Swarthmore: Academic Life in a Plant Kingdom

The Washington Post: “It is no accident that many of the nation’s top universities hold their graduation ceremonies this month outdoors, in the designed landscape. Perhaps no other institution has embraced this ideal more than Swarthmore College, the small liberal arts college 10 miles southwest of Philadelphia … Created in 1929, the Scott Arboretum grants Swarthmore’s 1,500 students an academic life immersed in the plant kingdom.”

“Covering about 300 acres, it fuses three key elements: an arboretum of old and rare trees, a series of designed gardens around and among the college buildings, and a group of major plant collections that include magnolias, flowering cherries, hydrangeas and tree peonies. Add to that an adjoining 220-acre native hardwood forest — Crum Woods — and you reach the idea that if any place can take young and curious minds out of the digital universe and back into the physical world, it is here.”

“Sometimes, the gardens function as an outdoor classroom — exquisitely at the Science Center, where the outer wall of one building doubles as a chalkboard … Two gardens move front and center for this weekend’s commencement … The first is the Dean Bond Rose Garden … This Sunday, by tradition, approximately 350 graduating seniors will go to the garden, select a rose and have it pinned to their gown. They will then proceed to the commencement ceremony itself, which occurs in the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater … The tradition of commencement in this space is so strong that it is held rain or shine.”

John Beardsley, the director of garden and landscape studies at Harvard comments: “Clearly a campus is not necessary to learning — you can learn online — but you learn something else in a shared landscape space, which is about creating a sense of belonging.”