Phil Swanger ’08 has many St. Andrew's memories and lessons he calls upon regularly to guide him in his current role as a teacher and coach. Read more--including his advice for the Class of 2016--in our interview below:
Where did life lead you after graduating St. Andrew's?
I graduated from Davidson College in 2012 with a BA in Classics and a Concentration in Education. After graduation, I spend seven weeks in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of a ministry project before beginning a one-year teaching internship at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. While at Woodberry, an all-boys boarding school, I taught Latin and coached football, basketball, and baseball. The following June (2013) I married my wife Brittany, whom I met while at Davidson. We soon moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I currently teach 8th grade Ancient Civilizations and Upper School Latin. In addition to teaching, I coach on the varsity football and middle school basketball staff. Brittany is completing a Master’s program in Higher Education Administration at LSU.
Can you identify some skills you learned at St. Andrew's that are helping you in your life?
While at St. Andrew's, we had the opportunity to take part in numerous service projects; whether collecting rice and beans for the hungry around Austin, working with children to improve their reading skills, or traveling to New Orleans to help with local disaster recovery projects, we learned that our lives are not our own. I deeply appreciate St. Andrew's tradition of implementing service as a component of education, and credit the school for developing greater compassion in me and my peers during our four years at the Upper School. I remind myself every day in my own classroom to be ever more mindful of the needs of my students than my own, a task which is not always easy to accomplish. However, because of the training in selflessness I received at St. Andrew's, I am equipped to persevere in a life of service.
Can you name a teacher or class you took that had a lasting impact on you?
Undoubtably, my Latin teachers Jennie Luongo and Clint Hagen fostered in me a love of Classical learning, which I am now attempting to pass on to the next generations. Jennie was practically my second mother during my time at St. Andrew's; whether she was coaching our Certamen team, leading our Junior Experience trip to Italy (her daughter Emma still remembers a trip through Rome on my shoulders!), or helping me decide on a college, she played a critical role in my life every year of high school and afterward. Clint played a pivotal role in my spiritual development during high school. Because of his patient leadership and guidance, I came to desire teaching as my vocation, through which I can only hope to leave a legacy among my students similar to the one he has left in me. I also have to mention Marsha Russell. I discovered in her class an appreciation for art as a lens into culture and the collective psyche of a people. Because of her boldness and innovative approach to illuminating history through art, I bring quite a bit of art and architecture into my own classroom. Her constant kindness and encouragement to her students is an example I always try to emulate.
Do you have a favorite St. Andrew's tradition?
I much as I complained about the bagpipes while I was at St. Andrew's, hearing one being played brings back sweet memories of processions around campus for St. Andrew's Day and other special events. Something about a bagpipe elevates the importance of any activity! I also have particularly fond memories of our chapel traditions, such as Contemplative Mondays and Hymn Sing. I always felt a greater sense of peace as a result of our daily chapel routine.
What advice would you give a St. Andrew's senior as they prepare to graduate?
Seniors, right now you are filled with a riotous mix of emotions. Take time over the next few months to get time by yourself to think, be with God, and process all that is happening and about to happen in your life. Remove yourself from the cacophony of voices all telling you what to expect and do in college, and clarify what YOU want to do and become in the years after you leave St. Andrew's. At times, being in school feels like you are being constantly buffeted by the wills and ideas of others; soon, you will be in more control of your life than you have ever been. Be confident in who you are, what you believe, and what you want from the next few years.