Ling Zhong's parents have come from China to watch her graduate from Swarthmore College on Sunday, and she surely wants them to understand the ceremony.
So Zhong, 22, a Beijing native, and a younger classmate, also from China, will set up in a classroom on the third floor of the college's performing arts center, where they will translate the speeches into Mandarin. Zhong's parents and anyone else who cares to hear the Mandarin version can don headsets and listen at both the spacious amphitheater where the event will be held and an auditorium in the performing arts center where it will be projected onto a large screen.
People in China or anywhere else for that matter also will be able to tune in and watch a live stream of the commencement in Mandarin or Spanish on Swarthmore's website.
It's the first time that the commencement ceremony for the prestigious liberal arts college in Delaware County will be available in multiple languages via the website and in the auditorium. The college began offering a Spanish translation in the amphitheater in 2011 and in Mandarin in 2012.
"It was in response to student interest," said Alisa Giardinelli, a Swarthmore spokeswoman. Swarthmore has 21 students from China among its 1,545-student enrollment, in addition to Chinese American students.
Zhong, a double major in honors economics and math, said she was glad to provide the translation.
"For me, it's just like translating to my own parents, and I just don't mind having other parents listening to me," she said.
Chengying Wang, a rising junior from Nanjing, also will translate, taking turns with Zhong.
"My parents will come two years later and they will want to have a translation as well," said Wang, 20, a double major in math and computer science who is staying on campus this summer for research. "If I have the ability to help this year, why not?"
Both women said they were a bit nervous about getting the translation right, particularly with certain figures of speech or phrases for which a literal translation may not work.
"Sometimes people from other countries don't have the background if there's inside jokes," Wang explained.
Wang and Zhong said they have enjoyed Swarthmore, especially its lack of emphasis on competition among students.
"People are willing to help each other and share the information they get," Wang said.
Zhong agreed. She noted happily that students' level of honors will not appear on the commencement program. That change, Giardinelli said, was made this year to de-emphasize comparisons that may not be fair to draw between majors.
Zhong will go on to Yale University for her doctorate in economics, with plans to become a researcher.
But first, there's commencement. She will leave her post in the translation room to collect her degree. She'll have plenty of time to get into place.
With the last name of Zhong, she said of the expected 375 graduates, "I'm third to last."
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