a love for the outdoors that shapes who I am today.
When I wasn’t biking to school, the Headnut, or the college, I was running. I remember going out running alone for the first time. It was probably early middle school, and I had some fear about venturing out on my own. My nerves melted away instantly though, as I noticed that I was passing so many familiar homes. In my child’s brain, I felt safe knowing that, God forbid anything happened, I could run to at least one house on any street and find refuge. The fact that I knew at least one resident on virtually every lane in this town gave me the confidence and freedom to explore our town. The number of houses I now recognize has probably quadrupled, and every time I run these days, I see someone I know. I’ve been given the gift of safety in this town, and that has embedded a strong sense of independence and confidence within me. Now, I even see some of my younger neighbors riding their bikes or scootering, and I am so grateful that they are provided the same safety. It is a very loving act to make children feel safe, and that is embedded in the culture of Swarthmore.
There is the physical safety the ‘Ville provides, but also a personal safety. I grew up in this town invited to participate in anything and everything. I was raised on SRA soccer (Tomahawks forever!), the Swarthmore Swim Club, and the Swarthmore Players Club (YPTW). Getting involved in these organizations allowed me to achieve goals that probably seem silly now, but were everything to me in my early development: scoring a goal, passing my blue ribbon test, getting a part in the play. Now that I am a summer camp counselor, I have learned how important it is for young children to have a sense of self-worth, and I know those early years greatly shaped my sense of purpose and joy as an individual.
Most towns have swim clubs and travel soccer, but no other town could replace the individuals that have shaped my life. I have made friends in these places and organizations that have lasted throughout my 15 years of residency. If you visit the clock tower, in honor of Mr. Jones himself, you’ll find an Anya Hooper brick right next to an Annie Mutz brick. Who would have guessed that the friendship we made as five year-olds playing at the swim club, would remain strong as ever now that we are graduating in the class of 2020? The tradition of being a loving neighbor, friend, and resident of Swarthmore is palpable throughout our town, and I am deeply grateful for it.
My gratitude ultimately stems from the individuals who helped shape my experiences here, so I would like to acknowledge and thank some of them right now:
● Thank you to my teen neighbors, all of whom are now adults but some of whom still give me book recommendations when I DM them on instagram!
● Thank you to one of these particular individuals who helped me and my family during a time of need. This neighbor was home from college and drove me to every physical therapy appointment I had after having been hospitalized for the first month of my freshman year.
● Thank you to my next door neighbors for lending me the wheelchair from their basement during that same time, for allowing my brother and I to take over their children’s tree house once they were grown, and for consistently bringing us homemade pesto made from the basil in their garden.
● Thank you to my neighbors down the street who let my brother and I come over every morning in elementary school before the bus came, so that both of my full-time employed parents could be on time to work.
● Thank you to my neighbors diagonal to us for taking my brother and me with them and their teenage kids to help pick out their first dog!
● Thank you to all of my former and current neighbors who took time out of their busy schedules this year to come and support me during my performance in the school’s musical: Chicago.
● Thank you to the parents of the young children I babysit around the corner and down the street for being so generous to me and for trusting me with their children. And of course, thank you to the children who give me hope and joy for the future of Swarthmore, its youth, and carrying on the tradition of loving our neighbors.
● And thank you to my parents for giving me my life in Swarthmore.
I’m excited to launch as a Strath Haven High School graduate. After this quarantine ends and I am off to college in California, I know I will build on the lessons from my life in Swarthmore as I join new communities. But I will always look forward to coming home on breaks and reconnecting with all my Swarthmore family, friends and neighbors.