Don't Forget To Call Home | Emily G.
Dear freshman self,
There are a couple of important things I want you to know before you embark on this crazy journey of college. For the most part, the next four years will fly by and even when it feels slow and difficult, remember that this adventure only lasts about 1,100 days, so try your very best to make every day count.
Firstly, you’re you and no one else. Your Penn experience will be unique to your older sister’s and all of her friends you met before arriving to campus. Your four years will be drastically different than your freshman roommate and all the awesome people you met on that first day of PennQuest. Do the things YOU want to do; do not sign up for clubs just because other people are doing them, be brave to take the classes that truly interest you and keep on meeting new people until you’ve actually found YOUR friends. You must realize there’s not a single path through Penn, there’s a bajillion choices and turns ahead of you that will make these four years yours and no one else’s.
Before coming to Penn, I dreaded going to school in a big city, but it’s now one of the things I love most about Penn. I urge you to take total advantage of Philly. Try all of the best restaurants in Philly with your friends (pro-tip: Zahav reservations open 60 days in advance at Noon), walk into Center City for an evening Yoga class (my favorite is Steve at Philly Power Yoga), take two hours to explore the Barnes museum even though you don’t love art, and explore whatever you can whenever you have chance. Every time you get off campus to try something new, you’ll be happy you did.
Similarly, take all opportunities to travel! Take some time first semester to plan an awesome spring break in Costa Rica with your best friends. Sign up for Birthright through Hillel with a couple friends so that you can meet awesome people for free; sit down with your academic advisor to plan your requirements to make studying abroad in Madrid the most incredible semester of your life. Getting out of the bubble, like really out of the bubble, will broaden your perspectives more than most classes or conversations at Penn.
Over the course of your time at Penn, it’s essential to be patient. I know you’re naturally not so patient (thanks, Mom), but things really do change over time – so try to sit back and see how things shake out. I promise they’ll get better. You won’t love your freshman year and you may think about transferring once or twice. Once you take some time for yourself, re-evaluate your friends, your goals and the awesome opportunities you have at Penn, you’ll find your place. Be patient and wait to get involved in the right groups – don’t worry about missing the boat first semester when it comes to joining clubs, because you can always sign up for something second semester you actually care about and let that community become your second family. You’ll have to be patient when it comes to boys, too. You think you’ll have found a really great guy freshman year only to be disappointed by the asshole he actually is. You’ll wait two years, navigating the annoying Penn hook-up culture, partaking in a fair amount of DFMOs, before actually finding the best guy ever where you least expected. Read a book, watch some Netflix, it’ll all work out.
While attempting to do all of this, I want you to always take care of you. Do things that make you happy and when you’re not happy (which will totally happen), prioritize yourself because you deserve to be happy. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help to get you through your hardest times, it’s completely normal and you’ll find out later that many of your friends have done the same. The fresh perspective will help you get back to being you. You should skip class to have dinner with a friend who will surely put a smile on your face and surround yourself with great friends who have your back and will listen to you complain about your terrible day. At the same time, be the person who’s there when your closest friend goes through a tough break-up or is stressed about finding an internship. Remember, these are the friends you will have for the rest of your life, so spend plenty of time building the relationships you care about most. A big chunk of this whole college thing is the people you meet and the things you do with the awesome people you meet. No matter what your GPA says, keep your Penn people and memories close.
Penn is going to be awesome and it will fly by, I can’t believe I’m leaving this chapter in just a few months. You’re going to love it (even if not at first). Be you, be patient, explore and take great care of yourself. If you’re feeling lost, ask for help. You can even text me, (913)748-5544.
Lots of love,
P.S. Don’t forget to call home, they always want to hear from you!!
Confronting Hard Choices | Jackson B
No, not freshman Jackson. Freshman year was at CU-Boulder. Thank goodness I'm not writing to that kid. If I were, I’m worried “Please Come Out Soon” would have topped the list of potential titles. So, let’s just call this “Dear Penn First Year.” (But seriously, don’t minimize the struggle of transfer students.)
It really was a disaster from the beginning. You were coming to Penn (never having visited) fresh from a breakup with your first boyfriend. The goal was to get involved in a political organization, join an acapella group, and do debate (p.s. It’s senior year you’re 0 for 3). Instead, you join student government and get involved in the LGBTQ+ community. You rushed, and although rush was cataclysmic in terms of its traditional outcomes, through it, you made a new best friend.
Reminiscing makes it all seem so easy. Your memory has a way of diminishing the hardships and painting this simple picture. However, the most formative and influential experiences at this school involve those little moments that you often forget.
At Penn, mixed messages are the norm. You’ll be told things like “Address the problems you have with your friends; don’t be a pushover; stand up for yourself” just as often as you are told “Learn to let go and be happy; people have flaws and learning to live with them will make you so much better.” Some say, “You want a long, healthy, successful life, so make that extra trip to the gym, and make sure to watch your carbs” while you will also hear “Love yourself and your body; don’t focus on other’s standards, and certainly don’t lose sleep over a workout.” More than anything, people will preach that “you need to take care of those around you; Penn is one community, and you are responsible for looking out for others” while expecting you to put yourself first and exercise self-care.
What are you to do? Of course, the true answer lies within some gray area, but most of the time the answer seems binary: pick one or the other.
Do you remember that day midway through your senior fall? You bounced from speaking with a freshman who had trust issues, a friend who was just getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship, club-members who were upset about the monetary commitment it takes to be social in your organization, and another student who just couldn’t get out of bed because the weight of their responsibilities crushed their ability to do so. All in one day. It came to a point where you couldn’t take it anymore. This was a clear tradeoff between others’ well-being and yours, but these will be the types of conflicts you will continue to face nearly every day.
To some people, figuring out what to do may come easy, but not to you.
These problems will never end, and there are no right answers. When composing this, I asked your future best friend what he thought and how he would approach it. He said you think too much. But I realize the point of it all is to think. Much of what plagues you your first year at Penn is haphazardness. When these tough decisions present themselves, you don’t contemplate the consequences for yourself or others.
Sure, this is hard. It slows things down. And your consciousness of the consequences will weigh you down. But when you try to make sense of your place during these weird 4 – er, 3 – years of your life, awareness of these everyday judgments, and a deliberate course through them is invaluable. So, think. Because at a place with so much joy, so much pain, and so much opportunity, you never know how much it may save you.
Senior Year Jackson
Breathe/Respira | Gabriela G
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it is that I want to say to you. I think I will start by saying that I am so proud of you and all that you have accomplished already. I’ll also add that you are so, so loved, and you’re surrounded by people who believe in you.
The most important piece of advice I have to give you is that when it comes to curly hair, the haircut is just as important as the hair products you use, so please get your hair cut in layers as soon as possible and start using Cantu products, they will change your life. Pantene’s Pro-V Curl Defining mousse is also pretty solid, definitely check that out.
Haha, in all seriousness though, Penn is going to be a wild ride and I want to be as helpful as possible. In a lot of ways, I’m torn while I’m writing this letter because I want to be honest, but I don’t want to scare you. I’ll say this: Penn is going to be hard. I remember being in your shoes three years ago. I remember there were some days I did not get out of my bed, not because I was lazy but because I was incredibly unhappy. I remember feeling like I was not supposed to be here. I remember reading transfer requirements for other schools. I remember feeling like I had not found my place here, like I was not good enough, like I had already somehow failed despite only being here for a few months. I remember these past three years, when those feelings did not always go away. I remember joining clubs that made me feel out of place, unwanted, and sexually objectified; I remember being hurt by people I cared about; I remember not feeling supported by Penn’s administration when I was most vulnerable; I remember not being sure of my worth as a woman of color on this campus.
I know I sound pessimistic, but hear me out. I promise I am not telling you this to scare you. I am saying this because it is important that you know now that you are going to be okay. You are going to be more than okay. You are going to thrive and find happiness and joy at Penn in the people and in the spaces that welcome you. I am also saying this because, of all of the things that you’re good at, choosing friends who are loving, compassionate and kind is probably the most important. Please know that asking for their help is always an option. Please remember that calling home and telling your family that you are struggling does not mean that you are a failure or that you are letting anyone down. I promise that the people around you want to see you succeed and be happy, and will be there for you if you just reach out.
As simple as it sounds, just please do the things you love. For you, that means dancing, community service and education. For other people that might mean making music, playing a sport, joining Greek life, doing research or doing absolutely nothing at Penn and exclusively being a part of organizations in Philadelphia. All of these are valid as long as you are happy and as long as you care for others to the best of your ability. I think you came here with the idea that there is only one “right” way to be successful at Penn. You think that you have to join clubs in order to put them on your resume, run for student government or join a Greek organization, otherwise you’ll be wasting your time here. But there is no “right” way to be a student here. There are over 2,500 people in your graduating class alone, and it’s pretty awesome that we all have different interests and strengths. So please don’t pretend to be anything other than who you are, because you’re pretty fricking awesome (if I do say so myself).
Two more things before I sign off and let you live your best life. Firstly, although you’ll get hurt while you’re here, please do not let that harden your heart. Keep your heart soft. You have an incredible heart. Sometimes people suck. There is almost always a reason for that, so don’t stop believing the best in others. On your toughest days, your empathy is what will see you through. Finally, you are absolutely allowed to quit things! And stop hanging out with people that you don’t like! Especially if they are sexist, racist, homophobic and/or just not nice humans! You are not obligated to do things that take away your joy, and when it comes to clubs, people are actually pretty understanding when you need space. (Just do it sooner rather than later.)
Okay, I lied, I have one more thing to say before I sign off. Please stop being so hard on yourself. You’re doing a lot better than you give yourself credit for.
Alright, I’m done now. Have a wonderful four years!
All my love,
P.s. Enjoy Capo’s coquito-flavored gelato while you can, they will close abruptly your Senior year, leading to heartbreak and despair.
P.p.s. It’s okay that you didn’t join CityStep freshman year, you’ll find your people there soon.
Majoring in life, eating 200 nuggets & random variables | David O
Dear Freshman David,
These next 4 years in college are going to be some of the craziest, most inspiring, memorable, heartbreaking 4 years in your life. You’re going to go through the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. You’ll be taking classes from 20 different departments. You’ll be sitting in your floor lounge confused about life at 2am contemplating whether to change your major again. You will be pursuing various startup ventures with amazing people, and failing in a lot of them. You will meet your best friends in the most random of places, lose touch with a few of them and have countless of memories with a lot of them. And along the way you will learn a lot of lessons about what truly matters in college and life. Here’s a short teaser of what’s to come.
On Choosing Your Major
You will come into Penn thinking that you have everything figured out: major in Cognitive Science and potentially apply to a dual degree with Wharton or Computer Science. But you’ll take a look at the classes, struggle in your first few computer science homeworks and realize that you don’t want to be spending the next 4 years of your life just studying. So you will have an existential crisis and email prominent Penn alumni like Jon Huntsman and Elon Musk asking for advice on what to major in. One of them will reply and the other won’t but he’ll say that your major doesn’t matter at this point but study something of great usefulness. In pursuit of the perfect major for you, you will end up changing your major 20 different times, tell your parents and friends you’re majoring in LIFE, declare Urban Studies during your sophomore year, create an academic planning worksheet for Psychology, Sociology and take 3 Fine Arts classes before deciding that you can’t live with yourself dropping CIS110, the intro to programming class, your freshman year so during your sophomore spring semester, you’ll take 7 classes and declare Cognitive Science and Computer Science as your majors.
Once you do this, you will struggle with all the mathematical proofs, random variables and coding assignments. After each computer science problem set, you will question why you’re even studying computer science. Yet you’ll stick with it because you will meet some of your best friends in the all nighters you pull in Huntsman Hall trying to find that bug in your code. These same friends will be there for you through thick or thin and you’ll realize that all those all nighters were very much worth it. Two years after going through this struggle, you will look back appreciating the diversity of classes you took during that period when you majored in “LIFE”, and be thankful for the photoshop skills you picked up in your fine arts classes.
On Cultivating Friendships
Coming into college, you’ll be excited to meet as many people as you can but you can really only be friends with so many people; you’ll find that your most meaningful college friendships are made in the most random places. You’ll meet them because they’ll be there for you at 3am to talk you through life’s struggles. You’ll meet them because you decide to pledge a business frat. You’ll meet them after through bringing YouthHack to Penn. You’ll meet them because you decide to try new things your junior year like Alternative Spring Break and PennAppetit. You’ll meet them because you’re so passionate about changing the world with tech and startups and they are too. You’ll meet them because you start calling them nicknames like “Masterchef”. You’ll meet them through the various side projects you work on. You’ll meet them after singing your heart out in karaoke during the Dorm Room Fund retreat in New York.
But beyond meeting them, friendships will be formed because you care so much about them that you will drop everything to hang out and spend time with them, and they will do the same for you because that’s what friends are for. When you find these few friends who are willing to put up with your craziness, eat 200 chicken nuggets with you and pick you up when you’re down, do me a favor and tell them how much you love and care about them. Tell it to them when you’re sober. Tell it to them when you’re drunk. Tell it to them not once, not twice, but again and again.
On Chasing Your Passion & Impostor Syndrome
You’ll come into Penn wanting to change the world by working on a startup, dropping out and becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. But you’ll quickly realize that it’s a lot harder than you think and while you’ll make several attempts to work on startup ventures with friends, a lot of them will end up failing. And that’s okay because a lot of these failures will teach you lessons that will help you the next time around and each of these side projects and startup ventures will be experiences in themselves. But as you grow older, you’ll start to become more jaded because of this realization that pursuing your passion is hard. Additionally, reality will get more real as you become a junior and senior with everyone recruiting for their final summer and full-time positions, but realize that this is only just the beginning, you don’t need to have figured out everything by the time college ends.
A lot of people have no idea what they’re doing and neither should you. You will feel like an impostor a lot of times but that’s okay because like they say, it’s about the journey, and not the destination. As long as you’re learning and enjoying the process, keep going. Pursue side projects and internships in things that interest you. Spend time travelling and meeting people with similar passions and people with different passions. Then stay in touch with these people because you just never know when you’ll cross paths again. And most importantly, never stop dreaming big. Because for every college dropout like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, there are thousands of others who never figured things out until later on in life: J.K. Rowling was 30 years old when she finished the first manuscript for Harry Potter and Ray Kroc was 53 when he bought the McDonalds franchise.
College Is Random And So Is the Universe
You will make a lot of mistakes along the way and you will regret a few things here and there but you just have to learn from them and keep moving forward. And realize that no matter how much you plan for things to happen, and that no matter how hard you work, a lot of things don’t go according to plan because college is random (yes, college and life can get more complicated than the expected value and random variables in our discrete math class). You will get rejected. You will fail. You will chip your tooth. You will wake up at the time of your exam. You will lose touch with a few friends. But it’s this same randomness that makes college such a special place to begin with; it’s being able to take classes from the most random departments that broadens our world view; it’s being able to work on various side projects with people we care about that teaches us so much about ourselves and others; it’s being able to meet friends from all over the world and stay up until 3, 4, 5am that makes it so memorable. College will be a lot but take it all in, do your best, have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, love your friends, and enjoy the journey. I’ll end this letter by leaving you with one of my favorite quotes from Ted Mosby of How I Met Your Mother that I like to go back to every now and then:
"The great moments of your life won't necessarily be the things you do, they'll also be the things that happen to you. Now, I'm not saying you can't take action to affect the outcome of your life, you have to take action, and you will. But never forget that on any day, you can step out the front door and your whole life can change forever. You see, the universe has a plan, kids, and that plan is always in motion. A butterfly flaps its wings, and it starts to rain. It's a scary thought, but it's also kind of wonderful. All these little parts of the machine constantly working, making sure that you end up exactly where you're supposed to be, exactly when you're supposed to be there. The right place at the right time." - Ted Mosby
Staying True To Yourself | Nayab K.
Don’t give up. You will make it. Trust me.
I know it’s freshmen year and it seems like everyone around you is getting A’s in all their classes. You are probably struggling and figuring out where is life heading, but things will come around and you will figure it out. The most important part in your journey at Penn, especially during your freshmen year, is to take care of yourself. Remember to sleep, go to the gym, have a balanced diet, and have fun!
Now that I have given the most basic advice, let me dive into my struggles at Penn and what I wished more freshmen knew. As a practicing Muslim woman at Penn, I have struggled a lot here, especially being on a campus that revolves around a party and drinking scene. Luckily, I was able to lean on the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and other folks across campus who wanted to not be involved in the party scene as well.
At first, it may seem like you have to attend parties throughout NSO, rush for a sorority or fraternity in the spring of your freshmen year and be getting drunk every Friday night. Even though it may seem that way, please understand that is not the case. Refusing to not be involved in these activities will not make you any less “cool.” Trust me.
In these past four years, I have only attended two parties and never touched a bottle of alcohol. At my first party, I was with two of my closest friends and it was the Saturday night of Spring Fling. We literally were at this party for 15 minutes. After walking in, I realized it was not where I wanted to spend my Saturday night of Fling. Instead, we went to Wawa, bought some milkshakes, and hung out at my place, talking and laughing the night away.
If you feel pressured in any way to attend parties and/or drink, especially when you do not feel comfortable, be open about it. Most people understand and are mindful of people’s choices. Even though I have friends who do drink and party, they understand that I do not feel comfortable in those scenes on campus. If you find yourself surrounded with those who don’t understand your choices, have a conversation and explain them your perspective. However, the truth is they aren’t good friends if they are pressuring you to do something you don’t want to do. If you are the friend who is judging someone on your hall for not partying and drinking, then stop.
Spend your Philly weekends exploring the city by going to Spruce Harbor, taking a stroll down Rittenhouse Square, or even spend the night having deep conversations with your friends. Those are the nights that you will cherish the most.
As someone who actively chooses to not party and drink due to religious reasons, I can say that being religious on this campus is difficult. The religious community is its own bubble. Friends from the different religious communities, such as the Orthodox Jewish folks and Hindus, understand me and my faith the most. However, when I leave this safe community, I am faced with intrusive, rude questions about my beliefs across campus. The sad truth is that even on an ivy league campus like Penn, people can come off as insensitive when it comes to religious discussions. It becomes very tiring to always explain why I wear the hijab, pray 5 times a day, and don’t drink. If you are a freshman with certain beliefs, I want you to know you aren’t alone. After dealing with being asked intrusive questions, I would vent out to my Orthodox Jewish friends, who would also face similar struggles.
During your time at Penn, just remember to stay true to yourself. Make sure you are doing well and are content. It can become overwhelming and difficult at times. Grades can drop. Friendships can break. Though, things will get better. If you do slip up, it’s okay – you are human.
There is so much more I want to write, but this one blog cannot encompass it. Instead, below are some things to keep in mind! If you are an underclassman and want to chat, email me at email@example.com. Let’s grab a cup of coffee and just talk.
