Author: Margaret Su
Emily Watkins (senior) is no stranger to dedication and hard work. In addition to ranking second in the SCIAC at the 100 Breaststroke, the potential Fulbright scholar serves as the president of Occidental’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer. She has no qualms about spending her valuable time enriching the lives of those around her and working toward the causes she believes in.
“To me, Emily is the epitome of what it means to be a successful student at a liberal arts institution,” head of aquatics and head swim coach Shea Manning said via email. “She sets the example for how to best approach your valuable time in college by taking advantage of all the resources and opportunities available to her while she is here.”
Watkins, who has been swimming competitively since fifth grade, did not initially plan on continuing the sport throughout all four years of college. It was only after being recruited for water polo that she looked into joining Occidental’s swim team instead.
Without the support of coaches and teammates, Watkins said that she would not have had the motivation to continue her swimming career to this point. She finds the strength to push herself from those who have pushed her, and she credits her high school swim coach, Mark Hernandez, as being one of her greatest influences.
“He was almost another family member rather than just a coach,” Watkins said.
Watkins considers the SCIAC Swimming and Diving Championships, specifically those of her sophomore and senior year, to be some of the most memorable experiences of her swimming career.
“The energy at our last conference meet is always so huge and it reminds me of how much I love our team,” Watkins said. “Everyone is up cheering, even if they have a big race coming up, and the other schools definitely don’t do that to the same extent that we do.”
Though she values the support of all of her teammates, they value hers just as much, if not more.
“She is always one of the loudest swimmers cheering on her teammates when she isn’t competing,” swimmer Alique Berberian (senior) said via email.
For Watkins, ending her undergraduate swimming career on the SCIACs platform with a near-victory in the 100 Breaststroke, her favorite race, was the perfect culmination to her four years of training.
“She has overcome and sacrificed so much to continue swimming,” swimmer Aviva Alvarez-Zakson (senior) said via email. “If you saw her after her final race, you’d know just how much the sport and team means to her.”
But swimming is not the only aspect of Watkins’ life that is of great importance to her. Colleges Against Cancer, where the other half of her heart lies, is currently in the process of organizing the annual Relay For Life. Watkins chaired the event for the past two years and manages the online activity for the event. The cancer fundraising event will be held at Occidental from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. April 11.
Watkins has become increasingly involved in Relay for Life since she first participated in high school. In her first year of college, she spoke to an audience of 1,000 people at a Relay conference and has since been invited to speak at other Relays for Life.
She particularly values the idea that everyone involved is working toward a common goal and relates it to the sense of support she receives from her swim coaches and teammates.
“I enjoy anything that has that same atmosphere of community and support,” Watkins said.
Watkins’ dedication to Colleges Against Cancer and Relay For Life is evident to those who work alongside her.
“She is extremely dedicated to the cause and inspires me year after year to continue the fight and do my best to put on a great and memorable event,” Colleges Against Cancer member Maddy Farkas (junior) said via email. “I’ll be happy if next year I accomplish even half of what she has done for this club at Oxy.”
Cynthia Naideau (junior), who is also a part of Colleges Against Cancer, shares Farkas’ view of Watkins.
“Her dedication and genuine passion that she puts into this club really help make it such a great community to be a part of,” Naideau said via email.
Communities overseas in Bhutan and Thailand have likewise benefitted from Watkins’ dedication and passion. In Bhutan, she co-taught a documentary filmmaking class with her father. Last summer, she spent a month in Bangkok working with Thai university students.
“That was really awesome,” Watkins said. “I got to see a lot of the city and hang out with a bunch of cool kids.”
Travel is not the only way Watkins spends her summers. In addition to teaching swim lessons, she has spent the past four years working at Okizu, a camp for children who have been affected by cancer either directly or through a sibling.
During the school year, Watkins enjoys living in close proximity to her friends and having meaningful conversations about global issues with people on campus—two aspects of college life that she will miss post-graduation.
“A lot of the people I surround myself with are people who want to have discussions about what’s going on in the world,” Watkins said. “I know that that’s not going to be the same when I graduate.”
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