By Ella Murdock Gardner ’22
As Senior Class Co-Presidents Elizabeth Howell-Egan ’22 and Uma Nagarajan-Swenson ’22 set out to plan Commencement, they wanted to honor the spirit of mutual aid and collective care that has sustained the Class of 2022 through a global pandemic and a roller-coaster return to campus. “Looking back on the past four years, I think everyone in our community and our class specifically showed so much resilience and emotional growth,” Howell-Egan says.
Throughout the past four years, Nagarajan-Swenson (a politics major) and Howell-Egan (a politics and religious studies dual major) have carved out niches at the College and pursued activism both in and out of the classroom. “My classes have given me a ton of practical knowledge and they’ve also allowed me to develop a personal ethos, a set of guiding principles I can apply to other areas of my life,” says Howell-Egan.
Aside from their work on Scripps Associated Students (SAS) (Howell-Egan has been a member since her freshman year) and at the student-run coffeehouse, The Motley (Nagarajan-Swenson has been a manager since her sophomore year—her senior drink, “The Booger,” is an iced matcha lemonade with a pump of rose and a pump of lavender), both co-presidents are members of the 5C Prison Abolition Collective. Nagarajan-Swenson joined the “Pris-Ab” Collective while taking Professor of Politics Nancy Neiman’s course on the political economy of food, an Inside-Out class taught inside the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California. Although the pandemic forced in-person instruction to halt that same semester, it did nothing to curb Nagarajan-Swenson’s will to organize.
Responding to the inequities laid bare by the abrupt switch to online instruction, Nagarajan-Swenson and other Scripps students formed an advocacy group called Nobody Fails at Scripps (NFAS), which raised money for students in need and lobbied the administration for a universal pass grading policy for the spring semester of 2020. Since its inception, NFAS has raised over $180,000 in mutual aid, by Nagarajan-Swenson’s estimate.
“We found ways to take care of each other even when we couldn’t be together,” says Howell-Egan. “We definitely want to celebrate that at Commencement.”
Since the return to campus, Howell-Egan and Nagarajan-Swenson have been busy organizing celebrations and community events for the graduating seniors, including Senior Wine and Cheese Night, the traditional senior brunch in Margaret Fowler Garden, and several “study breaks” with treats from treasured local eateries. With Commencement on the horizon, both co-presidents have worked with the Board of Trustees and the College’s public events team to plan the ceremony and secure a Commencement speaker, activist and writer Andrea Ritchie. Howell-Egan and Nagarajan-Swenson are especially proud that the Class of 2022 is the first in Scripps history to be able pay a speaker to deliver the Commencement address. “We were so thrilled when Andrea Ritchie agreed to speak,” Nagarajan-Swenson says. “It’s wonderful to be able to honor our speaker in the way she deserves.”
After graduation, Howell-Egan will attend law school at the University of Southern California and Nagarajan-Swenson plans to continue organizing for prison abolition in the Bay Area. As the senior class co-presidents prepare to take their own turn at the podium during Commencement, they’re excited to imagine what’s in store for the Class of 2022. “Looking around at all we’ve accomplished in the past four years, we see such incredible potential for the future,” Howell-Egan says. “I’m so excited to see what comes next.”