Things to remember:
1. Check your privilege.
2. Be an ally and go to a protest or march.
3. Getting a C in a class is not the end of the world. You will survive.
4. “Friendships are fluid!” – Gavi Reiter C’15
5. Dedicate one weekend every month to getting off campus and exploring Philly.
To Everything In Between | Isabella C
Dearest Penn Freshmen,
I will try to keep this as succinct as possible, for the sights and sounds, the countless images flashing in front of me, the intensity of emotion flooding my senses, right now, as I write this to you, are sometimes too much. Sometimes too much to articulate with language, too much to construct a singularly coherent narrative about. But I will do my best to make sense of it all, for you, who has already done enough just by opening your mind to this letter.
Upon reflection, I have decided that the most important piece of wisdom (if I can even call it such) that I can offer you is not directly about my own personal experience or what being a Penn student means because this will (and should) inevitably take on vastly diverse forms and identities…
Rather, it’s about what it means to be a human being living a very human existence in a place that, many times, doesn’t feel human enough.
Penn is an incredibly homogenous and heterogeneous place, all at the same time. For many of my semesters, it was a place of drastic extremes: two ends of a see-saw in which buzzwords like “failure” and “success” were constantly fighting to be in balance, without any recognition that movement—nuance—has to happen somewhere inbetween. And in that whirlwind of extremes—in the competitive, narrow-minded pre-med path; in the black-and-white definitions of social life; in the hackneyed saying, “I am so busy,” that you will hear, and in turn say, too many times—I frequently lost sight of what I valued most, or at the very least what I wanted to value most. I surrendered the very attainable, very tangible agency I was supposed to have in cultivating my college experience to these extremes. Extremes that began to dictate the direction of my life without me consciously recognizing the emergence of such a reality.
I lost sight of the nuance, the complexity—the inbetween.
A favorite quote from one of the most thought-provoking philosophers of our time reads: “In each case the most important truths cannot be reached by any amount of common sense or scientific observation, nor by logical thought, but only by insights and intuitions that are driven forward by intense concentrations of feeling.”
No matter who you are, where you come from, who you want to be, I dare you to embrace that intense concentration of feeling. To know that tears shed by yourself in your dorm or the seemingly unending monotony from mundane routine are just as vital to your existence as the guttural laughs and deep-seated feelings of warmth that reverberate in the best of your nights. To know that the unknown can be far more liberating than that which is known. And to know that, as a professor once put it so eloquently, life deserves all the respect of complexity.
I used the verb, dare, because embodying this mindset, this way of life, is perhaps one of the most difficult things we as humans can do. In fact, this is something I believe we can strive our entire lives to do and still not do well. But what I do know is that I wish I had an earlier start, a clearer understanding that this is likely the most uninhibited, malleable time we will ever have to find out what it means to be a bit more human than we, as children of social media and technology, tend to be or perhaps value being. It may be the only time when we can take risks without actually risking that much (besides arbitrary social currency perhaps) or be people we think we want to be, rejecting the pressures to be stereotypically cool, masculine, sceney, intellectual, etc.
So I dare you yet again to feel. To not shut yourself off from feeling.
Reach out to strangers. Adventure outside your comfort zone, even if for just one quick minute. Tell someone—a friend, a parent, a lover—how and what you feel. Dare to take a class that terrifies you. Open your mind to silence, to solitude, to your own thoughts. Call your mom more. Seek out relationships with professors. Find familiarity in vulnerability, honesty in the conversations you have with others and the ones you have with yourself. Drink more and then drink less. Stop hating as much. Fuck up a bit, but don’t hurt others at the expense of it. Read more books. Take more walks. Let the sound of music wash over you. Be there for others and for yourself. Commit—and I mean truly commit. Look up more often. Put away your phone and be present.
Diversify your life, diversify you.
By seeking out a predefined path, by surrounding yourself with people who don’t inspire or challenge you, by rendering yourself “invincible” or “immune” to the nuance in life that often takes place inbetween the great and the bad, the success and the failure, is to miss out, to not experience the broadest range of emotions, experiences, and thoughts that humankind has to offer right at its very fingertips—right here, at Penn.
With love and endless optimism for you and for the future,
A senior who is still trying to do the very same thing as you.
You Deserve Nice Things, Too | Freda Z
You’re probably tired, or at least have been tired in the past 24 hours at some point. That jittery anxious excitement from the bombardment of the new environment feels like it’s drained the energy from every introverted cell in your body. You’re living by yourself for the first time, and all your friends and family are half the world away. It’s terrifying, I know.
I’m not going to tell you to not worry – it’s in your nature, and it’s something that has helped get you this far. They say that college is the best 4 years of your life; I’d caveat that, and say that the highs are high, but the lows are low. Opportunities come knocking and you’ll be rejected; friendships and relationships come along, and you’ll push yourself to socialize until you’re burned out for weeks; identity and existential crises tumble into your mind and you’ll lie awake in bed until the sun comes up (having a coffee in hand or living in coffee shops will be your M.O., unfortunately). You will be eager to leave, but you are going to miss college, mostly for what it has taught you about love, people, and yourself.
1. Learn to love other people and yourself. It may feel hard, coming from a culture where open expressions of love and voicing your passions is embarrassingly bold. But do it anyways. Your psychology classes will open your eyes to just how difficult it is for other people to understand you and how difficult it is for you to understand others. Caring is never a weakness, and you will always underestimate how much it will mean to another person when you share a bit of love. It could be a home-cooked meal (yes, you’re going to fall in love with cooking), a really tight hug, a study session, or even a phone call. It’s easy to wait for other people to reach out, to make the first move, to take their chances. Friendships, or any relationship for that matter, will rely on you to help maintain it as well. But remember, sometimes you have to know when to stop and take care of yourself too. It’s easy to forgive and forget, to keep giving second chances to people who take advantage of your kindness or your time. It’s easy to blame yourself for the many things that will happen. Learn to take the walls down and be aware of what you’re feeling. Find the people who make you feel good, and who you can help feel good. Let go of those who don’t.
2. Be bold in your work and taking chances. You are your own best advocate, and no one can help you unless you help yourself. As they say, fake it till you make it, and there has never been a statement that describes you better. Your mom jokes about how you managed to squeeze your way into an Ivy League (and she will say the same for the job you’ll get later), but the nugget of truth in that is the fact that when you’re under pressure, square your shoulders and push the scared voice in your head away and step up to face your challenges. It may not always pay off, but if you don’t try, you will never know how it might have turned out. Take your chances – if it helps, pretend you’re a movie character with the characteristics you want to have, braving trials and tribulations. Soon, without noticing it, you’ll become that person.
3. Do your research – but ask the right questions for every decision you make. The risk-averse, logical side to you will want to plan things out and conduct the maximum amount of research you can for everything you do. This “boiling the ocean” approach (and you can laugh at how business buzzwords have sneaked its way into my daily vocab) wastes time and increases your indecisiveness. Before jumping straight into the research or examining all the available decision options, think about what is the goal and what you truly want. What are the questions that you should be asking, instead of all the ones you could be asking? Choose your battles, and sometimes the best choice is what your gut tells you. Also, don’t well on the “what could have been” scenarios – overthinking is your worst enemy.
Just remember, if you’ve done your best, sometimes the best thing you can do is to loosen that tight grasp on what you think you can control, and just breathe. If it’s meant to be, it will be.
And it will be. You deserve nice things, too.
P.S. You’re going to pastry school after graduation – never give up on your dreams!
Being Brave | Jamie S
Dear Freshman Jamie,
Be kind to yourself. I know it’s tempting to keep beating yourself up over not taking CIS110, but there are other ways that you’ll learn how to brave. (You won’t acquire proficiency in a programming language—barring some elementary STATA knowledge—but you will learn to speak several tongues and meet the loveliest people in your language classes.)
It’s okay to be homesick. You don’t have to suppress it for fear of being weak, just because you feel obliged to make every single moment here count for something. Part of being brave is acknowledging that you crave indulging in the familiarity of home, and that you’re struggling to locate new pockets of community. Some days you’ll think about how much you’re missing out on life back home—how all your longtime friends in Singapore seem to be moving on without you, while you’re stuck in a weird limbo that’s all the way on the other side of the world. But you’ll eventually realize that home isn’t necessarily a physical place—instead, you’ll stumble upon small grains of home in the sundry people you’ll grow to develop genuine connections with. Hold onto these friends, even when they leave Penn. Unabashedly tell people (especially your parents) that you miss them, and schedule as many FaceTime conversations as you’d like.
Step into Pottruck’s second-floor weight room. …yes, this is the last place on campus you want to be in. Those weird metal contraptions—not to mention the writhing bodies and testosterone—are pretty scary. Even so, trust me. You’ll end up falling in love with the feeling of being strong, and of making progress commensurate with all the effort you’ve invested into working out. Being active will give you a sense of control over your life, even when nothing else seems to be going right.
Enroll in a graduate class. I know you’ve been struggling with feeling inadequate and incapable—this Imposter Syndrome will come and go in waves. But including yourself in classroom discussions with these incredibly passionate graduate students will make you feel truly alive and worthy of contributing your thoughts. It will be daunting, for sure, but you’ll grow to relish the challenge. These are the conversations you came to Penn for—you just have to go forth and seek them out.
Find solace in solitude. That crippling loneliness when you’re alone at home, after a night downtown with friends, or after returning from a weekend trip? I feel you. Being alone will make you a better person, though—you’ll get a good dose of introspection and self-reflection, which will enrich your interactions with the people around you. You’ve always tried to rediscover your childhood love for reading, and you’ll get it back again. Purchase that Kindle, and cherish those quiet nights in.
Be authentic to yourself. Say yes to the things you want to involve yourself in; say no to everything else. A lot of your self-doubt will come from thinking that you shouldn’t be feeling this or that, but your emotions are entirely valid. Feel them, understand them, and come to terms with them. You deserve all the breaks you need. Don’t feel like you have to compromise on being who you are—express your true thoughts, even if they’re contrarian to the prevailing opinion. You came to college to find yourself, and you’ll be comforted to know that the search will not be in vain.
Four years seems like an unbearably long time; in retrospect, it really wasn’t. But by the time senior spring rolls around, you will have lived memorably, laughed loudly, and loved boldly. I’m proud of everything you are now, and all that you will become. Be brave, and unapologetically so.
Jamie Seah C’18
Swanson-isms And Other Miscellaneous Insights | Nick S.
Dear Freshman Self,
You got into Penn, way to go! You have worked so hard these past four years of high school to make it to a top-notch university, so be sure to take a second to pat yourself on the back. But now reality is setting in – you’re saying goodbye to your small hometown for the first time and relocating to a new city full of strangers. Everyone at Penn is so impressive, so accomplished, and it makes you wonder if you really belong here. It may not seem like it right now, but you do belong, trust me. You’re going to thrive and grow as a person more than you could ever imagine. That being said, there are still going to be some bumps along the way. Here are a few tips I’ve acquired over my four years that will help you to get the most out of your Penn experience:
You know nothing (in a good way)
After reaching Penn, one of the first things you’ll learn is how much you really don’t know. This may seem counterintuitive and/or daunting, but hear me out: part of what makes Penn great is the collection of extremely bright faculty and students from virtually every field imaginable. You’re not going to be an expert in everything (to be honest, you’re probably not going to be an expert in anything) and the sooner you own up to that, the better. I’m not trying to overwhelm you; rather, look at this as an opportunity to expand your knowledge like never before. This isn’t constrained to the classroom either – take the time to talk to people in completely different fields, listen to podcasts, read! This is probably the last time you’ll be immersed in a place with such intellectual diversity, so be sure to take advantage.
The world is bigger than you (and Penn)
Despite our proximity to one of the most dynamic cities in the country, Penn students often get caught up in their own sphere. With the sheer magnitude of homework, reading, clubs, and research you end up engaging in, it’s easy to get lost in your work. It’s completely understandable, but you’re doing yourself a disservice. I know life gets busy, but find some time to get off campus and explore Philadelphia. Your sense of perspective can easily get lost at a place like Penn. Do everything in your power to retain the “big picture” – why you’re at Penn in the first place and what really matters in your life.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
News flash: At a place like Penn, you’re not going to be the best at every subject. That’s fine. Grades, curves, etc. are literally not worth your time stressing over. If you get caught up in the results of each little assignment, you’re going to drive yourself crazy and just dampen your Penn experience. As long as you can sincerely say you tried your best, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Remember where you came from
Yeah, I get it – Sunday morning talks with Mom and Dad can be a chore (especially when you’re in dire need of brunch to help recover from last night’s festivities). But these are the people that have been molding you since you were born, your literal number one fans and foremost support system. You are so lucky that they care about your future and you should not take their investment in you for granted. Regardless of how much work you have, allocating time for family should always be the utmost priority.
Friendships are fluid
College friendships are unique in that you spend virtually all your free time with these people. Thus, it’s natural to want to gravitate towards the first friends you find the instant you get to campus, especially because you are the only one from your high school coming to Penn. Trust me, you’re going to be just fine in the friendship department. The biggest thing to remember is that friendships and relationships are not fixed. The people you will meet day one that you think are going to be your best friends don’t end up shaking out that way, which is okay. It may be a natural drift due to differing interests, or what kept you close (i.e. close living proximity) changes, or because some people become too much of a hassle to make the friendship worthwhile. You may take these changes personally at first, but it’s nothing you necessarily did or did not do. Each one of your friendships will make an impact on your life in some way shape or form. Regardless of how they turn out, cherish each friendship for what it is and be grateful for how it has shaped you as a person.
Early to bed, early to rise…
Ben Franklin was definitely onto something with this one. Not to overlook sleep at all (see the next tip), but your early mornings will become the most productive times of the day. As tempting as it is to stay up until 3am plugging through that problem set, avoid it at all costs!
Take care of your body
You’ve been lucky to have pretty minimal health issues heading into college, but that’s going to come to a screeching halt. Listen to your body! You’re stubborn and loyal almost to a fault, which means that you’re going to try to tough out any weird symptoms or illnesses that arise. School is important, but your health is the number one priority. Get ample sleep, eat well, and go see a doctor if something seems off. You can avoid so much turmoil for not just you, but also your friends and family, if you prioritize your health. Oh, and get into a consistent gym routine. “Too much work” is not a sufficient excuse.
Be spontaneous, not reckless
There’s a difference. College is the place for branching out and trying new things, but that doesn’t mean they have to be foolish decisions. You’re not going to pick up every new hobby you hoped for (spoiler alert: taekwondo isn’t going to happen), but you’ll be surprised at how you end up stumbling into some of your new favorite interests.
Don’t let Penn pressures dictate your future
You’ve probably never heard of consulting at this point. But over the course of your time at Penn, your career plans will morph into an existential crisis. Penn’s professional environment, the one that you were so hyped about, turns out to be nothing like what you expected. The dreaded question will cross your mind many times – “should I just say ‘screw it’ and do OCR?” The pressure gets even tougher when friends talk about their offers and you’re just sitting there hoping that no one asks about your job status. But I promise you that it is worth holding out for something you are genuinely passionate about – it will land you a really rewarding summer internship and the opportunity of a lifetime after graduation. Deep down, you know what you want to do with your life. These struggles are difficult, but they will serve to reaffirm your professional goals.
“Never half ass two things, whole ass one thing”
I can’t take credit for this one – this is a Ron Swanson life tip. Despite coming from a goofy TV show, this is probably the most important piece of advice I have for you. When you’re studying, put away your phone, close out of Facebook, and study. When you’re hanging out with your friends, don’t get distracted by all the work you have to do – enjoy the company and whatever it is you’re doing. By not spreading yourself too thin at any given time, you can work more efficiently and genuinely enjoy the non-academic experiences without any guilt.
You hear from virtually everyone that college is “the best four years of your life,” and I’m sure you’re dying to know if that is true. As much as you will hate to hear this, the jury is still out. In many ways, college really is the best four years of your life – you’re going to thrive academically, make lifelong friends, and experience moments that you will cherish forever. At the same time, you’re going to encounter hardships and pressures that will truly test your limits. What I can definitively say, however, is that college is by far the most enriching four years of your life. Through the highs and lows, you will develop into a young man with a new perspective that is ready to make a difference in the world.
Take a deep breath and relax. You’ve got this.
If I Knew Then What I Know Now | Bela P
Dear Freshman Self,
First and foremost, the easiest advice I can give is always take time to eat dinner - it’s a key component to staying healthy and keeping your energy up. Other pieces to college success are not as easily perceived. As a senior sitting here writing this letter, it is hard to put into words the emotions composing the last four years. It is a compendium of extremes - a rollercoaster with really high highs, low lows, and a hell of a lot of loops in between. The time will go fast and the day you first stepped into the Quad will be a fond memory before you know it. But before you begin, there are some things you need to know that I learned a little late…
1. “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.”
You will find your best friends before your official time at Penn even starts, and these will be your people from “day negative 3”. Then you will find your new best friends sophomore year on the dance team you spend all your time with. Then you will again find your best friends junior year after going to India, and they will soon feel like family. Then once more you will find your best friends senior year while celebrating the Eagles’ Superbowl victory on Broad Street. Each year, you will learn there is no point in holding onto people who have already let you go. It will take “best friend” break ups, tears, and hard conversations, but you’ll realize that friendships are best when each side puts in equal effort. You do not have to give your all to maintain relationships, and if you feel like you are, then for your own happiness and health you need to focus on people who will value you and your time. You’ll feel lonely at times when you see photos of friend groups on social media, wishing you had that, but you’ll also learn that quality matters so much more than quantity. It’s as simple as knowing it’s not just you texting someone to grab dinner or to study. There will be a select group of people you will invite to your birthday celebrations every year, and they are the ones who you may not see all the time or consider best friends, but they are the best type of people to surround yourself with. That being said, you’ll cherish the experiences and memories that you have with all of these friends, which will last a lifetime. Don’t let the way things end influence the journey or the memories with those that once used to be “your people”, because in life people come and go. You will meet some of the most amazing, caring, talented, loving individuals, so keep faith that it will all work out in the end. You will have friends who drop everything to get Chinese take out and watch Bridesmaids as you get through a break-up, ones to surprise you in the library on your birthday, others who make fun of you screaming during Duke basketball games, and ones to convince you to spontaneously attend a mid-week concert. They will make college, and life, infinitely better.
2. “Heartbreak is good”
Long distance relationships are hard, which I’m sure you already know. But what you don’t know yet is that you cannot be in the moment at Penn while you are engaged in an old relationship. People deserve a fresh, new start when they get to college but you will forgo lots of that for your relationship. Every single weekend, your friends will ask you to go out at night and you will be in the tough spot of saying yes or saying no to stay home and FaceTime your boyfriend because that’s the only time you can. You will hold your breath every weekend hoping to spend time with him and that he will visit, and oftentimes you will be disappointed by no fault of his. You won’t regret the relationship at all but you will sacrifice many things at school the longer you wait to break up with him. It will take some time for you to listen to this advice but once it happens, you will still be best friends and care to have one another in your lives. On the other hand, the hookup culture at Penn isn’t going to change anytime soon, and it’s okay that you don’t participate. Stay strong and don’t compromise your values. It will be hard seeing everyone else meet new people and constantly get attention from different guys, but it isn’t something you actually want and that’s okay. Even though heartbreak will make you feel worthless and shattered into a billion tiny pieces, let yourself feel emotions and “like like” other people. You will realize that by numbing out the painful emotions, you also numbed out the positive emotions and stopped being yourself. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally do feel it. You don’t believe me yet but you are in fact strong enough to pick yourself up and keep living life with gusto.
