Testing (in) the Waters

CAM intern Jennifer Pierre ’13 reflects on the swim test


It’s amazing what a role embarrassment can play in your life. It can be a frustrating emotion, holding you back from things that you love—or need—to do. My embarrassment is preventing the latter. As a rising senior, I still haven’t taken the Cornell swim test.

It should be easy. Thousands before me have jumped into a pool at Helen Newman or Teagle, swum three laps, and satisfied this traditional graduation requirement during their first few days on campus. Why didn’t I do the same?

It’s not that I think I’ll drown, or that I can’t swim at all; I can keep myself afloat for a decent while, even if it means doing the doggy paddle. No, the real problem is my awareness of my subpar swimming skills—and the shame and embarrassment that come with it. I can’t help but picture myself struggling through the water while the other students glide past me, the test facilitators gradually losing their patience. It’s like running the mile in high school gym class all over again. Despite the serious consequence of being ineligible to graduate, thoughts like these are more than enough motivation to procrastinate.

I’ve had three years to contemplate this dilemma, and I’ve come to the obvious conclusion: I have to take the test this year. More important, though, it’s time for me to get over myself. I may be a mediocre swimmer, but so are lots of people. I have to accept the fact that everyone gets embarrassed and has to do things that make them uncomfortable. When I take the swim test this fall, I’m going to go slowly and get through it one way or another. If I struggle, then that’s just the way it goes.

It’s also helpful to put this whole ordeal into perspective. One way or another, it’ll all be over in a few minutes.