Shwayder, a senior defender for the Occidental College lacrosse team, has dealt with numerous personal hardships during her four years of college. During the summer of her freshman year (2019), her father, Scott, unexpectedly died by suicide. Although distraught, the 19-year-old Shwayder returned to campus that fall and remained fully enrolled and committed to her academics and athletics. However, in spring 2020, when COVID-19 cut short her lacrosse season, she returned home to Colorado, leaving behind her support system of friends and teammates. After spending the spring and summer at home, she returned to Los Angeles for the fall semester, but depression, brought on by a variety of factors, including COVID restrictions and a mysterious liver ailment, forced her to return home again.
Then, at the end of her junior year (May 2021), while visiting campus to attend the graduation ceremony, her good friend and teammate, Zoe, tragically lost her life. This added considerable psychological stress and heartache to the emotional state of the entire team, but especially to Shwayder, who was still grieving the loss of her father. Despite the shock and sadness, she helped her teammates navigate through the difficult times. During her senior year, Julia balanced a full academic load, played varsity athletics, and prepared for life after college. She started the first nine games this season before an injury sidelined her for five games. She was able to return to the lineup and start the final three games. A psychology major, Shwayder plans to attend graduate school to become a therapist and to help those who also struggle with mental health issues. Toward that end, she has been a member of Active Minds, a mental health club on campus, and she has organized lacrosse team walks with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“Counseling really helped me get through these difficult circumstances,” said Shwayder. “During my personal grieving, the distance of school from home and time well spent with my friends helped to take my mind off my father’s death. I had a great support system at school, but due to COVID, I was forced to return home, which honestly helped me process my dad’s death in a way I was unable to at school.”
Julia Shwayder, Occidental College