3. “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
You know how you stress out a lot? That’s going to get worse with time. You’ll be too stubborn to ask for help, and you’ll try to balance school, dance, extracurriculars, family, friends, and all of life’s chaos. You’re going to have a couple more panic/anxiety attacks when things get rough, you’ll refuse to open up to anyone; you want to appear strong and if you don’t look like you’re crumbling maybe the feeling of crumbling will go away, but it won’t. So please stop comparing yourself to other people and take time to breathe. You are hardworking, intelligent, and driven. You are beyond good enough and there’s a reason you were accepted to a rigorous dual degree program – so stop comparing yourself to others and doubting whether or not you belong. You do. You’re going to be surrounded by people who do insane, wonderful things, but please stop thinking that makes you inadequate and undeserving of good things. You’re going to learn it’s okay not to be the best at everything anymore. Constantly being stressed out about everything will take its toll on your health. It will affect your sleep and happiness until you recognize that your worst-case scenario is still other people’s dream. The sooner you learn that, the better. Even what you envision as a nightmare, whether professional, academic or social, is still objectively a good spot to be in. The bar is set so high for you that if you don’t reach it, you’ll be more than okay. Don’t second-guess yourself when you decide to opt out of OCR and Penn’s competitive culture – instead embrace the collaborative side of the university and work with people who will help you when you’re falling behind. Start talking to mom more when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, and like your heart is about to beat itself right out of your chest. Take five minutes in the morning to take a deep breath and do something for yourself. Cook real dinners, go for a run, watch Netflix, and start doing yoga sooner because it makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Stop worrying about the opportunity cost that comes with doing fun things for an hour instead of doing work. Things will work out and you will still be successful by any measure. Study things that excite you and make you want to go to class. Don’t worry about a couple of bad grades because they really don’t end the world, and your parents surprisingly aren’t disappointed in you when it happens; they console and support you. LSM is hard and you are going to work your butt off, but make time for some fun too because you deserve it.
Those are the big things, but the small things count too – explore food trucks, go to restaurant week at least once each year, escape the Penn bubble and explore past 40th street, be a tourist in Philadelphia, spend time outside along the river, go to museums, listen to the orchestra, attend more campus group shows, take advantage of Rave’s Tuesday movie discounts, get a bike (and lock it always!!) early on, and just have fun. Remember college doesn’t have to be the best four years of your life because there is so much to look forward to, but the people and memories make those years pretty damn great. Take care of yourself while taking care of others and don’t question whether or not you made the right choice because you did, and you belong. I wish you all the best these next four years because it’s going to fly by in the blink of an eye.
On Being Human in the 21st Century | Serena B.
Dearest First Year Serena,
While difficult to imagine, please do accept, that your life will differ in ways you cannot begin to fathom, much less anticipate, in four years from now. I warmly invite you to find solace in the fact that your time here at Penn is fleeting, incredible, tragic, overwhelming, and, well, marvelous.
Over the next eight semesters, you will go from beekeeper to psychologist; yoga-freak to marathon runner; lose religion but find faith in humanity; take part in marches through NYC, DC, and Philly; encounter celebrity CEO’s only to realize they, too, are just humans struggling through life; move to New York for a summer to be a venture capitalist (WHAT?!); rent out Airbnb’s and invite strangers over for evenings of authentic conversations; take edibles before Buddhism lecture; find intense pleasure learning about mid-century modern architecture, and the elderly, take spontaneous runs to PMA with Jake and Holly while making up ridiculous stories involving human feces, eat disgusting amounts of gummy candies with Allie, and feel like you’ve conquered a small chunk of your world on any given day, only to be pummeled to the ground the next. During days like these, you’ll feel things. And that is good. Feeling things means you are human.
While you are a creature of immense strength and courage, there used to be days when you couldn’t feel much. Those were "The Gray Days." Remember freshmen year, that break-up with your first love from high school, that overwhelming gap in your heart leaving behind family, friends, and home, and the utter fear upon arriving at the University of Pennsylvania alone? NSO was filled with tears, loneliness, and exhaustion from constructing an image of new the “Serena”, before you were ready to do away with the old high school Serena (to which you clung fiercely onto for a bit too long). Sometimes, it’s better to just let go.
Now, with only a few months until graduation, it will be difficult to say goodbye to Penn, as this place truly has become an extension of Home. Best friends for housemates, fond (and not so fond) memories etched into every corner of campus, professors who have demonstrated what true intellectual curiosity means, cozy coffee shops filled with humans you deeply love, and a trust that there will always those who will show up, home cooked dish in hand, to Friday night potluck dinners.
Now, a few words for your listening ears.
First, We Need To Talk About Loneliness. Freshmen year can be painfully lonesome. I remember when you went through entire school days surrounded by a sea of people, but never engaging in a single genuine conversation. I remember when you asked Google, “What to do if you don’t have friends in college?”, during second semester. I remember when a Friday evening meant snacks in bed watching One Tree Hill, FaceTiming with Mom, and crying yourself to sleep. Serena, remember to reach out to people, to smile, and to speak to the stranger sitting next to you. Be the first one to lean in because people surprise you if you let them. Often, it is the labels and the fear that stops us from truly getting to know others. Your deepest friendships have come from the strangest of places, from the most unassuming of people. Never let labels and social reputation get in the way of finding the person beyond the label. Deep friendships don’t happen overnight, but they do happen when someone decides to lean in. So lean in, Serena, lean in and be patient.
Second, Remember That You Are Firmly Planted. You, Serena, come from somewhere so deeply rooted in Chinese culture, a rich immigrant narrative, and a proud suburban Michigan upbringing. You come from a great-grandma in rural China whose feet were bound, a grandpa who lived through the Cultural Revolution and diligently spends hours drawing calligraphy to this day, an endearing father who never stops telling you to “dream big and think deeply”, a badass mother who is the only female mechanical engineer at her job yet calls you the ‘wiser’ one because of your pursuits in the humanities, and a younger brother whose existential wrestle with ethics and philosophy inspires you how to be kinder with your words and more generous with your actions. Savor your Michigan accent and be proud of the Midwest. Never become ‘too sophisticated’ for home.
Third, Find Your People (And Person). That random sorority roommate who turned out to be 'You Person' – the one who you'll spend Thursday evenings with at the orchestra, the one you brew a crap-ton of Trader Joe’s Kenyan coffee every morning with, take the occasional silent walk into Philly to escape drunken hordes during Spring Fling, thrift shop through Budapest, roadtrip through Ireland, and find a home in San Francisco as her family’s “Chinese-daughter”. She will do more than keep you company through the good days and bad – she will keep you grounded, inspire you with her faith, and amaze you with her infinite kindness (and incredible homemade bread). Find people like her who have mastered the art of being, not doing.
Fourth, It’s Okay To Be Type B and A Huge Introvert. You, who are late to every meeting and lunch date, still hesitant to speak up in class even after reciting your answer five times through, who needs to be alone in your room after a day filled with others … are going to be just fine. Wear your Type B and Introversion as a badge of honor at a school filled with Type A’s and Extroverts. You don’t need to have a loud stage presence to have a deep presence.
And Finally, Try To Not Let Your Google Calendar Dictate Your Life. This you will fail miserably at. But try, anyways. It is some 21st century bullshit that we’re all glued to our iPhones which dictate every hour of the day! Serena, get off your phone and look at people on Locust. Wake up and breathe before checking your notifications. Never stop engaging in philosophical conversations on the dystopian nature of the world that we are confronted with. It’s important to check ourselves constantly. You are alive. You are a human in the 21st century.
Let’s be humans, together.
Be four year resilient | Kent H
Dear frosh Kent,
You’re going to look back and romanticize freshman year. And why not–you were lucky: little responsibility, tons of excitement, and all you can eat waffles at Hill brunch. You were lonely and scared sometimes, for sure, but overall very, very lucky.
The thing about Penn though, is that situations can change very quickly.
At this school, you have to be four year resilient. Try to remember that your mental and social health is just like many careers here at Penn: a four year journey through high points and low. While not worth stressing over, it’s important to recognize that the next three years are headed your way pretty quick (and with just a little, ~relaxed~ thought, they’ll be incredible!). Each year will test you and your classmates in a different way, but here a four ideas to be thinking about while you mess around in the dining hall:
Savor the highs. When you find yourself in a situation filled with friendship or happiness, hold on to it. Try not to worry about being overly dependent on others, or weirding people out by talking about your emotions. The highs serve as essential emotional reserves for the lows–and there will be a few lows over the four years!
Responsibility compounds–embrace it! You might hear upperclassmen talking about how busy they are with clubs, Greek life, etc. While joining 15 different clubs isn’t for everyone, try not to let the campus conversation around over-commitment prevent you from being committed at all! Regularly (maybe every month) ask yourself if your various involvements are acting in the interest of your mental wellness, and feel empowered to add/drop extracurriculars accordingly.
Make smart four-year choices. I’m going to be really careful here–this isn’t to say “always be second-guessing your decisions”! All I hope to pass along is that a little bit of discernment before big decisions can go a long way. I would encourage you, in all such “big time” decisions, to choose the option that empowers you to be around people who you appreciate (and who appreciate you back!). When you check that box, you can be pretty confident in what you’re up to.
Be realistic about the need for resilience, each and every year. Freshman year can be extremely, terribly difficult at times. With all the goodwill and earnest desire to help in the world, here’s the thing: so can sophomore year. And even senior year! Yes, many people at Penn are fortunate enough to find their groups as their journeys continue. But rare is the student who finds that magic community and frees her/himself of all burdens come graduation. I hope that in being realistic about this phenomenon–that experiences of loneliness, or homesickness, or sadness can continue beyond freshman year–is empowering, rather than debilitating in any way. Upperclassmen are working through these emotions at the exact same time that you are. An increasing number of them (myself included!) are even learning to talk about them.
So there it is–four ideas for being four year resilient. The overarching theme here is, of course, that you’re going to spend a lot of time here at Penn. Which (likely) means a lot of highs, and a lot of lows! I can say with complete honesty that things do get a bit better after freshman year. But there is no silver bullet–students on 40th Street know daily problems every bit as well as students on 34th Street.
In too many words, this is a way of saying that we’re all in this search for mental wellness together.
I hope you’ll keep that in mind bro. No one is ever really alone at Penn.
Enjoy the waffles.
"Bankers Hate Her! 10 Discovered Secrets to Happiness and Fulfillment at Penn" | Anon
Dear Penn Freshmen,
Don't worry too much about who you are yet. You haven't even met the kind of person you want to be yet -- you don't even know they exist! Keep an open mind -- take more courses outside of your major than you're comfortable with; say yes to more trips; go on more long walks. Focus on what makes you feel good. Walk in the direction your gut tells you, and don't mind if friends don't follow; there will be more where you're going.
If I told Freshman Me what I study or who I'm friends with or where I'm going or what I do with my free time -- she'd be flabbergasted because she didn't know that major existed or those people were out there or that company was real or those kinds of things were fun.
This school will try and conform you (yes, I know it's a cliché), and it's stressful -- both the conforming process and the struggle against it. If you want to do it, do it! (We've all dabbled.) If you don't want to do it, be unapologetic about it and you'll end up happier and ironically less stressed, walking down the less beaten path (with underclassmen waiting to follow your lead!)
You have a long time.
Learning to Love Hating Penn | Megha A.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
It’s a funny thing, hating something that you love. And it’s a funny thing to love something that you hate. But I think what you’ll come to learn, and what I’ve come to learn, is that Penn is funny that way.
College. The best four years of your life, the parents, and books, and movies claim. Where you find yourself. They aren’t wrong – it’s true. College is amazing and everything you could have imagined, and Penn, arguably, the best of it all. But at the same time it’s glorified and glamorized and everything in between, and what they don’t tell you is that college is just goddamn messy. And Penn, arguably, the worst of it all.
Freshman year is a whirlwind of excitement. It’s fear, joy, craziness, anxiety, love, and any pure emotion you could imagine bundled up into one year of ups and downs. You fail your first exam; you break up with your high school ex; you rush Greek life and decide it isn’t for you. You take Writing Sem; you trip on Locust basically every day; you forget to call home between classes and frat parties. You get rejected from four clubs; you run out of Dining Dollars in October; you meet your new best friend during NSO. My advice to you is to embrace it. Embrace the new experiences and the firsts, and embrace the hiccups and mishaps. There’s nothing like freshman year of college, and there probably never will be.
Sophomore year is different. You aren’t new anymore, and you realize that this is real. This is college, and it’s fun, and it’s supposed to be. But at the same time, this is college, and it’s life, and what the fuck am I even doing here? How did that guy from my MATH 104 recitation have an internship last summer? Wait, why do I have to pick a major, and why is my advisor ghosting me? How is it already November? Do we have an exam on Monday? How did that girl go out four nights in a row last week? Why am I still getting rejected from clubs? I’m confused.
Sophomore year is the year of failed transfer attempts, the year of anxiety attacks (both true and exaggerated), and the year of reality. You’ll look to the institution that once gave you a Fling you don’t remember, the best hallmates a freshman could ever have, and food trucks galore, and you’ll realize that it’s also capable of denying you a CAPS appointment, providing you with hypercompetition beyond belief, and forcing you into a toxic social culture of excess. My advice to you is to talk. Talk to your classmates, talk to your professors, and talk to your friends. I promise you they will get it. The crap won’t go away, but you’ll find peace in knowing that you aren’t the only one. It isn’t just you.
Junior year brings a period of cynicism and a series of cuts. Fuck Penn. I don’t want to work at Goldman Sachs. Amy Gutmann doesn’t give a shit about my mental health. We don’t need another College House. I can’t believe I’m not 21 yet. I hate Bankers. People don’t explore Philly enough. I have, like, four real friends. That guy in my Poli Sci class won’t shut up. Senior societies are stupid. I’m never walking down Locust again. Another Penn student died today, and I found out in an email. Fuck Penn.
Junior year can be the year you start to hate the place you thought you loved – the place you’ve started to call home. The lucky few have it figured out already, but the vast majority look to an uncertain future, hoping that it holds anything but this. My advice to you is to disengage. Not fully, but slightly. Disengage, and drop your weapons. Be thankful, rather than angry. Realize that you’ve grown up at a university that encourages and values student perspectives and engagement, one that provides resources and forums through which you can ideally effect change or, at the very least, have a voice. Penn sucks sometimes, but most of the time, it kind of knows it.
Senior year is what you make of it. My advice to you is this: take advantage of all that Penn and Philly has to offer. Go to Clark Park’s farmer’s market. Take an Urban Studies class pass/fail with your friends. Cry at every “last” you have, remembering every “first” you once had. Sit in on all the speaker events at Perry World House. Go to Rumor and leave after fifteen minutes. Stay up all night talking and binge-watching Netflix after realizing that your friends won’t live in walking distance next year. Throw toast at a college football game. Go to a bar downtown and pretend like you know what the hell is in the fancy drink you just ordered. Wave your PennCard to collect your student discount at movie theaters. Submit an assignment on Canvas at 12:01am and yell “Fuck it!” Carve your name into the wall at Smokes. Sign up for the Love Run and try to sell your bib two days before the race. Eat all your meals at Copa for a week. Go west of 40th Street. Spew bullshit at freshmen and call it wisdom.
After four years, you’ll recognize that, sure, you fucking hate Penn. But you’ll also realize that you fucking love it. It just takes a while to learn how to do both.
The Last Hurrah | Maddie G.
Dear Freshman Self,
Do you remember the day you moved into Penn? Oh, of course you do – you remember it better than I do, because I’m a senior now. Well, since then a lot has happened. Like, a lot. If you’re not too busy with this week’s CIS homework, I’d like you to take a peek at what your college experience is going to look like. SPOILER ALERT!!
(If you are too busy doing CIS homework, then just know this one thing – the relationships you cultivate are more valuable than any academic effort. Period.)
Semester 1: Imposter Syndrome and Party Girl
You don’t feel like you should have gotten into Penn. After all, you’re a legacy kid. A double legacy kid. But you belong here because you ARE here, and if you ARE here, you were meant to be here. Some of your classmates will wow you, and you’ll wow them right back. We all have our strengths, so focus on yours. You’re not going to get straight A’s anymore. Please don’t let that fool you into thinking you’re not smart anymore, because you are - you’re actually really smart. You’ll wish people valued your intelligence more, but the truth is you messed that one up for yourself; try not to get so upset about that, and remember that the opposite of bragging is not self-deprecation, but simple humility. You’ll also drink for the first time. You really need to always make sure that someone is looking out for you: if you’re not in control of yourself, someone you trust needs to be. Also, don’t even bother trying tequila, okay? It’s gross.
Semester 2: Srat Life and Physical Health
You rushed a sorority and got in! Go you. But then you got really, really, really sick. You had to drop multiple classes and landed yourself on academic probation. You weren’t physically able to pledge, so your new “sisters” didn’t like you so much. You ended up dropping the sorority anyways later on because those girls made you feel horrible about yourself. (You should only spend time with the people that make you feel valued.) You eventually got better and were able to pass the (few) classes you were actually in, but only because you called your parents crying and desperate for help. No one at this school will look out for you better than yourself. No one will do anything unless you ask for help. ASK FOR HELP, there’s so much out there to be given!
Semester 3: Work/Rest
You’ll randomly start to become super religious. I know you don’t believe me… but it happened. You’ll experiment with different things, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ve just got to remember that at the end of the day, it’s all about love and community and being a good person. The rest, as they say, is commentary. One thing this means is that you’ll start keeping Shabbat. Shabbat will be a savior. You’ll get to put all of that mental baggage and stress away for one day a week and just fucking enjoy your life. Find a way that works for you to set aside some time every week where you must check all of your mental and physical baggage at the door. And you’ll learn that cooking chicken is actually ridiculously easy, so just try and you will succeed.
Semester 4: Boys ugh
The first day of class, you’ll sit next to a boy. You’ll end up paying too much attention to the doodles that this boy is drawing in his notebook, and you’ll get a C in the class. You should have sat down next to a different cute boy because (after you kiss him) that boy won’t be so nice to you and you won’t be so nice to him and the relationship will blow up in both of your faces and it will be miserable and you’ll realize that boys suck and you suck and everyone sucks and you really just need to get over it.
Semester 5: Home
Home home: your family keeps moving.
Philly home: you move in with mostly strangers and you very quickly realize that you love your housemates. They are your family here. You don’t necessarily spend all of your time with them, but you love being with them after a long day and love how good they make you feel and just love them.
Campus home: Hillel. You take your shoes off when you walk into the building because that’s what you do when you get home. You want other people to feel the same way about Hillel, so you run for president. You win! Mazel tov! That will be the most important experience of your whole college career.
