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Student Profile Michael Swart: Graphic Artist, Educator, Survivor—and Student Senate President

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Student Profile Michael Swart: Graphic Artist, Educator, Survivor—and Student Senate President

The biking accident on Amsterdam turned out to be a teachable moment. "Injuring yourself teaches you to take a step back and evaluate the larger picture,” Swart says. "Sure, it will have an impact on this semester, but you learn to adapt.”

Student Profile Michael Swart: Graphic Artist, Educator, Survivor—and Student Senate President

Swart says, "the Student Senate is our voice, our opportunity to sing our praises, to express grievances, to make our experience at TC the best it can be.”

Student Profile Michael Swart: Graphic Artist, Educator, Survivor—and Student Senate President

"I felt the joy in teaching, learning, and helping to make a positive difference in someone else's life, and that's one of the best parts of being a student here at Teachers College,” Swart says. "We all share that common calling: to help make that difference.”

Student Profile Michael Swart: Graphic Artist, Educator, Survivor—and Student Senate President

Last spring, the Go Green Committee of the Student Senate organized an Earth Day festival that was headlined by singer Pete Seeger and drew not only people from TC but throughout the community.

The biking accident on Amsterdam Avenue that broke Michael Swart’s collarbone and sidelined him for weeks in August could have been a disaster. Instead, it turned out to be a teachable moment. “Injuring yourself teaches you to take a step back and evaluate the larger picture,” Swart says with a laugh, recuperating in his dorm room. “Sure, it will have an impact on this semester, but you learn to adapt.”
That can-do spirit might have something to do with how Swart became President of the Teachers College Student Senate this year. After starting out as a graphic artist, then a Montessori instructor and then transitioning to the film and music business, Swart, now 31, came to TC a year and a half ago to pursue a Ph.D. in educational psychology. Last fall, he decided to join the Student Senate.
 
“To me,” Swart says, “the Student Senate is our voice, our opportunity to sing our praises, to express grievances, to make our experience at TC the best it can be.”
 
He hopes his experience working on music videos for the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ludacris, and as a graphic artist crafting advertisements for albums by Madonna and the Foo Fighters has prepared him to steer the Senate in a creative direction.
 
Last October, for example, amid the tumultuous economic and political climate, Swart organized the inaugural Free Fallin’ Fest for students, staff, faculty and other members of the TC community. And in the spring, the Go Green Committee of the Student Senate organized an Earth Day festival that was headlined by singer Pete Seeger and drew not only people from TC but throughout the community. All of it has convinced Swart that the Student Senate has the power to bring many elements of the College and the community together.
 
But Swart is more than a consensus builder—he’s a survivor. One of six children—his identical twin Jeffrey is a music engineer and producer—Swart was diagnosed with cancer at 19 while in college and underwent chemotherapy.
 
“Having survived cancer, you’re grateful for each day,” Swart says. “When you go from being in the ICU to enjoying the streets of New York City as a happy, healthy young man, you smile a lot.”
 
The experience most certainly changed him and planted a vocational seed. During more than two years as a patient at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Swart was surrogate uncle, brother, mentor and teacher to children who, like him, were fighting for their lives. He taught them to speak English and do math, to play the drums and ride their bikes.
 
“I felt the joy in teaching, learning, and helping to make a positive difference in someone else’s life, and that’s one of the best parts of being a student here at Teachers College,” Swart says. “We all share that common calling: to help make that difference.”
 
As to his future after TC, he says it’s fluid. For now, he’s exploring the links between activities that engage us to use both sides of our body and both sides of our brain. But he’s got a few years to decide. Here’s to betting that whatever he does, it’ll involve plenty of creativity and perseverance.
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