New College Alumnus Colin Swift (1980)Describe yourself in 50 words or less?

A combination of Brad Pitt and George Clooney, with a little Robert Redford thrown in for good measure…  no, seriously, I was a very quiet shy introvert who grew up a lot while at New College.

Why did you choose New College (be honest) and what were your expectations?

I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived for a visit, in the Spring of my Grade 13 year.  I knew that I wanted to attend U of T, but as a shy kid from a small town, the idea of living in downtown Toronto scared me somewhat.  I was delighted to find in New College a welcoming environment of about the same population as my high school – it made the transition to the Big City much more manageable (more so than some smaller institutions in smaller cities, to which I had also applied).  Once I visited New, I knew it was where I wanted to be.

What was New College like when you came?

I was in residence for the first 2 years – at that time, Wetmore and Wilson Halls were gender-segregated, each with its own Dean.  I immediately made new friends, many of whom shared more of my interests than my friends back home – everything from Science to Science-Fiction – so I fell into a sense of ‘community’ very quickly.  Yet, at the same time, my house-mates came from a much wider variety of backgrounds than I had ever experienced before.

Tell us about some of the lessons you learned as a student leader. How valuable are these lessons to you today?

I think New College Student Council (NCSC) and New College Council (NCC) really taught me to listen. Learning that issues weren’t simply ‘black/white’ but shades of grey, and people with different approaches or views weren’t automatically ‘wrong’ – yes, I was learning that in my academic career also, but it was student politics that really drove that lesson home in a personal, real-life way.  Beyond that, the wider experience of ‘diversity’ in all its many forms really struck me – something encouraged by the multi-faculty residence concept, as well as the more obvious issues of different races and cultures. It was a real eye-opener to an English-Canadian kid from a predominantly homogeneous small town in 1970s Southern Ontario – and it was a lesson that I have embraced ever since.

Was there anyone in particular at New College (staff, student or faculty) who had a strong influence on your life or made a lasting impression on you?

The overall message at New College was one of ‘acceptance.’  Even among my erstwhile high-school friends, who were generally a pleasant group, there was still a sense of not wanting to seem too smart, as it wasn’t ‘cool’.  Here, it was OK to be smart – in fact, not only that, but suddenly I was no longer the smartest kid in the group, which was a blow to my adolescent ego.  And while it was a humbling realization, it was also liberating – I could focus on ‘smartening up’ rather than ‘dumbing down’, and not feel embarrassed by that.  Among the staff and faculty with whom I worked, both in NCC and in general, I was always aware of the sense of respect and acceptance.

How did your academic and social experience at the University/College prepare you for life and your career?

As above, I learned to value different experiences and the varied perspectives which people bring to a discussion.  I became much more of a consensus-builder.  Also, the year that I was NCSC President and NCC Chair, as well as Co-Producer of New Faces, was also the year in which I achieved my highest academic marks – that was certainly the year I learned to organize my time effectively!  New College was certainly where I learned to be more ‘comfortable in my own skin’ – more self-reliant, but also more compassionate and aware of the needs of others.

What was important to you then – what is important now?

It’s hard to remember the ‘younger me’ all these years later, but I think I personally wanted to change the world – whether through scientific discovery or some other means.  Now, while I would still like to change the world, I’m much more content with being a supporting part of a team endeavour – if my contribution is to support someone else who changes the world, that is ultimately just as satisfying.  This is a good attitude for my current job – where it is pretty much precisely what I am doing.

Do you have any final comments?

My time at New College, and the role played by the diverse College community as a whole, constitute probably the single most significant factors in my development into a well-rounded adult.  I have to attribute it to the ‘feel’ of being at New College, and the unique environment it offers – it’s not quantifiable, but it’s nonetheless quite real.