Semester 6: Sleep
Sleep is important, but for you it’s also really hard. You’re going to have a lot of trouble with it, and none of your friends are giving you helpful advice because they don’t realize it’s not just that you’re scrolling through your (soon to be) super successful Instagram account @aintnochallahbackgirl_ too late at night, but you have nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks in the middle of the night, and sleep paralysis. See a professional.
Semester 7: 15 Minutes of Fame and 15 Minutes of Depression
You felt a little popular, which was cool and new for you. Then your mom was diagnosed with cancer. You found out 2 hours before Yom Kippur and repented for everything, including all of the times that you refilled your coffee at Metro even though you’re not sure if they do free refills or not. Tell some people about it so you don’t bottle it all up inside and then cry in public when you spill coffee on your shoe. Call mom every day.
Semester 8: The Last Hurrah
Remember semester 2, when you dropped a bunch of classes? Well, now all of your friends are taking just photography or whatever and you’re stuck in 7 courses. Whoo! You’ll be ok, though, because it’s all about your mindset. Keep your attitude positive, and you’ll be able to get through anything! You’re happy because you’ve built so many strong and wonderful relationships, and you work hard so that you can spend time with the people you care about. You’re currently trying to find a job. It’s hard because you never had an internship and only worked at summer camp. Throughout college, people will encourage you to “just do what makes you happy, what you’re passionate about” (etc. blah blah blah) and then judge you if those things are not consulting or software development. Feel sad for them, and continue doing what you love (working at camp)! Don’t worry, I’ll get us a job eventually ☺
This letter was probably much more helpful for me to write than it was for you to read (if you’ve even gotten this far). I just hope it made you think, it made you realize that this place is so much more than school, and that you consider writing a letter of your own and live by the advice you didn’t know you needed to tell yourself.
Bonus advice: Rent your textbooks from the library for free! Invest in Bitcoin! Zip your pockets so you don’t lose your phone! Engineers get $20 of free printing credit! Make your bed every day! Use SEPTA! Text people once in a while, wishing them a great day! Eat at Hillel – especially Shabbat (Friday) dinners which are just $10! Audit some classes!
Embracing and Enduring Penn ... In 4 Easy Steps | Joseph M
There’s a certain vividness that accompanies life’s more memorable moments. Brief flashes of your past permanently seared into your head. Your first day of college will certainly be no exception.
That first glimpse of the Philly skyline, a shimmering sea of blue in the late summer sun. Mistakenly wearing a white Abercrombie polo during move-in, rendering most of your first impressions a sweaty mess. Your mom vowing to not cry upon leaving, breaking that vow about four seconds later. And a first night’s sleep through the creaks and groans of your new room, situated in one of the most cosmopolitan petri dishes known to man (god bless the quad).
Nearly four years later, much of what you value and cherish has evolved. Though you’ve learned an unfathomable amount along the way, deliberate classroom learning will not always be your kindest or only teacher.
Like most long journeys, yours is far from smooth, often zagging unpredictably to higher highs and lower lows. And while unsolicited advice sticks as well as jelly to a wall, I offer the following to smooth out what will prove to be an unforgettable ride.
As a freshman: Appreciate Where You Are
As far as social constructs go, “college” is a pretty good bargain. The bulk of your day quite literally consists of entertaining new ideas and embracing new perspectives. The opportunity to learn for the sake of learning is truly unparalleled.
And that’s the boring part.
Your surrounding community? Tens of thousands of like-minded individuals, a population as diverse as it is undeniably impressive. As you trudge through your first few months of college, it’ll seem like you’re the only one enamored with this lingering sense of uncertainty. You’re not. Reach out to old friends, forge new relationships. Capitalize on the intellectual discussions that go on outside of class, or BYO Beijing for the seventh time in a month. Regardless of your outlet, realize that most freshmen are likely wading into the same unknowns. Embrace the novelty and wonders of Penn together.
There’s often this tendency to frame our aspirations and disappointments in a relative point of view. The instant the novelty of Penn wears off, an entirely new crop of issues rises up. The wonders of the Quad replaced with the horrors of having to share a bathroom with 30 people. The vibrancy of class overshadowed by the reality of a grading curve. I don’t seek to discount these problems. But I urge you to occasionally take a step back. Be proud of where you are, capitalize on the seemingly endless opportunities to learn, and expose yourself to a community more vibrant that you thought possible.
As a sophomore: Don’t Fall Prey to the Routine Trap
The beginning of sophomore year comes with a great deal of excitement. Having gone through a full year of school, there’s this newfound sense of certainty in navigating those college waters. A confidence in defining your friends, an optimal workload, social outlets, professional trajectories, and hobbies based off of one year of experience.
It’s tempting to plunge into this next chapter with such a state of mind. Please don’t. Penn proves to be a highly dynamic place. Opportunities and challenges constantly shift, and you’ll need to continuously strive to define your environment and redefine yourself.
Don’t be dismayed that the arrival of sophomore year doesn’t bring about this much needed clarity. There’s real no need to get pigeonholed into such a static routine. Despite a year’s worth of experience, much of college will remain unexplored. Use that to your advantage. Consider new clubs, tack on new classes, drop entire majors, or maybe even pick up an instrument. (Definitely do the last one)
I recognize that you’ll crave some semblance of stability after the craziness of freshman year, it’s only natural. But please don’t confuse certainty with monotony, closing far too many doors in the process.
As a junior: Continuously Redefine Grit
The walk back from Van Pelt always seems to be the same. A gust of cold wind anxiously greets you at the exit. Locust is virtually deserted. And the lights above provide an eerie yet tranquil backdrop to the exodus home.
Junior year will be beyond challenging. An endless onslaught of class, compounded by job recruiting, will do much to rattle your sense of self.
And yet, you will persevere.
The ability to thrive often boils down to the sheer amount of time and energy your willing to devote to the task at hand. This realization can be inspiring and harrowing all at once.
But the beauty of grit is it’s controllable. You and you alone dictate your own level of effort. Manage your time wisely, as it proves to be your most precious commodity at Penn.
And if you ever doubt your own capabilities, reread an old class syllabus. Reflect on the wide-range of tasks you were told to complete, the breadth of information you had to absorb. And then reflect on the fact that at this point, you’ve likely done that about 20 times over.
As a senior: Embracing Friends and Embracing Yourself
College proves to be some of the most formative years of your life. What were once dormant passions now seem to guide all your decisions. Everything from your politics to your hobbies has subtly yet noticeably matured.
Personal change often occurs gradually, and is difficult to attribute to any particular catalyst or moment. By contrast, changes in your friend group can be dramatic and sudden. And yet, they’re just as revealing for your own personality.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of friends. Personal victories are sweetened, and losses lessened in the company of those around you. In a culture that often impresses students to be productive and regimented, a great friendship can provide much needed spontaneity and relief.
Please don’t take these relationships for granted. It’s a mistake you’ll sadly repeat far too many times.
And more than that, reflect upon what your friendships say about you as an individual. In many ways, look at yourself as a collection of those around you. A tapestry of personalities and interests of the people you associate with.
As the bonds between you and those around you deepen, you’ll gain a better understanding and appreciation for who you are.
On Embracing Spontaneity, Vulnerability, and the Roller Coaster Ride of College | Emily Z
To my freshman self,
Welcome to Penn! The next four years are about to be an adventure and a rollercoaster ride. Some things will happen that you will never expect, but one thing is for sure: you will learn a lot, be challenged, and have a lot of fun…so enjoy it! Along the way, remember how lucky you are to be here and to be proud of the hard work that you put in to get here. Things won’t always go the way you want them to in college, yet that perspective will really help you.
Here is some advice I wish I knew as a freshman:
1. Embrace your adventurous spirit: Some of the most memorable times of college will be when you were spontaneous – that time you and your roommate walked all the way from Penn to Franklin Fountain in Old City because you were craving good ice-cream, that time when you decided to run up the Rocky steps blasting the Rocky theme song, that time you went on a Tech Trek trip to Silicon Valley. You’ll remember the late-night deep conversations, the random dance parties with your housemates, and the laugh attacks you got when studying with friends at 2 A.M.
2. Open up to others and be vulnerable: One of the best parts of college is living in such close proximity with people your age. There’s really something special about living together with people going through the same experiences. Everyone seems to have it together on the outside, but college is hard, and talking about how you are feeling will help you build stronger relationships. Be emotionally honest with yourself and with others. Don’t be afraid to let down your guard sometimes around people you trust. Remember that it’s okay to not be okay. Rewatch “The Power of Vulnerability” TED Talk by Brene Brown as a reminder when you’re afraid to be vulnerable, and remember that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and connection with others.
3. Spend some time journaling and reflecting: I know you love being around people and have trouble saying “no” to things, but it is so important to have some alone time in college to simply journal and reflect. Schedule it into your calendar if you have to. So much goes on every day, and that time in solitude will help you to process everything that goes on. Critically reflecting will help you to discern things that you aren’t able to when all your thoughts are jumbled in your head. It will give you a sense of clarity and peace.
4. Don’t take things too seriously: Let go of the little things that bother you. In the grand scheme of things, they don’t matter and life is too short. The little things may seem bigger than they really are in the moment. When you are feeling frustrated, try to remember all the things you have to be grateful about. Write down your “Moments of Joy.” Remind yourself that life goes on and keep everything in perspective.
5. Prioritize your health: Remember that diagram you saw before college? Yeah, the diagram that shows a triangle with academics, social life, and sleep and asks you to pick 2 of the 3. Well, it turns out that the message in that diagram is actually pretty true. You won’t be able to do everything for everyone all the time. Keep in mind that you are human too! College is all about decision-making and prioritizing. What is most important is your health. When it comes to studying two more hours for that test or going to sleep when you’re tired, get some rest. Make sure that you are eating even when you are stressed. Take care of yourself and remember that your health comes before anything else.
6. Prioritize people: Pour your time into developing a few quality friendships, into people you know will be there no matter what. Penn has some of the most inspiring, talented and diverse students, yet it will take some time to really find people you truly feel comfortable around. The friends you make during your freshman year may come or go, and you will get upset about drifting apart from some of your friends. I know it’s hard, yet there’s a reason why certain people stay in our lives and certain people don’t stick around, so just move on. When it comes to friendships, it’s about quality over quantity. Remember to call your parents and brothers more often even when things get busy because they care about you deeply.
7. You do you: You will make the mistake of joining too many clubs and saying “yes” to too many things. It is easier to follow what everyone else seems to be doing, but it is so much more rewarding and healthy to just do what you want – if that means staying in and watching a movie instead of going out, then do it! If it means saying “no” to a few clubs so that you can have more time to yourself, that’s exactly what you need to do. At the end of the day, it is important to take care of yourself and do what is best for you. This especially applies to figuring out what you want to do with your life. Don’t be afraid to try different things and explore, and then really think about what you like best.
8. Stay wide-eyed and eager: Keep that freshman year spirit of novelty, newness and opportunity. Contrary to what you may think, you won’t ever have it all figured out – yet find comfort in discomfort and embrace each experience like it’s the first time you are experiencing it.
9. Ask for help when you need it: You will encounter some really tough times in college, times when you feel alone and helpless, when everything seems to be happening so fast and you feel like it’s hard to keep up. In those moments, please don’t be afraid to ask for help – whether it is from friends or resources on campus. You are never alone. People care about you. Asking for help is a sign of self-awareness and courage.
10. Music is a great remedy: Whether you’re working out, doing homework, or jamming with friends, music helps to accentuate the happy moments and make the tough moments a lot better.
Basically, embrace the rollercoaster ride of college, open up to others, and be yourself in the fullest extent possible. You will have an absolute blast.
Remember This, Younger Self? | Karis S.
Dear younger self,
Remember being seven-years-old and writing stories about dragons and princesses and magic? It came naturally to you, that thing called imagination. You made something out of nothing and mom and dad were always happy to read your stories and bring them to life with their voices. You could see the things you created play out in your head—the damsel in distress, the mystical forest, the friendly beast—and you would quickly write them down on paper before they vanished from your brain. When you get to college, don’t forget to write your creations down and don’t stop bringing them to life—that is something nobody can take away from you.
Hold on to your sense of imagination
Dear younger self,
Remember sitting at that table in middle school and being proud of yourself for making it into ‘the clique’? You felt so content, albeit fleetingly. You succumbed to the invisible, yet all too present, social pressure that is middle school. But, remember when all of your friendships with those who were sitting at that table failed to last past the eighth grade? Those friendships, guided solely by social capital, didn’t give you real friends. Penn will test you like this again—this time, find those people you genuinely connect with, the friendships that will last far beyond college.
Surround yourself with people who make you happy
Dear younger self,
Remember in high school when you learned how to write a comparative essay? It was easy: take two things and explain how they’re the alike and how they’re different. You were always really good at writing these types of essays—perhaps even too good for your own good. When you set foot on the campus of the renowned University of Pennsylvania, that skill of comparing two things to one another will only hurt you. You’re inevitably going to start comparing your self to other people, and those essay-writing skills in your back pocket will betray you. Unfortunately, you’ll compromise the sense of self that you just were starting to get a grip on. So, please, stop thinking in comparative terms when it comes to yourself and those around you.
Stop comparing yourself to other people
You Are Not Alone | Tina G.
Dear freshman self,
Did you imagine that one day you would be the one giving advice? I only have an aura of authority today because I stumbled through four years of Penn, but do I really know where I’m headed and what I want and where my passions lie? No. Have I grown and changed and struggled and overcome? Absolutely. I don’t like the idea of giving advice because I’m only 4 years older and maybe 4 years wiser. Besides, you already know all the pithy little sayings. Spend time with friends. GPA matters far less than you think. Build relationships. Seek help. Find time to self-care. Sleep more. Go to class. Go to office hours. Explore Philadelphia. Read for pleasure. Follow your passion for goodness’ sake. There is only so much recycled advice you can absorb before it becomes white noise. You only need to walk across campus down 37th Street to see how much this university values proverbs. You know all this, admit it. I don’t want to add to this steadily growing pile of insight, so I will only impart one truth that I wish I had discovered far earlier in my college career: you are not alone.
You are not alone in the struggles and challenges that inevitably come with drastically different environments, lifestyles, and people. I promise you’re not the only one who got rejected from every single club you interviewed for in September. You failed your first midterm—not even the curve could help you—but so did half the university because college courses require far more focus than the AP classes everyone took in high school. You’re not alone in realizing the truth of Freshman 15, and you’re not alone when you began to see food as the enemy, and when you allowed yourself to grossly disrespect your body to fit mainstream standards of beauty. You’re not the only person who curled up in bed crying over the stress of trying to fit in, of trying to be cool all the time, of trying to curate a social media presence that would show your high school friends how much fun Penn was and how many parties you attended every weekend. You’re also not alone when you felt personally rejected by every sorority, and you began to wonder if it was because you weren’t pretty enough or skinny enough or interesting enough to join a group that claimed to be able to welcome you “home”. Tragically, your body isn’t the only one that felt violated in a moment of alcohol-induced poor judgment, and you’re not the only person who went to CAPS. When On-Campus Recruiting began, you’re not alone when you spent days holed up in Huntsman, preparing for interviews that never materialized and job offers that started to feel like faraway dreams. You aren’t the only person who mourned the loss of a friend or a broken heart. I can promise you’re not alone in experiencing these moments, because I have lived through them too.
I hope this preview of the years to come hasn’t made you too unhappy. Bad things will happen—life isn’t all rainbows and pleasure. I’ve found that the most meaningful connections and most cherished memories came from overcoming challenges that seemed insurmountable. There is such beauty in solidarity. I can’t dull the pain of some of your experiences, but I can stand next to you and listen and offer hugs and tea and a shoulder to cry on. I wish I had reached out earlier to those around me who loved me, because we were each drowning in our personal oceans when we could have been lifeboats.
I’m afraid I’ve made Penn sound bleak. Don’t worry, it’s not. The happy memories are far more numerous and powerful than the challenges you’ll face. You’re not alone when you sat on a friend’s bed, drinking wine and laughing until the early hours of the morning. You aren’t the only person who nailed an interview and received the coveted call later that day informing you of your dream internship offer—you proceeded to immediately celebrate with your closest friends. You’re not alone when you dragged yourself out of bed to go to Green Eggs Café for a brunch with a classmate that turned out to be the beginning of a delightful friendship. You aren’t the only person who found an inspiring and truly caring group of individuals through the clubs you joined and the sorority you ended up pledging. You’re not alone when your best friends invited everyone you knew to organize a surprise birthday party because they cared so much about you. You decided to bake and read a book instead of going out, and ended up having a delightful night, like so many other people across campus. You also aren’t the only one who fell in love. You, like so many other Penn students, shared memories of living and working and studying abroad, in one of the most dynamic and exciting and breathtaking countries in the world, India. Once again, I can promise you all this because I’ve lived through these wonderful moments too. They infinitely outweigh darker times and I would not trade them for anything in the world. For many semesters, I questioned my decision to apply ED to Penn, but over time, I’ve come to love this school with all its flaws and imperfections. You will too, and if you don’t, well, you certainly won’t be alone.
Loving The City of Brotherly Love | Michael K.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
As I sit here writing this letter, I am in the Harnwell Rooftop Lounge. It’s one of my favorite places on campus (aside from, of course, the Office of Student Affairs in Houston Hall).
The best part about the Rooftop Lounge is the view. On the east side of the room, you can see the whole skyline of the city of Philadelphia. It’s a city that has a special place in my heart – the city that I was born in, on whose borders I was raised, and the city in which I have made my home for the past three years at Penn. I think people forget that too often – that we don’t just go to school at Penn, but rather in the city of Philadelphia. On my tours, I make sure to mention that we are nestled in an “urban oasis” where you can look one way and see skyscrapers, while the other way will show you a beautiful suburban college town. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget the opportunities that your city can provide you.
I love Philadelphia because of the people and the spirit of the town. You may have heard, but our Philadelphia Eagles just won the Super Bowl! What?! As I pushed through the crowds after running down to Broad and Walnut on that Sunday night, or shoved my way past hundreds and thousands of people during the parade, I was reminded of the incredible sense of community that our city can provide. This time, we rallied around a celebration – something that seemed so elusive for so long.
But we come together in bad times as in good. When I face a tough time, whether that has been something as minute and insignificant as getting a bad grade on an assignment, or as life-changing as losing my dad in high school, I have been able to turn to my community for love and support. It’s a function of our city, and it’s a function of the love that we have for each other. Sometimes, when you think the world is ending around you, it helps to have just one person right there to show you that everything is going to be okay. At times, you are going to need that person, and a times, you are going to have to be that person.
If there are two pieces of advice that I could provide to Penn freshmen, or to really anyone, they would be as follows. Number one – be a Philadelphian while you are at Penn and after you leave. Don’t forget the fact that you will be the person you become in part because of this amazing city. Use SEPTA instead of Uber. Go to Chinatown during the day and explore the culture. Lick the Liberty Bell. (Read: Do NOT lick the Liberty Bell). Sit, like me, in the Harnwell Rooftop Lounge and take it in all at once, and realize that there are always adventures to be had.
