Degrees of Change

Jessica Schwartz '08 talks to members of the Class of 2008 about their transformative four years at Pitzer College. For images and video from Pitzer College's 44th Commencement, visit www.pitzer.edu/commencement.

Pitzer College's 2008 graduates

I came to Pitzer College in 2004, ready to leave behind my previous eighteen years and become the new person I thought college promised. Instead, I found that three-thousand miles did nothing to foster change. If any improvements or alterations needed to be made in my life, I was going to have to do the work. This was an unappealing reality.

Pitzer requires students to not just be, but also do. I jumped in head first and participated in Student Senate, worked with prospective students in the Office of Admission, participated in club sports, and completed internships in which I worked with incarcerated youth and women who were trying to rehabilitate themselves. Through outlets such as these, many members of the Class of 2008 enjoyed an ancillary benefit of academic achievement: a fine-tuning of themselves.

It is not easy to identify concrete examples of how the Class of 2008 has changed during the past four years. Looking around at my fellow classmates, the people I have grown with, I recognize that every day, every passionate class discussion and every adventure abroad has helped us further define ourselves. Some of those I spoke with described their journeys as the simple process of moving from point A to point B. Along the way they honed their skills and overcame challenges—change was just naturally a part of the mix.

As a class, what we have discovered is that we alone are responsible for creating the positive change we envision. We must be active participants in shaping our own identities and life paths. At Pitzer we have expanded our world views, identified potential career endeavors and assumed new leadership roles.

“We have developed into a class with passion, spunk, pride and fun, without having to sacrifice our individuality,” according to Laura Cantekin, an International and Intercultural Studies major and Religious Studies minor. “We have only become more focused, more involved and more knowledgeable about the world.”

Matt Kane, a double major in math and Political Studies, believes the Class of 2008 consists of the same enthusiastic characters he met during Welcome Week four years ago. “In a sense, college is just a backdrop for the real activities of people comprising the institution,” he said.

Similar to many members of the Class of 2008, studying abroad was a major part of Laura and Matt's transformational college experience. Sixty percent of seniors opted for a study abroad experience, and some, including myself, went abroad more than once. Being in a foreign country and out of the safe bubble of the Pitzer community forces students out of their comfort zone and into realizations about their capabilities, weaknesses and limitations of self-reliance. Learning the cultural norms in Nepal, or a new language in Italy, or the differences in a sense of time in Africa taught our class important lessons regarding ethnocentricity, expectations and the necessity of flexibility.

Laura said that through the Pitzer in Italy program, she learned that life is meant to be savored. “We spend a lot of time here in the States, rushing around and trying to have a meaningful experience, when sometimes all you need is a simple meal and great conversation to have one,” she said.

Matt, like Laura, found that his study abroad experience further fueled his desire to explore the world and increase his intercultural understanding. “When I studied abroad in Botswana the world became larger, but I didnít become smaller, just more flexible,” he recalled. “The world wasn't defined by midterms and dining hall hours. Life was a vast span of cultures, traditions, ways of life and thought.”

Matt plans on entering politics, but for next year, he has earned a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in South Korea. Combining her love of travel and her appreciation of academia, Laura now plans to go abroad in order to teach. “My academic career at Pitzer has given me those tools and I am sure I will use them to my advantage,” she said. “Not only have I found joy in teaching/tutoring in the community, I have also been inspired by my professors to become a teacher as well.”

For many seniors, their professors sparked curiosity in subjects never before considered, and led seniors on to majors in their own fields of interest. With the knowledge these majors bring, seniors are ready to enter the real world and are driven by a strong desire to make a difference globally and locally whether it is through teaching, law, environmental advocacy, public policy or many other service professions. “Now I just need to take the first step into the real world,” Organizational Studies major Drew Lowell-Brit said. “I want to feel good about the work I am doing.”

Drew revealed a recent trip down memory lane looking at photos from his first year. “I was cracking up looking at all of our baby faces,” he said. “Now as seniors we have really grown to become the leaders of this campus. Our class stepped into leadership roles seamlessly and it made our last year so much fun.”

President of Student Senate Ben Kramer felt similarly, and recognized the personal changes he and fellow classmates have experienced during the past four years. Ben hopes that the College itself will not change too much after he leaves. “I really care about the direction of Pitzer,” the Media Studies and English major said. “I don't want to see us lose any of our individuality as a College.”

Art and Spanish major Kady Lane has also pondered life after Pitzer and expects for the most part that the class will part ways post-graduation. “I don't mean to say that we aren't still a single, unified group of people, but we are now a unified group of individuals on very different paths, and I think that makes us stronger,” Kady said.

To take sentiment from The Beach Boys, the Class of 2008 will have no trouble being true to our school. We are willing and able to show the world who we are. Whether it is teaching in a foreign country to underserved communities or pushing through graduate programs, we are ready for our next Everest. While Pitzer will be missed, it will remain firmly planted in the center of our souls, shaping remarkable experiences yet to come.

—Jessica Schwartz '08