The other piece of advice would be to consider very carefully how much the people in your life mean to you, and how much you mean to them. I am so thankful for my friends who have truly become my family here at Penn. You never know how much weight small actions can carry, so don’t be afraid to go out of your way for someone, or to ask for someone to go out of their way for you. Some of the relationships you make at Penn will last for your whole life.
These are the people that shape us, and this is the city that makes us.
Class of 2019
In A Room Full of People, Want Yourself First | Nadia K.
Dear Freshman Self,
If there’s anything I know about you, it’s that you like to get things right. You’ll spend a little too much time wondering if you’ve found the right people, if you’re doing the right things, if Penn is or isn’t the right place for you. It’s okay to ask these questions, but don’t let it get in the way of breathing in this strange, wonderful place.
You arrived at Penn with a sense of urgency. You know that four years is a short time (you’re right), and you’re determined to squeeze out every last drop of it. To you, this meant chasing a certain type of experience – that fleeting, lightning-rod of a moment when you’re so alive it feels like a cliché. The kind of moment that sears itself into your memory and will be told and retold over drinks with your old college friends in ten years. You will grow out of this idea. Don’t get me wrong, these moments will happen, but so will many more unremarkable nights spent in your room, in Van Pelt, on your couch with your roommates talking about nothing and everything. Neither kind is right or wrong – you will learn to treasure both.
I (we) have a tendency to speak in vague terms, so here are some more concrete pieces of advice for you. Don’t take that freshman seminar that meets Fridays from 3-5. That is a cruel and unnecessary form of masochism. Do take ownership of your own mental health and go to CAPS when things becomes too much. This is the most important decision you’ll make at Penn. Do skip class on the first warm day of spring and soak up the sun. It’s good for your health. And don’t spend too much time talking shit about Penn. Everyone knows that Penn can be a shitty place, but nothing really changes by repeating it. Don’t forget all the good things and good people this place has given you.
Even you, in all your overly self-aware, neurotic glory, will learn new things about yourself. You will learn that sometimes you like to be alone. You will learn that sometimes you don’t like to be alone, and that all it takes to change this is to ask. You will learn to not hold on so tightly to some people in your life. You will learn that you’re not a special snowflake, so stop reveling in your own angst. You will learn that you’re prone to a condition that I like to call “chronic dissatisfaction,” and when you feel it creeping in, you learn to remind yourself of the feeling of Hill brunch on a Sunday morning with friends when all the plates are clean but no one leaves the table and the warmth that’s expanding in your chest.
I came across a quote the other day and it made me think of you: “In a room full of people, want yourself first.” You, like so many others, desperately want to be seen and understood. When this doesn’t happen right away, you wonder which part of you doesn’t measure up. Especially in a place like Penn, where so many people seem to be smart and cool and worth knowing, it’s easy to put others on a pedestal. You, too, will try to project the image of a person you hope others will want to know as well. This energy is so much better spent elsewhere. Coolness is highly overrated. There’s so little romance in romanticizing others, and so much more reward in being honest and messy and vulnerable. Nowadays, you spend a lot more time trying to find the right words to describe the best and worst parts of you. Eventually, you become brave enough to share this with others. This is so important and so special. It will bring you a community of people endlessly more complex and kind and fascinating than anything your imagination could have ever dreamt up.
We hate clichés so I hesitate to tell you that there’s no “right” way to spend your time here, but I’m going to say it anyway. There’s no right way. (I think you already knew that, though). It’s not an easy journey, for you or anyone else, so be kind. Take your time. Remember how lucky you are. I’m so proud of you already.
All my love,
Dear Freshman Val | Valerie B.
Soon you’ll know.
How fortunate you are to have found friends who make you tea,
who offer up open arms
and a space on a crowded twin bed.
How excited you’ll feel,
breathlessly introducing yourself as a future nurse on your first day of clinical.
How hopeful a sunrise can seem, even after an all-nighter.
How helplessly incompetent you’ll feel,
when you fail your third anatomy exam in a row,
when you knock over a bucket of urine in clinical,
and the first time you ask someone out on a date.
How at peace you’ll feel when you play the viola,
surrounded by friends, musicians who know
how playing Brahms speaks to your soul.
How to recognize the difference between love and control.
How tempting it will be to do things for the recognition,
How saying no doesn’t make you lesser than.
How important it is to be honest with yourself,
and how hard it can be to ask for what you need.
How the thought of confrontation will make you instantly nauseous,
and how still to speak your mind.
How living alone for the first time teaches you resilience (and how to kill spiders).
How heavy your first patient death will weigh on your chest.
How speaking kindly to yourself matters in the moments
when you are uncertain about your career, your relationships, your choices.
How right it will feel, holding her hand as you walk down Locust,
feeling like things are finally falling into place.
How far you have come,
and how proud I am of you.
Don't Lose Sight of Who You Are | Akanksha S
Dear Freshman Self,
Welcome to Penn! The next four years are bound to be amongst the most fulfilling, challenging, and transformative in your life. I’m incredibly excited for all that you will learn and experience on this dizzyingly wonderful and emotional journey through college. So, to help you make the most of your time at Penn (it really does fly by as quickly as everyone says!), here are a few pieces of advice I wish someone had offered when I was in your shoes:
Become comfortable in your own skin: Seize the opportunity of a ‘clean slate’ to reinvent yourself, but remember to stay true to your core values, even, and especially, as they evolve over time. Whether with regards to the friendships you form or your academic, extracurricular, and social interests, know that you will find your way to the people and places that will allow you to be your most authentic self. You just have to approach the process with patience and honesty. Hold onto the parts of your identity that most excite and energize you, and engage with them passionately and wholeheartedly. One of the worst things you can do is assess your self-worth based on comparisons, and allow false ideals to shape your life in the process. Penn can be an incredibly competitive place. While this can be exhilarating at times, remember to always take time to reflect upon your decisions and make sure you are comfortable with the path you are on.
Listen, don’t just hear: One of the best aspects of Penn will be the incredibly kind, interesting, and wise people you’ll have the opportunity to interact with. Make conscious decisions about who you surround yourself with, then do all that you can to meaningfully connect with them. Don’t just promise to “grab coffee” with that friend you ran into on Locust. Instead, take the time to have a genuine conversation with them. Given the amazing accomplishments of everyone at Penn, you’ll sometimes feel the need to prove yourself. In those instances, resist the urge to relate the conversation back to yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn, both about others and yourself, when you simply listen and respect the vulnerability associated with honestly sharing experiences.
Be humble and fall in love with learning: Humility is your friend. It is important that you maintain perspective, which will come with an acknowledgment of all that you don’t know. Let this motivate you, guide your curiosity and shape your interests. You’ll almost never have all the answers, but that’s okay. Embrace this uncertainty, and unabashedly make the most of the incredible resources and opportunities that are available at Penn, even when you may not know what will come out of them. This can take the form of that club you decide to join Sophomore year, all the extra classes you take for ‘fun’, or the time you go to your favourite professor’s house for Thanksgiving.
Take care of yourself: Eat right, and sleep as much as you can. Don’t forget to treat yourself from time-to-time. Jam out to music alone in your room, stay up all night watching horror movies with your friends, take spontaneous road trips, and go out to more brunches and BYOs than you can count. Do more of what makes you happy, and don’t feel guilty about it. Trust me, these are some of the experiences you will recall most fondly when you look back at your time in college, so make time to make memories.
Find respite, not loneliness, in solitude: It’s okay to be by yourself sometimes than to feel isolated in a room full of people. As fun as the social aspects of college can be (see above), it can be just as rejuvenating to take time with your thoughts to recharge and reflect.
I’m so excited to see all that you will become at Penn and beyond, and wish you the very best of luck as you set out to discover yourself and the fullest potential of the world around you.
Life Is What You Make Of It | Krish M.
Dear Freshman Krish,
You’re probably reading this in your room at 1AM with Alex playing league behind you. I highly encourage you to either sleep, convince him to stop playing league cause that kid will be addicted, or go outside and spend time with your hall.
At this moment you’re probably very confused. You’re struggling because you want to be a physics major but everyone in your physics class is much smarter than you. You’re wondering if you should switch out of VIPER and transfer into Wharton but VIPER was your dream. You’re discontent because everyone around you is pledging Greek societies and you feel like you’re missing out. And you’re always tired and unsatisfied because you’re not going out like you thought you’d be and are sleeping at 4AM every night.
But things will get better. Much much much better. And the reason things will get better is because of YOU. It’s because you choose to prioritize being happy and that becomes the source of your energy.
I’m going to tell you some of the most important lessons you’ll learn while being at this magical, crazy place that you love:
Life is what you make of it.
You’re going to be blown away by the amazing opportunities Penn can offer you – you’ll be overwhelmed and baffled that so much is possible. You’re going to sign up for 10 clubs and try and be hyper-involved in all of them. Don’t. Remember to prioritize the ones you truly care about and not just do everything because of who you want to be. Life is what you make of it – remember that only you can choose what you should, and more importantly, what you shouldn’t do.
At this point you’ve already done some crazy things (you’re soon going to be duct taped to a wall and will get so drunk you get alcohol poisoning). These things will push you to say that ‘you’re gonna study even harder sophomore year’. Please don’t! Continue to make stupid mistakes and explore yourself and different experiences (go for the class in Argentina – it will change your life)! You’ll find yourself getting energized by these experiences and eventually you get better at managing time.
Follow your passions.
You know that you truly enjoy business and just dislike physics. Wave equations will literally never make sense to you. Don’t pretend to love science for fear of being called a sell-out. You always know that this is what you wanted and that’s why you’re currently so insecure of being an engineer. Things don’t always go according to the plan and you’re definitely not gonna be a physics PhD. Don’t feel afraid to adapt your plans and be open to change when you know it’s coming.
Your friends will be everything.
When you reach senior year, you’ll find yourself surrounded by some of the most incredible friends you could ever have asked for – these are friends who will love you and be there for you unconditionally always. They’ll spend time with you till 6AM, they’ll bake cupcakes and cookies for you, they’ll get into a fight with someone so you can talk to a girl, and they’ll even give you an intervention for drinking too much! They are by far the thing you value most about your life at Penn, and so all I can say is, please prioritize these wonderful friends you have. Be there for them and always make yourself available.
Fun fact: You know that junior year internship that you’re already kinda freaking out about? Well. You’re not going to get the one you want – No. You’re going to be incredibly disappointed and you’re going to fail so many times that all you want to do is give up.
Another fun fact: You’re thankfully going to find a job after searching for months on end. Guess what, on day one of your job, you’re going to be deported from the United States of America and sent back to India so all your efforts will be useless anyway.
During these periods of hardship, you’re going to be challenged unlike you could have ever imagined. And this will be one of the times that your friends will buy you cookies, help you out as much as possible, stay up till 4am with you, and hug you to death.
And eventually, you’ll be ok – you’ll have kept a positive mindset throughout, and chosen to chase after things you love and not things you should love, and when you do that, I promise that you will exceed even your own expectations.
These four years were the best four years of my life. Make the most of every second.
Krish Mehta ‘18
P.S. 1000 Years of Musical Listening will still be the toughest class you’ve ever taken at Penn
Dealing with “No” | Léa K.
Dear Penn Freshman,
At this point my freshman year, I felt truly out of place and utterly confused. For months leading up to college, I kept hearing stories about the upcoming “best four years of my life.” I was told that I would meet the best friends I’d ever have in college, have the craziest nights to tell stories about to my kids, and was reminded to enjoy a time that I would quickly become nostalgic for.
So, when I arrived home after my first semester, “no” felt like the wrong answer to “Well, are you loving college or what?”
However, it was true. It was hard to say, embarrassing and definitely wasn’t the answer anyone wanted to hear, certainly not one I wanted to admit to myself. Penn didn’t feel like home to me. I was an art student in a world seemingly run by Whartonites, a midwesterner in a flock of East-coasters and really struggled to find my place in this new environment.
While you may be prepared for a lot of firsts your freshman year, your first set of failures is probably not on your agenda. It wasn’t on mine, yet it happened a lot. I had plans for my freshman year: I knew what extracurricular activities I liked, what kind of people I connected with and what I wanted to be involved in at Penn. Rejection hit my like a ton of bricks: I didn’t get into an acapella group, I didn’t get into a fraternity I really connected with, and I didn’t feel like I connected with anyone at Penn. I was upset, my ego was shot down and I struggled to feel accepted in a community that seemed to reject me when I put myself out to it. Blinded by rejection, it was hard understand that my place could actually be somewhere else at Penn.
Failures cause you to take a second look at your goal. Challenge your initial plan, perhaps this isn’t what you wanted in the first place? Rejection will cause you to seek out your ideal social space on your own, curating your friendships and Friday night activities, building your own community at Penn. Tiring from rejection, I began to create positions for myself that didn’t exist. If you couldn’t apply for it in the first place, no one can reject you from it! I sold my skills to student groups I felt could use them and found that I could create “yes-es” for myself in my own terms.
A “no” can be turned into a “yes." My sophomore year, I put my pride aside and tried out for an acapella group again, after realizing I still really wanted to pursue it at Penn. It worked and I appreciate it more than I would have if I had been accepted on my first try.
Today, I realize that I owe a lot of growth to these rejections. I learned my original plan at Penn wasn’t nearly as good as Plan B, even though Plan B took a lot of trial and error. My self-made success were harder to get to and required more patience than an instant acceptance, but were more rewarding because they were mine.
Today, when I am asked if I love college, my answer is always yes. It’s important to remember, however, that before the yes, came no: a “no” that forced me to reconsider what it was I loved, and make me redefine what “yes” could mean to me.
The Truth About "Work Hard, Play Hard" | Helen N
Dear Penn Freshmen:
So... the rumors are true: Penn is a “work hard, play hard” school. I mean, it’s evident, isn’t? Seemingly everyone simultaneously killed it in high school, holds leadership roles in all their clubs, possesses the EQ to live up to The Social Ivy label (whatever that means), and has multiple offers lined up from Wall Street. Look it up, it’s all on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn—the whole gamut.
But, please, dear Penn freshmen, while you should certainly work hard (higher education is a privilege) and most definitely play hard (BYOs don’t get much better than Philly’s), please do not forget to think hard. I’m not talking about busting your ass to solve proofs or pulling words from a thesaurus to beef up your thesis. I’m asking you to think—truly think—about what it is that you, as an individual, want from your college experience and the rest of your life. Who do you want to be when you graduate? How do you want to be remembered? What do you want to have achieved in four years? How about when you’re thirty?
At this time, if you haven’t heard David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement address for Kenyon College, “This is Water,” drop everything and listen to it now. It is the single most important speech that a college student—or human, for that matter—should hear. It starts thus:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
What Wallace is saying here is that, sometimes, the most obvious, important realities are the hardest to talk about—let alone realize. He warns that we should be careful not to follow the crowd merely because it seems to be the “correct” direction, lest we lose our touch with our individuality in the process. Allow me to elaborate...
When I was a freshman, I wanted to transfer into Wharton because I was insecure about how having a liberal arts degree was socially inferior (untrue). When I was a sophomore, I wanted to be an Economics major because I thought it was the only way to make money post-grad (objectively false). When I was a junior, I wanted to work at Management Consulting firms because they were believed to be the most prestigious (debatable).
Do you see the pattern here? All of these aspirations were relative—externally driven, rooted in nothing but my perception of Penn’s social conventions. And while I certainly respect the Whartonites, the econ majors, and the incoming McKinsey analysts (many of whom are my dearest friends), the more salient point I’m trying to make is that you should never make decisions based solely on the approval ratings of others. It’s draining, it’s never as rewarding as you think it will be, and, the truth is, most people are too busy doing their own thing to notice. Instead, do things that you’re good at. Build a literal and proverbial resume that brings you respect, not recognition. Major in something that encourages you to actually give a damn about the work. Surround yourself by the people, places, and things that help you grow from the inside-out. Think. Hard. Never lose sight of your inner voice—your passions, your values, your “true north”. You’ll be better off for it. Trust me.
Still, it hasn’t been easy, you know, the process of self-discovery; the disease of being “busy” is a silent but deadly one. It boiled down everything I loved into work, tasks, and responsibilities. It ruined some of my relationships beyond repair. It drove me to visit CAPS on three separate occasions (ignore the haters, I am camp CAPS any day). It delayed me from realizing my real passions and strengths in life.
It’s true that Penn’s conspicuous culture has a cruel way of showing off everyone’s highlight reels while quietly sweeping the behind-the-scenes footage under the rug. However, there is a quote by Tyler Knott Gregson that sums up my words appropriately: “Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”
Now, as a senior, I am a proud to-be Annenberg graduate headed to New York City with a job offer in Creative Management Consulting. Penn’s ups and downs have contributed to these formative years of self-discovery. I encourage you all to work hard, play hard, but most importantly, think hard about what you want to get out of Penn. You’ve gotta know that there's a world far bigger than you and you're lucky to exist in it.
Good luck, Penn Freshmen.
+1 (469) 401-8225
Be Deliberate: You Are What You Choose | Ritika P.
Dear Freshman Self,
For starters, go read the other letters because there is so much you can learn from your peers. More on that to come, but for now I’ll start with some practical advice:
- Keep copies of all your past I-20s! You will need them when applying for OPT as a senior.
- Go to as many Authors@Wharton events as you can. You will gain so much life wisdom (and a whole shelf worth of free books!).
- Get to know your professors. Being friends with your teachers was one of the things you loved most about high school and it can, and in fact will, happen at Penn too!
- If you dislike a class, don’t skip it! You will delude yourself into thinking that you will work up the motivation to learn the material later by yourself (spoiler art: you won’t).
If you’ve read this far, congratulations! You are already wiser than I was when I was in your shoes. You don’t expect this but when senior year rolls around, there will be so much life stuff you still don’t have figured out. Perhaps more surprisingly, you’ll actually be ok with that! And that’s just one of many ways that Penn will change you. I don’t want to give away too much, but I do want to share some reflections and lessons learned over the past four years. I hope they bring you comfort and perspective on your Penn journey.
Make “how are you” a conversation starter, not a greeting. When you ask someone “how are you”, take a minute to actually hearing about their day. Don’t just listen for a “good” or “fine” and rush off to the next thing on your schedule.
Dive into the present and bring your past along for the ride. You’re going to be terrified to open up to people here about your insecurities, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: the sooner you take the leap and become vulnerable with people at Penn, the sooner you’ll start to feel like you belong. And as you build your life at Penn, invite your family and old friends to be a part of it by sharing both the good and bad. When you feel like you’ve drifted too far from yourself, these are the people who will help you find your way back home. They’ll also offer perspectives on life that you can’t find at Penn.
There’s no perfect balance, only deliberate tradeoffs. We all hear about the person who seems to have their shit completely together. News flash: they’re trading off something to achieve this, even if it isn’t visible to others (and sometimes themselves)! Frankly, there’s not enough time to do everything you want to here, but if you are conscious of your priorities and make choices in accordance with them, you’ll get to do most everything that is important to you.
Honor your commitments. This will be a lot easier if you are intentional about the commitments you make. Recognize that every time you break a promise, large or small, you are betraying someone’s trust. Banish the words “I’m too busy” from your vocabulary. That’s just a euphemism “You are not as important as X to me right now.”
Choose to respond with compassion. When a friend doesn’t reply to your message and it’s been more than a day, it will annoy you, but try not to jump to conclusions about how they don’t care about the friendship. Instead, ask how they’re doing. You will be glad you consistently gave people the benefit of the doubt.
There’s intention and then there’s impact, you are accountable for both. Something you said or did may not have been intentionally cruel but if someone else feels hurt as a result, the onus is on you to understand why, apologize for the pain you’ve caused, and strive to do better. This is not about being PC, this is about treating everybody with dignity.
Making decisions is still really scary. You will find yourself wanting to delegate decisions about your life to other people, because you’re scared you’ll decide wrong, but these are decisions you have to make for yourself. If you put them in someone else’s hands, you won’t really know who you are. Making choices and living with them is the only way to find out what truly matters to us.
Comparing yourself to others is a futile exercise. The only person you should be competing with is your past self. Let your peers’ success inspire you, not (as one of your friends put it) make you feel inadequate. Truthfully, you’re still struggling with this. When people around you succeed, you’re happy for them but it’s almost instantly followed by the thought “Why not me?” You haven’t completely figured it out how to stop thinking that, but this is what you’ve learnt so far:
1) Put on blinders and focus on yourself. Use these moments of doubt or envy to refocus inward and reflect on your goals and how you can make progress towards them.
2) Admire other people’s qualities not achievements. It’s not always possible or even desirable to emulate someone else’ achievements, but you can cultivate their qualities, and that will lead you to achievements of your own that you’ll be proud of.
Life is best thought of as a process, rather than a series of outcomes. Adopt a growth mindset and see yourself as a continual work in progress. Approach experiences (e.g. OCR) with the aim of developing yourself instead of worrying about succeeding/failing, and you’ll walk away having gained something far more valuable than a job offer.
Get comfortable with being alone. There will inevitably be moments when none of your friends are free and you want to study, explore Philly, or watch a movie. Don’t dwell on why nobody seems to have time for you, think it of as an opportunity for a solo adventure! When you’re by yourself, you give yourself space to reflect with no filter, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process. In particular, you’ll become more attuned to your emotions and distinguish between “I’m sad because I’m having a bad day” and “I’m sad because I’m deeply dissatisfied with life”. It’s not a magical superpower, it’s just deep self-awareness.
Speak up when you’re hurting. You will assume that your friends know you so well that they’ll magically sense when anything is wrong. This will not be the case. However, you will find your friends always want to help you, you just need to let them know that you need them. So when the hard times hit (and they will), message a few people you trust and say “I’m struggling, I need someone to talk to.” I promise you at least one of them will show up. The other thing you’re going to learn to speak up about is when someone’s behavior upsets you. You hate conflict so you’ll try bury negative feelings, but this just breeds resentment, and implodes in your face. The better approach is to notice when something’s bothering you and discuss it calmly with the people concerned. Take it from me that addressing these issues head-on will actually strengthen your relationships.
People are more than their achievements. This seems obvious but when you meet new people you’ll find yourself discussing clubs, internships, etc so often that it feels like all you talk about, and therefore all you are. Push beyond that, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Ask people about where they grew up, their family, or any of the millions of other aspects of their life. It’ll make for a much more interesting and meaningful conversation.
Delight in the small moments. When Penn gets stressful, you will feel like you need to fly to another city to just be happy, but that’s not true. Conversing with a close friend over a cup of tea, taking a run along the Schukyill river bank around sunset, Skyping your parents, and other simple experiences will bring you immense joy and give you perspective.
What you put into your relationships at Penn is what you’ll get out. Find the people you want to commit time to and want to commit it to you in return. Have patience. You won’t find some of these people till your junior or senior year, but it is well worth the wait.
Make memories. Days come and go (far too quickly) but memories can last forever. Take some photos or jot down a few sentences in your journal. You’ll be glad to look back later.
Thank the people who have helped you. You don’t know it yet but you will have a TA who checks your midterm study guide for you, a professor who continues to meet you to chat about life even after you finish taking her class, and an alumnus who responds to your cold email and mock interviews you. You will meet so many people here who give you their time, effort, and care. The very least you can do is to thank them sincerely and let them know the difference they’ve made in your life.
Be grateful you’re at Penn. As your legal studies professor will tell you almost every class, 9 people wanted to be sitting where you are sitting now. It will be easy to lose sight of this, so make a deliberate effort to appreciate being a Penn student. I am only a few months away from leaving, and I know I will miss this place deeply when I graduate, and I am happier here now than you or I ever thought possible.
All my love,
firstname.lastname@example.org (until May 2018)
email@example.com (from May 2018)
Fix That Broken Tile | Mene M.
Dear freshman self,
On most days, you will walk the tiles of Locust Walk. Lined with academic buildings, historical statues, and social houses, Locust Walk is one of the many glues that brings our campus together. Whether you’re rushing to class or coming back from a late night socializing, Penn students always find themselves on Locust Walk in one way or another. I challenge you to consider how you walk to school every day.
Don’t be afraid to take a different path to class. Maybe even take a detour. No two paths are the same. If you’re moving on Locust at 9:55am peak time trying to make your 10am class on the other side of campus, move to Walnut. Or if you’re feeling lucky and have an extra five minutes, run inside Houston Hall and treat yourself to a yummy ice cream.
Consider walking the path with others. Invite others to walk together. Everybody loves a travel buddy (except those who don’t, which is totally cool). Walking with a trusted friend can make all the difference in your mindset and composure for the rest of the day.
Don’t be afraid to walk alone. Sometimes we need time to ourselves too. It can be important to make decisions without the bias of your environment, a common pitfall early in your college career. Peer pressure is all around you, whether it’s shaping your academic track, joining a social structure, or considering a career path. Be cognizant that YOU are the person making the journey and no one else.
Take your time. Take it all in. Perhaps others are speeding by you. Remember that there is no need to match their intensity. They are on their path and you are on yours. Notice the small things around you. The way the flowers bloom beautifully in the Spring. The fresh layer of snow that collects on the Green. The vast history that radiates off of Benjamin Franklin in front of College Hall. ‘Attention to detail’ may sound like a buzzword but relish this ability. It will make you a more wholesome person.
Use Google Maps when you’re lost. When technology fails you, ask for help. Use all the resources at your disposal. It always amazed me how many resources Penn students had that they didn’t take advantage of. For example, research money is plentiful. We have world-class libraries, librarians, and books. You have 10,000 of the smartest people on the planet in a two-mile radius. Learn from them and growth with them. Professors can be huge on this front too. Don’t be afraid to open up to a professor about an issue you’re having. On the whole, professors are empathetic and considerate. Vulnerability is strength.
Fix that broken tile. Make everybody’s path more beautiful. Look for opportunities to give wherever you are. Too often in our competitive culture we search for ways to extract value from those around us. In conforming to this culture, we risk lose sight of a bigger picture filled with generosity and care. I am reminded by something Cheryl Strayed writes, “Stop asking yourself what you want, what you desire, what interests you. Ask yourself instead: What has been given to me. Ask: What do I have to give back? Then give it.” Expand the pie of life rather than fighting to extract the largest piece.
Appreciate and give gratitude for walking every day. Don’t take this too literally but don’t take this lightly. If you are reading this, you are likely a blessed person. You can afford to read motivational, inspirational prose and advice from someone who has already marked their college path. Recognize that we are lucky to be able to step foot on Penn’s campus every day in search of a genuine world-class education. We are lucky and we should appreciate this.
Send postcards along the way. Maya Angelou reminds us, “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” One of the best ways to reflect on your roots is to praise the people who have made you the person you are. You are the person you are today because of your parents, guardians, mentors, and friends from back home. These people keep you grounded. Don’t forget them.
Track your steps and recognize the progress that you make. Every. Single. Day. Too often we don’t give ourselves credit for things we do well. We live in a culture that is obsessed with self-improvement. Practice self-compassion, for it will strengthen you for the long run. In running your marathon of life, self-compassion is a bite-sized Gatorade jelly. Eat TONS OF THEM. They will energize you and will teach you to love yourself.
Recognize that your path is ultimately a collection of smaller paths and individual steps. Barack Obama talk about the pieces that make up our larger walk of life: “We are not perfect, but we have the capacity to be more perfect. Mile after mile; step after step. And they pile up one after the other and pretty soon that finish line starts getting into sight, and we are not where we were. We’re in a better place because we had the courage to move forward.” It’s easy in college to feel overwhelmed about the big picture. Instead, take every day with stride and live in the moment. Every day is a small part of the bigger picture.
Finally, when you are feeling defeated—when your legs are numb and your breath is faint—remember how far you have come. Reflecting on her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed beautifully writes, “I considered my options. There was only one, I knew. There was only one. To keep walking.”
Seriously feel free to reach out with anything.
Don't Go Shopping On Tuesdays | Anon.
Dear whomever it may concern,
Penn is a weird school. The pressure can be pulverizing, people can be spoiled, classwork can be uninteresting, and it’s socially stratified. Yet, this place gives you the chance to become an adult, start a career, push yourself; it teaches you how to drink, to party, to put up with people you don’t like and it challenges you to feel confident about doing what you want to do. It’s super hard though but there are some things that I have tried to stick by in my 4 years and I wish I had done so more consistently. I hope the 3 things below can provide some perspective.
CRAFT SOME LIFE SKILLS. Can really be anything. If you like to cook, great. If you play any instruments, keep playing them. If you care about any sports, or want to pick up a new one, do so. If you like writing, write. If you like reading, read (barely anyone at this school reads for pleasure). If you like creating stuff, whatever it is, keep creating. You like origami? Good for you, keep folding paper and become dope at it. I screwed this up. I failed to make varsity and now I barely play the sport. I became terrible at the piano. I even forgot how to make scrambled eggs. Aside from the egotistical reasons to have some cool skills, whether you’re extremely serious about it or not, it’s what keeps your life in balance. It can help you destress or it can keep parts of your brain activated or it can just be a nice change from the schoolwork/coffee chat/social event routine. It’s something that you’ll never regret putting time into.
This leads nicely onto my next point that everyone should try as best as they can to keep their lives complex. We get so sucked into a small collection of mindsets and we conform so easily. Our topics of conversation become limited, only changing with the circumstances, and we surround ourselves with similar people. Isn’t the mind such a wonderful thing? Isn’t everyone introspective enough and intelligent enough to want to attain more, to remain complex, to not get stuck in a psychological rut? I wish I did more. Meet people with which you have nothing in common on paper. Go to shows. Travel if you can. Try to listen to completely different music. Don’t judge others. And read read read! That’s also why crafting life skills can be beneficial. It helps you keep your mind open, to prevent you from narrowing your life. It will just get harder to do once you graduate.
And finally, FEEL EVERYTHING. We are at such a wonderful time in our lives – young, healthy, able to learn. For many of you, it’s your first taste of some independence. So let yourselves loose (sensibly). Enjoy drinking, do drugs, be lazy, rebel against something for the hell of it, try out a new fashion , fall in love, become vulnerable with others, cry, eat, work out. Of course, if it goes against some fundamental values of yours, be cautious about what you do, and I beg you, please don’t harm or hurt anyone. But otherwise, this is a time for you to explore your emotions, to feel new things, and gather new experiences. Just make sure you are a good person and are kind to others. I took things too seriously at times and I also fucked around too much at times. It’s a delicate balance, and something no one will ever perfect, but don’t limit yourselves for the wrong reasons. We only get older each day.
It’s a weird place to be when you’re about to graduate. For me, Penn’s been shit, amazing, fun, and boring. Let this university take you through it all.
2675428323. Feel free to drop me a line.
P.S. Go abroad if you can. Never forget your family. Respect others. Work hard. Stay humble.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay Even If Life is Good | Wendy S.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
I started having these acute periods of anxiety and panics starting my second semester freshman year. It wasn’t very clear how it all begun, but once every few weeks, I would find myself sitting on my bathroom floor, crying about… nothingness. One minute I would be productively working on my work, and the next minute I would feel like the world is ending and no one loves me, and a couple hours later I would be totally fine again, hanging out with my friends. It became this inexplicable routine in my life I dreadfully await its next visit.
Last year, I started having these episodes more and more frequently, sometimes multiple times a week. One time in November, I was sitting in an uber coming home from the Apple Store. I had a lovely morning catching up with old friends making pancakes. I was really excited to get my laptop back. And without any warning, I started breathing faster and faster; my thoughts are racing; and I just started breakdown crying, in the uber. I tried to hold in my tear as I instructed the driver to drop me off at the intersection, and I sprinted into the nearest bathroom and just uncontrollably bawled my eyes out.
That time, I knew what I was crying about. I was crying because I was so frustrated with myself. I was frustrated that I am losing more and more control at when these episodes occur. I was frustrated at how incredibly annoying this is because whenever an episode happens, I literally can not function normally until hours later. I was frustrated knowing that this can happen when I am giving a speech or having a meeting or enjoying a show or partaking any normal life activities. I was frustrated at how this has become an obstacle in my life that I will never be able overcome and for the rest of my life I should just anticipate some intense crying out of nowhere.
Most of all, I was frustrated that my life was so good when all this shit went down. When I was sitting on the bathroom floor crying, I actually had really amazing and supportive friends. I just got a really good internship offer. I was a part of really meaningful communities as an RA and as the chair of a program I love. My relationship with my parents was the best it has ever been. Everything was objectively so good. But I was still so sad. I was still not okay.
And that’s really the crux of it. You can be sad, and anxious, and depressed, and all types of not okay, even if everything in your life is good. You can be sad and upset even if you don’t know why. There is this sense of guilt and burden associated with mental health. We don’t want to be sad or anxious because we don’t want to feel ungrateful for how good our life is, and we don’t want to be a burden for our loved ones. We desperately want to figure out what is causing our problems so we can fix it and cure it and we can stop all of this.
But that’s not really how it works. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get help, or take meds, or talk to someone. But your mental wellness is a gradual journey, and along the way, you are going to feel bad, for no specific reason. And that’s totally ok! Your emotions are yours and they are valid. You have to allow yourself to experience what you are experiencing, and not lament yourself for being weak and ungrateful and further descend into this vicious cycle.
So if you are reading this, and you are mad at yourself for being sad, listen to me: it’s not your fault that your emotions are a little wacky. It’s ok if you can’t control it. It’s ok if life is objectively good and you still feel bad. There is no how you are “supposed to” feel. What you feel is real, and that’s it. It’s not your fault. You are not wrong. You are not a bad or ungrateful person.
You are you, and it’s ok to feel not okay, even if life is good.
If you would like to reach out to me, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
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I Became The (Not So) Starving Artist In Wharton My Asian Mom Never Wanted | Tiffany C.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
Penn is going to be everything you wished for and dreamed of. Like you wrote in your college admissions essay, "at Penn, the sky's the limit." It's true; I wrote that too. You're about to meet people from countries you've never heard of, learn from Professors that people praise as world thought leaders, get tossed left and right by a whirlwind of opportunities, and take them all on as the smart, hard-working, and go-getter student you are. Pause. This is the moment I wish someone hit pause for me. Coming from an immigrant family in Hawaii, Wharton was a promise of hope for a good future with high expectations. But things weren't so clean and clear. So this is me hitting pause for you, taking a deep breath with you, giving you three things I wish I knew back then that I hope will give you the best 4 years of your life. I hope that my candid stories give light to an experience you may find insightful, inspiring, or interesting. I also hope that you look back here in the midst of doubt and confusion and find this as a source of light, realizing that I have been there and want to walk through it with you. Because even with those moments, your four years will be amazing: filled with joy and achievements.
1. Learning for you and no one else.
Should I take Intro to Mechanical Design or Buddhism? This was a decision I was making at 3am first day of NSO (I chose Mechanical Design). After spending spring break studying for a midterm I only got a 40% on, waking up from a nap in Huntsman after pulling another all nighter on an assignment, I was filled with frustration and hatred over a course I wanted to love. What happened? I forgot who I was studying for.
Learn for you. Coming from a community distant from technology, I never once considered taking computer science courses. Nonetheless, I tried. I never thought I'd find a field so progressive, impactful, and creative. I also never thought that I would be sitting alone at office hours for 7 hours, and at 11pm telling the TA for the fourth time that I didn't get it and being told: "Tiff, if you don't get it now, you'll never get it you might as well give up on CIS."
I'm not a CIS god. I have beat myself over poor grades and have watched freshmen finish the assignment in 1/10th of the time it took me. I have scrambled to get the right answers and a good grade (and not understanding any of my answers), woken up on the floor of Rodin's lobby after passing out from exhaustion, and hated myself for not being good enough. But I forgot what was most important. Above all, I had learned so much about a new field that one year ago I knew nothing about. I had kickstarted my passion for tech that I had no idea existed. My grades couldn't capture that.
Everyone moves at their own pace, starting at different points, and I hope that you learn for you, not for the GPA, job, or to "be the best". As someone once told me: "Keep your eyes in your lane and focus on winning your game. It'll slow you to stop and watch your opponent." P.S. I'm still studying CIS so life worked out :)
2. Uncertainty is beautiful.
What do you want to be when you grow up? That was a popular question you might have gotten growing up and responded with answers like "the president, an astronaut" or now maybe "an nurse, an architect" or even "I have no fucking clue." It even gets more daunting to suddenly realize that maybe the time you're "grown up" could be in 4 years.
When I came to Wharton, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew that through my work, I wanted to improve people's lives. I immediately was overwhelmed with finance and consulting resources, networking opportunities, and the majority of my classmates moving towards those careers. Hoping to get my feet wet and find myself too on that path, I applied to various consulting and finance clubs on campus only to be rejected. I went to talks, visited companies, networked and tried to get myself to love what they were saying. But I couldn't. The negative signaling made me anxious, but I kept going trusting that I was going to be the "Whartonite" my parents, classmates, and professors all hoped for. Meanwhile, I joined a small club called Penn Labs and began working on designing apps as a hobby because I loved graphic design. Growing up I had always told my parents I wanted to be an artist, but was swayed every time away from it. People kept telling me I was good at design and should consider it as a career, but brushed them off. "It's a hobby. I need to find something more secure and pays well (and more externally validating).", I said. I wanted to feel secure, to rest assured that the path I'd take would lead me to "success". Over time, I quickly became insecure as I watched my friends get into the consulting clubs and get their banking internships at top firms, while I was a business student doing "design", getting rejected from business internships, and feeling guilty accepting (and loving) design jobs at startups. WHAT THE FUCK WAS I DOING?!
I was scared, anxious, and afraid of my future, because it wasn't linear and had become something I couldn't plan for nor see. I basked in uncertainty and (took me two years) realized that there was a path for me. An unconventional, untouched, yet beautiful path that merged my love for design, computer science, and business to build products that serviced others. I became that artist I wanted to be my whole life. I wish I could tell you I planned this all along, but I didn't. It was simply a byproduct of hopeful exploration, trusting my heart, defining my success, and loving every step along the path I was taking to get there. Whether it's feeling lost about your career or finding your place at Penn, as long as you're happy, you're never lost - you're just on your unique path to your destination.
3. Loving can be hard.
Loving yourself: There will be times where you feel like your identity has been swept from you: when clubs you want to be in so desperately won't take you, when the fraternity or sorority you thought you'd fit best in cuts you, classes in your major aren't doing so hot, and you feel like the things you used to identify with are up in the air. There will be events that will seem to echo back what your identity should be: bad at your major, not good enough for a club, or not pretty enough for this sorority. But as the ground beneath you breaks and people toss your identity back and forth, the most important thing to hold your ground is to love yourself. It sounds narcissistic, but following one and a half years of being told who I was and losing what I knew of myself was five months of depression, and the only thing I yearned for was simply to love myself again. That meant telling myself (literally verbally sometimes):
- I am smart, which meant choosing to go to sleep and stay healthy over staying up another 10 hours trying to perfect the problem set. It meant becoming that artist and not caring about what my parents friends would say about their daughter not being a smart banker.
- I am strong, which meant even after destroying my dominant rotator cuff and being told I couldn't play the sport I love again, that I can (and now do, just with my left arm).
I am beautiful, which meant having bigger thighs, broader shoulders, lifting weights, and not trying to fit a "look".
Only when you love yourself can you truly love others. I hope that through the tossing and turning you will continue to love, believe, and trust yourself.
Loving others: I may never remember the A on that stat exam nor will I remember the countless hours I spent studying for it, but I will always remember the days I serendipitously got in a car with my roommates and drove to Toronto and remaking Drake's Started from the Bottom music video. I will remember the night my friend stayed in the computer lab with me till 11:59pm to help me finish my lab before it was due. I will remember the night my best friend skipped her obligations and calmed me in the ER through the intolerable pain. I will remember the morning I woke up to find a note that said "You'll make it, I believe in you." when I couldn't believe in myself. At home, we call it the aloha spirit: a selfless love for others as if they were your family. As I remember these people for their unconditional love and joy, I only hope that I carry the same spirit with me. I could not even imagine what could happen if everyone loved like that all the time.
Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party | Julien A
Dear Penn Freshmen:
I truly might be one of the most confusing people at Penn. I am an engineer that wants to go into the fashion business. I am an introvert at the “social ivy.” I am from a preppy town in the Northeast (like a lot of people at this school) but identify much more with my biracial international roots. Nothing about me and the whole Penn combination really makes sense. I wish I had stopped caring about that sooner. I think people at Penn are too concerned about how others perceive them. Myself included. But you’ll come to realize, nobody really cares if you don’t go to the “party.” I mean this both about the frat party that may going on a couple blocks away, but also about almost everything else at Penn (clubs, jobs, grades). Sure your friends might be begging you to tag along, you may have received a personal invite, or you just know someone you like will be there, but decide what matters to you. Hopefully sharing some of what mattered to me at Penn, will help some of you find the same.
Introduce yourself and once you do, always say hi! – This is always easier during NSO and in small classes with ice breakers, but don’t ever stop meeting new people. I know small talk sucks, but it can be practiced! People love to talk about themselves and love to be complimented. Some of my greatest friendships at Penn started because of spontaneous compliments that became long conversations about mutual interests. Once you meet someone, never stop saying hi. Of course, the first conversation may have been awkward, or you might think they don’t even remember you, but you never know. If they think highly of you, but you never say hi when passing them on Locust, you might be missing out on something great. A simple wave and smile can surprisingly brighten someone’s day.
Coffee & Food – This applies to so many parts of Penn.
Off the last point, an easy way to get to know someone better is to ask them to grab coffee. It is completely harmless and can lead to a much more meaningful conversation. Be the one to set it up! We all have those friends who say, “let’s grab coffee sometime” and then never hear from them for another month. Try not to be that person.
On another note, Philly has some of the best (and reasonably priced) food in the country. Take the initiative and make the reservation. People will appreciate the invite more than you know! Lunch and brunch are a great way to save money. This will also be an incredible way to explore the amazing neighborhoods of Philly that you can’t find anywhere else. Penn is a bubble. You can only eat from Wawa and the restaurants on 40th street so many times.
A final point on this topic, take care of yourself. There were so many days where I skipped multiple meals while at Penn. Be smarter than I was. You may be stressed with work or feel the need to do everything but realize that your body will eventually run out of gas. Everyone needs to eat. Use that time to catch up with someone or spend some time reading something you enjoy. Make it to the gym if you can. Working out, no matter how little, will always make you feel a bit more energized and productive.
Ask. Otherwise you’ll always wonder – Ask whenever you can. You never know where this will lead. Some of my greatest times at Penn would not have happened if I didn’t ask to be nominated for a certain position or send in an email asking to meet with a professor. The worst that can happen is they say no, and you are right where you are now. I wouldn’t have my job next year if I didn’t email and get involved with the Baker Retailing Center, who told me about a talk where I met an executive of the company I will be working for post-grad. You would be surprised at how many people are willing to help undergraduate students from Penn. Do your research. Send an email to the “contact-us” link or reach out to Penn alumni and hop on a call or go meet in person if you can. You will be incredibly surprised at what this can become.
Be spontaneous – I am sure you have heard this before. Grades don’t matter in college, relationships do. Obviously, that’s a bit hard for us Penn students to believe. But trust me, one bad grade on one exam, in one class, in one semester of fours years of college, is not worth beating yourself up over. It took me a while to realize this. Again, fewer people care about your GPA and grades than you might think. The work will get done eventually, but go do something different. Take a photography class and walk around the city with your camera in hand. Cook and watch a movie with your friends instead of going out one night. Sometimes, the work can wait. It might not always feel like it, but trust me, it’ll make you happier come senior year.
I know I talked a lot about relationships. It is because I think they are the most meaningful things that will come from your Penn experience. But, I also want to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being or feeling like you are alone. Penn can be overwhelming and full of the pressure of constantly impressing other people but do make time for yourself. Do things that you enjoy. For me, that was walking around new parts of Philly and trying new coffee shops. I know if this happens a lot it can be easy to feel like no one wants to hang out with you, but don’t be afraid to take the initiative to invite others along if it ever feels like too much. Find the balance. Don’t shut people out, but don’t overwhelm yourself.
Seriously, nobody really cares if you don’t go to that party. Or join that club. Or apply for that job. Decide what you care about at Penn and don’t be afraid to do it. Trust me it will take time. I wanted to end this with a story I have almost exclusively kept to myself these past years. It is about how I spent most of my freshman Fling alone in my room. It was the loneliest I have ever felt. I lived in the quad and could hear all the partying outside, wasn’t invited to any of the parties on 40th street, and basically went to the concert alone. Fling was supposed to be a fun end to the year with all the friends you had made. For me it was the exact opposite. But, trust me when I say, it gets better. Friends become genuine, memories become brighter, and you’ll leave this place having come so far from where you are now.
Love with Abandon | Aimun M.
Dear Freshman Aimun,
Over the course of the most amazing four years in your life, you will learn to live life with one fundamental truth- everyone wants to be loved. In college, you will meet hundreds if not thousands of people. The single most important piece of advice I have for you is to treat each and every one of those interactions as the start of a best friendship.
Penn is truly one of the most unique, incredible places in the world. It is an aggregation of some of the most intellectually curious and emotionally caring people you can find. I highly encourage you to strike up conversation with every single person you run into. To truly take advantage of the school, learn to love with abandon.
Say hi to random people in the street. One day they could become your best friends. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know in your classes. They could be your closest allies. Tell people all the things you love about them all the time. Whether it be something they’re wearing or some characteristic about them, never stop complimenting people. Deep in everyone’s hearts, they want to be loved. Why not fill those hearts’ desires?
Move your desk from your room into your roommates’. He will become one of your best friends, and you will do everything from watch hours of World War 2 documentaries to see the amazing cliffs in Ireland with him.
Get to know the kid whose room you accidentally stumbled into in English Hall rather than King’s Court Hall. You will watch multiple seasons of Entourage together, celebrate birthdays together, and win (and lose) hundreds of dollars in Vegas together.
Tell the beautiful girl in your pre-orientation program that she has pretty eyes. One day, she’ll become the love of your life. She will bring you soup every day for 3 weeks when you’re sick. She will look at you with those deep, pretty eyes and kiss you on the top of the Eiffel Tower. She will teach you more than you could ever learn in school.
And all of that is possible because you decided to love with abandon.
There’s a good possibility you won’t remember how to do a Taylor Series,
You won’t remember how to do a logical outline,
And you won’t remember what the surface area of a cylinder is.
What you will remember is all of the love that you passed on and received on this amazing campus for four years. That love will follow you across the world for the rest of your life.
And it all starts with one compliment.
Play Harder | Yana K.
Dear Freshman Yana,
Knowing you (and knowing me), it is probably 2 AM as you are reading this, and you are wondering what else you can do to avoid that BEPP 250 problem set due tomorrow morning. Let me help you out. Let’s talk about the gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, magical, four-year, red and blue ride on which you are about to embark.
Play More. Even before you arrived on campus, you heard Penn described as a “work hard play hard” school and scoffed. You thought this place would be just as much a meat grinder as your overachiever high school, and you were fully willing to disregard the second half of the “work hard play hard” mantra in pursuit of your narrowly defined version of success. But consider for a moment that maybe, just maybe, you were placed in this environment because you needed to learn to play.
Let’s face it, you were the fourth grader who chose to read 1,000 minutes a week for a reading log that required 100 instead of playing kickball with your neighbors or learning to climb a tree. You spent your summers at nerd camp taking logic classes because that’s just the kind of kid you were. Over time, you became so accustomed to always doing something that you grew to fear the empty blocks in your iCal. Let me tell you, Penn will give you more double and triple-booked iCal blocks than you can imagine, if you let it. You will not grow by continuing to juggle those. Rather, you will grow by making the conscious decision to sometimes do nothing. Not just by allowing yourself to play, but by allowing yourself to play hard. Over the next four years, you will be surrounded by people who are not only inspiring in their academic pursuits, but also astounding in their ability to seize life, be a little reckless, and seek out joy. Learn from those people. Resist the urge to take a seventh class to fill up your iCal. Embrace your empty blocks. Find those activities that make you a little queasy. Embarrass yourself at a hip hop class or test your fear of heights at the Pottruck rock wall. Rent a Zipcar and take your friends skydiving on a weekday. Don’t let yourself get comfortable in an environment that is literally inviting you to try anything and everything with no real consequences.
Be human. There will be days or even swaths of them when you will feel like you’re just going through the motions. You’ll float absentmindedly down Locust Walk with your earbuds in as people you half remember pass you by. You’ll wonder if you should say hello and then decide against it out of some fear of awkwardness or rejection. A few minutes later, you’ll feel lonely. In those moments, take a moment to think. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you wave and flash a smile to someone you remember from NSO, or a professor you had last semester? Maybe you’ll get a hello back? Maybe they’ll remember you too and strike up a conversation? The horror! Honestly, Yana, if I see you one more time in the Radian elevator avoiding human connection by glancing back down at your iPhone, I will throw that thing in the Schuylkill. If you are going to use your phone, use it to call home.
Ask for help. You have always prided yourself on being resourceful, strong, and persistent. You have lived your life scribbling personal goals on post-its and in notebooks, sharing none of them with others but hoping to help someone achieve theirs. You have sometimes avoided asking questions in class because you feared that your questions would put a crack in the strong, self-sufficient façade you built for yourself (or rather, for others). Let me tell you, the classmates that you will see grow the most over the next four years are the ones who are not afraid to be challenged. They will be the ones who are brash about announcing what they don’t know, and will unabashedly seek out others’ advice and leniency when they are out of their depth. You should strongly consider doing the same. Ask for an extension on a paper that you just can’t seem to finish (maybe they’ll say yes!). Invite someone for coffee that is doing a job you know nothing about (maybe that is your dream job, and you just don’t know it yet!). Sit in the front of the classroom to avoid judgmental stares, and actually listen to your professors when they tell you to ask dumb questions. And if you don’t get a chance to ask, take your professors to Pod. Who knows? Maybe your dumb questions will lead to some insightful and complex answers.
Over the next four years, I hope you challenge yourself to lean on others; push yourself ever so slightly out of your comfort zone; and live deliberately. For all its flaws and toxicity, Penn is truly rare in its ability to give you free reign in a place with boundless opportunity and inspiring peers. Never forget that you have that agency to make this experience everything you want it to be, and don’t let the competitive complainers dampen your days.
Oh, and put down the iced coffee and Wawa caramel apple dippers you’re probably munching on right now. Find yourself some broccoli; your brain will thank you for it.
Never Forget | Zach G.
Dear Freshmen Self,
There are the obvious things. Don’t have a 9AM in DRL. Especially on Friday. Hillel over Commons, always. Convert all your swipes to Dining Dollars.
Then there are the slightly less obvious things. Never miss a Bloomers show. Sleeping in is ALWAYS the move on Saturday. Sleeping in is NOT the move on Friday. Being productive on Friday sets you up for a much better weekend.
Then there are the things that you’ll only begin to understand as they happen. Being sad sometimes is normal and healthy. Being sad all the time isn’t. Just because they’re doing it doesn’t mean that you need to. Failing isn’t a possibility; it’s an inevitability. You’ll be much better off after you fail a couple times.
Your personality is a blessing and a curse. You’ll make friends with ease, but you’ll constantly worry about those friendships. Don’t ignore this, or push it aside, or bottle it up. You’re going to have to work through it eventually, and you’ll be much happier when you do. Don’t let your worry define you. That’s the biggest thing. Life can suck sometimes, but it is also the best. You are going to have the highest high moments of your life in these four years. Run with those. Those are your fuel. Those are how you get through the hard times.
Don’t fixate on the past or worry about the future. You know how to live in the now, so just do it. What happened in the past has already happened, and you can’t change it. Use that time and energy on enjoying what you’re doing today, right here, right now, because it is going to go by quicker than you can ever imagine.
You’re not going to magically wake up one day knowing what you want to be when you grow up. It’s not a doctor though, so please don’t bother with Bio 101. You’re going to drop after the first day anyway. Focus on what you like learning, discussing and reading about. You’ll figure it out eventually.
Keep your people close, and be open to meeting new people. You’re not going to find all of your closest friends day 1, or 10, or 100. But you will find them, and they are the best. Don’t spend so much energy with people who don’t care about you the same way you care about them. You’ll learn this eventually, but you’ll go through a lot of tough times first.
People can suck. A lot. And it’s not always meant meanly, or in malice, or hatred. Sometimes people just don’t realize how their actions affect other people. Learning this is going to be tough. It is a process and a half. People are going to do some horrible things, and it’s going to seem like the end of the world. It’s not. Every tough time you go through in your time at Penn has always worked out, in one way or another.
Learning to chill is going to be the most important thing you do. And you’ll never master it. It’s not who you are. But being able to step back and take a break from everything will make it all manageable, even when it seems impossible.
More than anything, never forget how much you love Penn. You are your best self here. You have met your closest friends here. It is home.
Your Senior Self (Zach G)
The Small Things | Kyu P.
Foremost, come here so I can give you a hug. I’m proud of you for coming this far. While college is not the final milestone of your life, it will be one of those that will shape your thoughts and personalities. Some of the people you meet will challenge the aspect of life as you know it, classes will be a struggle to keep up with, and at the end of the road you will stand at Franklin Field with a black gown on, smiling a bittersweet laugh, scared at the prospect of the real world and yet excited to be an ‘adult’.
Whilst I believe there is no reason for me to tell you what I’ve learned so far, I hope that some of these words can help you taste all the flavors of your college career that I’ve come to cherish:
First, it’s okay to fail. I know the journey so far meant being the crème de la crème or the perfect student, enrolling in 5+ AP courses or doing varsity sports. So it’s difficult to grasp the notion of not being ‘the best.’ But truth be told, college will be one of those places where you have a consistent safety net. Think about it. Let’s assume you did not study enough for your midterm and did poorly. You have some other assignment or event that will allow you to recuperate that GPA. Or maybe you don’t get into that club you applied for – it just means you have next semester to apply for it or learn from it. That will not be true after four years, when everyday will be a test; make one mistake at work or mess up one relationship and you will find yourself in deeper problems than not getting into a club or getting a C+. All I want to say is that life will be tougher afterwards, so enjoy it while you can at Penn.
Second, let people come and go. It’s too often that we will hear stories of other people or let our prejudice get the better of us when we meet strangers. It’s so strange that we limit ourselves to who we will meet. During the first few days of NSO, it’s most likely you will find a crew for a week and not meet other people, which is completely fine. There is also a good chance you will not talk to them after that week, which again, is completely fine. We often forget that our collegiate careers started with this openness, but as time passes, we force ourselves into self-defined groups, closing off our social circles to new people. Yes, your freshman hall, sorority friends, or classmates are great friends and they may stick with you for the long run, but by hanging out with an exclusive group, you are missing out on the rest of the population. Remember when you came to Penn, almost every kid down the hall was some kind of national champion or valedictorian or some crazy whatever? They are still there. Be open to those around you and try to learn or talk to them – you will be surprised by what you find. 3 am Wawa runs, all-night discussions on religious conflict, or speculation on Spring Fling artists are all memories you will cherish – but only if you open your door and say hi. Likewise, sometimes you just lose control over your social circles. You might run into someone on Locust Walk and say, “Let’s grab lunch sometime” and feel bad when you forget to follow up. But that is one part of life – you don’t talk to all your friends from elementary school and middle school and will start to drift away from your high school squad. Don’t be afraid of it. As you have less time to share experiences and talk, it’s only natural that the people surrounding you will be shaped by the confining factors of space and time.
Finally, enjoy the small things. Enjoy the long sunny days on College Green or battle against the wind tunnel in front of Commons. Throw a toast during Homecoming and enjoy the Sunday brunch at Hill. Stay up and help your friend get through a nightmarish hangover. All too soon, these things will be in the past and you will be at graduation wondering “where did all that time go?” Be kind to your future self and try to enjoy your cup of coffee you grab on the way to class or the purple sunset that engulfs Locust Walk. Occasionally, you’ll find yourself smiling at the dogs running around the High rises or the flowers blooming silently in front of Steiny D. It’s the aggregate of these small details that will create the beautiful picture of your college life twenty years from now.
And about 800 words later, I am honestly a little ashamed to give advice – I have not lived college life to its fullest and had to go through my things to understand the ideas I share. What really matters is not my advice, but you, my freshman friend. Will you be happy at the end of this road and look back, thinking that every day of this chapter of life was worth it? It is my hope that the answer to the hypothetical question posed will be a big fat grin that has all the mischievous and excited characteristics akin to that of a child.
Dig Deeper and Move Lightly | Ayya E.
Dear Freshmen Self,
I think a lot of people (myself included) think that Penn is this big bad monster sometimes. A place where our souls get sucked away and a genuine light-hearted person is a rarity to find. But thinking this way is problematic as it only continues to dig us into a deeper hole. This isn’t to negate that there are legitimate issues unique to Penn that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But I think a trap that people (again myself included) fall into is blaming EVERYTHING on Penn where here mainstream culture is to hate Penn and focus on its faults as a scapegoat for being so unhappy at times. The dangerous thing about that is that blaming our issues on something else moves issues from our internal locus of control to an external one. We give up on trying to fix things and create change.
What I want to say, is don’t get sucked into that. Once again, Penn has issues I am not going to dive into and I am also not going to negate. But don’t get sucked in.
I have 2 things to say. Be honest with yourself and with others. Be the change you want to see.
Don’t feel like you have to think or act in a certain way or like certain things. While this sounds cliché, its so much easier said then done: actually be yourself. Think about the subjects and activities and experiences and people and feelings that you like, that make you happy, keep you at peace, make you excited and work on creating an environment conducive to that. Do not fall into the trap of molding yourself to an environment you think you need to change to integrate yourself into.
I hate to beat a dead horse with this example, but here it goes. If you don’t like finance and have never dreamed all your life about being an investment banker or consultant, then you don’t have to all of a sudden have to have a change of heart and chase it relentlessly. Not going to launch into it here- but its 100% okay (if not even better) if the things that you want to do in life professionally or personally are different than what everyone else talks about. Take some time to think about what you like to do and what you want to do independent of what everyone around you thinks. Its not an easy thing to figure out at times (I think it was usually on breaks these things were clearer to me) but find it and focus your energy on that. Again sounds very cliché- but when you allocate your valuable time and energy to things you actually care about naturally, the level of fulfillment that comes out of it is unmatched.
Not to have a cynical perspective about the world or Penn, but sometimes the world is a mean place and social norms reflect that. This isn’t to negate the beauty that there is in the world or the kindness of strangers (sometimes I myself fluctuate between thinking the world is a flowery place or a dark place indeed), but sometimes at Penn and in society in general, everyone gets so wrapped up in themselves which can translate to very selfish behavior. In this context, kindness is an anomaly, its rare and thus sometimes weird and awkward. But just because the world around us isn’t dripping with kindness, doesn’t mean that you can’t sprinkle in a few drops. The point behind this drawn out explanation is, along the lines of being honest with yourself and with others, if you see norms and habits that you don’t like, change them. At least if you change them on an individual level, your experience of the world becomes a bit enhanced and there’s always a possibility of a domino effect and other people creating changes as well. Creating this kind of societal or cultural change does not have to be something huge (like solving world hunger or ending racism). It can be something much smaller. Question: Do you actually like talking about finals in finals season? I personally don’t and I would always feel like a hypocrite whenever I found myself asking “How are finals going for you?” I realized the solution was to stop doing it. Instead ask about how people are. But, don’t ask people how they are out of formality. These robotic and trite questions and answers that usually revolve around schoolwork and stress are painful. Dig deeper, when you ask someone about how they are, first of all actually listen. Also, don’t just stop at the general question, follow up what is good or bad, ask why others feel the way they do. For example, when there’s that two-week long period when everyone asks about break after we get back to school, don’t just others about their breaks for the sake of formality. Connect further. Ask about their highlights, what they learned, what they’re going to miss the most. And when someone asks you a question. Put in effort. Take a step back and actually think about the honest answer, how you really feel, what’s really on your mind and share that. You don’t need to rant or pour out your life’s details, but for the sake of yourself and the other person, be honest.
In other summary, be real with your world and actions. Be watchful for feelings of cognitive dissonance and work on eliminating them in a way that’s true to you. We are supposedly admitted to this institution because we are “different” and will “change the world.” Little by little, do just that.
Your Senior Self
Everything Is Non-Linear | Allison S.
Hello younger me!
In preparation of writing this letter, I read back through your journal entries from the first two years of Penn. You were such a cutie. Sometimes things were great – you were independent from overbearing parents for the first time, meeting interesting people from all over, and excited by the overwhelming amount of opportunities offered here. Other times, not as much - engineering is hard, people disappointed you, and it’s easy to feel lonely and insecure in a new place.
If there’s one theme of advice I could start with, it’s that you have control over your experience and the power to change it. Penn is a different place than you expected and it’s easy to get caught up in the pressures here. Cynicism, though, is a cyclic force. Understand your experience’s complexities, but learn to do something about them. Go to CAPS earlier. Spend more time going on silly adventures with friends rather than grieving about things you cannot change about this school. Speak up about the things you can and work to affect change. Forgive yourself for feeling overwhelmed and understand you are not alone.
Put yourself first, always. Your most important job at this age is to become the best version of yourself. The boy you fall for while playing Frisbee at the end of freshman year will unapologetically crush you and over, and over, and over again. Recognize when people are not respecting you and don’t be afraid to let go of them. You are never in need of another person to feel whole. Remember how hard you have worked to be here and how much you are capable of. Spend time alone without feeling lonely. However, value the strong relationships you make above everything else. Nothing matters more than how deeply you touch the people around you and vice versa. Your close friends will shape who you become.
Build awesome shit!! Understand how math underpins our world and how awesome, and complicated and intersectional technology is. Forgive yourself for feeling overwhelmed by work; the introductory computer science sequence is unnecessarily hard but you will feel so empowered by the end of it. Rely on supportive female friends within engineering. Ask your friends what they’re learning about in class and take coursework outside of your major.
Your body and mind are connected. SLEEP! Sleep, sleep. Exercise regularly – really, this works. Put down your phone. Explore your sexuality. Respect your body. You are happiest and work best when you are healthy.
Find adult mentors on campus. Call your parents and grandparents. Listen to people with more experience than you have; they understand the broader picture much better than you or your friends can.
Fall in love with Philadelphia, both east and west of Penn. Bike to Valley Forge, attend community events, explore so many coffee shops, and understand Penn’s complicated role in Philadelphia’s history.
Remember your privileges and how truly lucky you are to be here.
Growth is a continuous, non-linear process. It feels a little silly to be writing a letter of advice when I still, even as a second semester senior, feel like I’m figuring things out. It has been quite the journey so far, and thank you to everyone who has impacted my experience and taught me all the lessons mentioned above.
All my best,
Forget The Future | Aaisha G.
The time you’ve been dreaming of all summer is finally here: you’re finally a baby quaker. Let me be the first to tell you, it doesn’t last long enough, so embrace being the “baby” on campus. Your first NSO, first Fling, first midterm (rip), and so many more. Sometimes even put away the snapchat and actually enjoy the moment. Ok, that may just be the nostalgia kicking in. However, before you embark on this tumultuous journey that is Penn there is one thing I want you to know: tomorrow will come, but today will never come back. Overtime you get a little lost, it happens trust me. Take time to look back at how far you’ve come and embrace where you are because you only have four years. That’s only 1,460 days here. As someone with less than a hundred of those left, here’s what I want to share with you <3
“Looking Back: It’s not a sign of weakness to look back at your past, it’s a humble source of confidence.”
I remember sitting in my freshman dorm with my hall mates eagerly waiting for a club to come initiate me that spring. Update, they did not come by and I was devastated. I remember my hall mate sitting with me trying to console me and telling me to see how far i had come since NSO. Look at all the friends, real friends, I had made, the clubs and amazing organizations I had joined. I realized I did not need this one more club to define me. It would’ve been great, but I will still do just fine without it.
At a place like Penn, it’s so easy to constantly be “go, go, go.” Everything is about looking ahead: your plans tomorrow night, your Summer internship plans, your Spring break plans, and of course your long term, real-life, adult plans. Don’t have an answer? It’s okay!
Sometimes you get lost and forget why you’re actually here because you get so caught up in all this. It’s natural, but every time you do, just take a moment to remember why you’re here and how you got here. It’s not a sign of weakness to look back at your past, it’s a humble source of confidence.
Get inspired by yourself. You know how to overcome problems and get up from failure. You’ve done it all before. Don’t be shaken by the fact that you are not be the best at everything anymore, but don’t be afraid to learn, after all that’s why you’re here. At the end of the four years, if you can say you have grown as a person from who you were when you first came here, that’s all you can ask for.
“There are some pretty great things you can do right here.”
College is considered a stepping stone for your future, but that doesn’t mean we have to leap towards our future anxiously. There is a lot to learn right now where we are.
Take time to go around Philadelphia, because if you are from the south like me, you’ll find big cities mesmerizing and see how they have so much to offer. Go to those talks that spam your inbox every week.
Also, don’t forget to use your peers as a source of learning. One of the greatest things I did at Penn was not joining a club or rushing my sorority. Don’t get me wrong, those have irrefutably shaped my experience, but the greatest moments came from me actually sending that “let’s get lunch” text to the people I pass by on locust everyday. The people around you are so so so cool and have such diverse backgrounds. So, just reach out.
Make a bucket list, follow it, change it, add to it. Make a life goals list, follow it, change it, add to it. Just do it while you can; while you have this safety net in college.
If there is one thing I can promise you, it’s that you will do great things once you leave this institution, but there are some pretty great things you can do right here.
And, don’t forget, you made it here, and you will make it further, and one day you will look back at it all.
Love you lots little ones,
Remember To Kick Ass | Nadia G.
First of all, remember you kick ass. On a daily basis. And have done so, and will continue to do so for as long as you shall live.
4 years and a few days ago you were waiting for early decisions to come out, hunched over your desk with your mom, dad, and two dogs trying to distract you. When that video started playing, you actually cried tears of joy, and could not believe your luck. Here’s a little tip: over the next 4 years you are going to experience moments that bring tears to your eyes so many more times. From laughing with your dorm mates really hard at 3am over a romcom, to being frustrated and disappointed at Penn’s hookup culture, to walking along the beautiful streets of Bruges with one of your best friends, Penn will be a place of wonder, hurt, and love.
Here are my tips for making the most out of your Penn years:
1. Find your people. Cristina Yang couldn’t have been more right when she said ‘you’re my person’. Your closest friends will pick you up when you’ve been torn down and you cannot move from your bed. They are the ones who will get all your weird jokes and watch Friends with you while you’re waiting for an exam grade to come out. They will consistently come to Fogo de Chao with you for restaurant week because who doesn’t love unlimited steak? (and eat sweetgreen for the next three days because, you know, balance...or something)
2. Let go. Let go of all your preconceived notions about what clubs you need to join, which sorority is the one for you, what your major should be. Allow yourself to experience that wonderful world around you and find inspiration in the littlest of things. Ignore all the conversations happening around campus about how many offers that person got and what this one’s GPA is. Only make sure you’re not going to flunk. Remember that in the rest of the world, the topic of ‘what you do’ does not come up seconds after you meet a person - interests, hobbies, and sometimes politics do. Cultivate the skills that matter to you and take that totally random class that gives you an excuse to watch Django Unchained and The Godfather one more time. You will meet the most fashionable, most gritty, and most quirky professors if you only allow yourself to take risks with your schedule.
3. Take care of yourself. Always. Whether your thing is yoga before that 9am (CorePower crew here we go!), putting on your makeup like you’re going out with your girlfriends (even though you’re just going to that Stat102 lecture), or eating ice cream at midnight (hell yeah), find the thing that keeps you happy and do it. Consistently. And if people judge, let them. Who the fuck cares what other people think?
4. Find your social balance. I’ve had semesters when I’ve only gone out three times, and others when I went out every week. Not one day is going to be the same and it’s up to you to decide what your body can handle. Whether you decide you want to stay in for three weeks in a row, or go over to your friend’s for that glass of red, remember you are your own harshest critic. Your opinion is the one that matters at the end of the day, so make sure you’re happy with the choices you’ve made. Just remember, if you are spending the night, either borrow the guy’s sweatpants and sweater (you do not look cool in your tiny black dress trying to brave Philly winter the morning after, bless your soul) or bring your own (cause girlpower).
5. Experiment and don’t be afraid of taking risks. Change your hair, your wardrobe, and your attitude. Ask for the things you want, because otherwise, how the hell are you ever going to get them? Cold call, cold email, and cold shout ‘hi’ at people walking down Locust. You never know which connection will end up being the most rewarding. Get to know your professors - they will help you figure out what to do when you email them in the middle of the summer after realizing you hate your internship and have no clue what you want to do with your life anymore.
6. Wander. Wander around tiny Philly alleys where the noise coming from the club behind the wall is deafening. Or in ones where the silence is so loud it’s blowing your eardrums. Who knows, maybe you, too, like Penzias and Wilson will hear the sound of the universe.
7. Travel to the land of your fantasies, literally and metaphorically. Embark a plane to a distant location, and explore a different culture. Study abroad and take advantage of the sea of books to which you have access and read. Move to magical worlds with passionate characters of another time. Read those studies that reflect your philosophical concerns and exalt you spiritually and then nerd out at the bar with your friends. They will laugh at you and proceed to quote Shakespeare.
8. Do not settle. Seek perfection, in whatever you do. Chase your passions, those that you feel deep within you will have a positive impact in this crazy world we live in.
Finally, don’t be disappointed by the obstacles you will encounter. They will be many and large in size. Remember you have everything you need to overcome them and be stronger for it. As Kavafy once said:
“Σα βγεις στον πηγαιμό για την Ιθάκη,
να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος,”
(or, in plain English, be careful, college is a crazy adventure that goes by pretty freaking fast)
Re-Building Myself | Chris C.
Dear Freshmen Self,
Oh, freshman Chris, I wish I could tell you you’re in for the best four years of your life. In fairness, they’ll be the most interesting, but they’ll be the most trying, too. College means coming out. College means being out. College means being comfortable in your skin, or maybe college means learning to tolerate being in your skin.
But, before we dive into Penn, what was it, Chris, that led you to Penn?
Why even the Ivy League? Your siblings, parents, and stepparents are incredibly talented, each doing well in a variety of fields from accounting to law to occupational therapy to fashion to social work. You knew you did not need the Ivy League for a meaningful life, or did you know that? Sure, your family members went to good schools, maybe even great schools, but what was driving you to the top?
Assuredly, your New England prep school had something to do with that. It was simple — upper-middle class suburban life allowed you, along with your mom’s financial and emotional assistance, to go to prep school, and prep school was the door to a great college. You did it — you got what Hopkins had to offer. Or, is that what Hopkins was offering you? You overlooked one of the best places to grow, meet friends you’ll surely keep forever who also meet your incredibly high standards, and exist in probably among the least-threatening places for an LGBTQ person. You had your eye on the wrong prize — it wasn’t about the Ivy League. That’s some shit they tell people from the rich towns, so they send their kids there. But you bought it.
Why’d you buy the Ivy League? Surely, even the suburbs of Connecticut felt homophobic, judgmental, and strangling. The Ivy League was your ticket out. Except you didn’t check to make sure this actually made sense. Anywhere could have been your ticket out. Some rural liberal arts college. Some urban public college. You had the unique privilege to pick your route out — why were you so blind?
The reality is that you weren’t chasing a way out — that could have been accomplished more easily — you were chasing social approval. You were chasing a way out that meant no one could question your validity; no one could question that you still belonged. No one could question that you were in the in club.
You need to grapple with something, freshman Chris: what is the purpose of approval? You’ll come across a harsh conclusion: the people from whom you seek approval are probably not morally sound. This will come in many ways.
You won’t seek the social status approval of other Penn students, because you’ll learn that they are morally maligned, insecure themselves, and sadistic in their means of enforcement.
You won’t seek the physical approval of other gay men (okay, fair, as much), because you’ll learn they’re punishing you for their insecurities.
You won’t seek the emotional approval of some of your extended family, because you’ll learn deep down maybe they aren’t the greatest either.
And then you’ll hit a wall: if I am not seeking approval from others, who am I and what is driving me?
And then you’ll hit a second wall: shit! I hate Penn, finance, tech, and flashy consumerism. I hate most of the people I’m around. I hate what drives them. I hate how they act.
And then you’ll be at rock bottom: irritated, relatively alone, feeling ever-isolated from the sus friends you’ve made so far, pulsating with anger at everything the dipshits with Canada Geese (?) at Sweetgreen represent. Cynicism sets in.
Once you hit your reality-induced emotional low, you’ll start to rebuild yourself.
Oh, wait, I have passions! I care about things! All of those silly, important things like international development, Romance languages, urban design, and social justice will suddenly bring you joy again, just as they always did. But that’s because no one was forcing you to read Spanish literature; you wanted to. No one forced you to read data-rich studies from Brookings. You wanted to.
The floodgates will come down, and you’ll end your self-imposed “I need to get an A” bullshit because you respect yourself and you can’t stomach the thought of not sleeping, of not eating, of withholding social interaction for a grade, for social acceptance, for someone else’s perception of you.
But that’s the beginning: how do you rebuild yourself? I wish I had that answer for you now. But rebuilding yourself is a mighty process, one in which you place bricks one-by-one when you can muster the energy. Much like the city, you’ll find you’ll never be done with rebuilding yourself, but you’ll just exist throughout the process.
That’s not to say it won’t be a nonlinear, tedious process. You’ll have stumbling blocks, friendships ruined, flareups of anger, anxiety, and more, as well as the Trump election to deal with. You’ll lose hope in most people, set your expectations so low that they can be met. You’ll have a few good cries, a few fights, a few lonely walks around Center City. You’ll have tons of absolutelyhorrible hookups, an anxiety-induced HIV scare when someone has a nosebleed on you (have fun at Student Health with that one!). You’ll hit another low when you find a lump you can’t explain, put some friendships on hold, and begin to see your parents as the people, the lovely humans, they are.
And after all of the anxiety, all of the sadness, all of the loneliness, all of the self-reflection, all of the rebuilding, all of the happiness, all of the excitement, all of the of the fulfilling satisfaction: you’ll find you truly have reached a higher state of being. You will be cognizant of your existance. You will be careful about your choices. You will be critical, which is healthy and, unfortunately, not encouraged enough. You will find yourself swimming against the current, and you’ll learn that even when it’s arduous, you are truly, deeply happier fighting the current than you’d ever be in the calm, lethargic school.
And you’ll find you might just forgive Penn, the Ivy League, Hopkins, and all of the people who led you here, because you’ve learned such a tough, important lesson that you’re grateful to all of the people who even mistakingly guided you towards it. And you think some of them, especially at Hopkins, knew these secrets all along, but they let you learn these lessons on your own, knowing you could not be told them.
And after you forgive, after you let go, after you think you’ve reached this higher consciousness, you’ll still find yourself disappointed. You still will fail to have the integrity you desire. You’ll still find yourself acting malevolent. You’ll beat yourself up because you’re a gay overachiever and quite frankly do not know better. You’ll have moments of doubt that exist adjacent to moments of confidence. You’ll get yourself off your high horse, and you’ll come to see the world in infinite shades of grey. In the end, you’ll judge less, but you’ll find yourself still judging too much; you’ll find you sometimes lash out in insecurity. You’ll find yourself too weak to fully push all toxicity out of your life. You’ll still cry. You’ll still see a counselor.
The only thing that will truly change is that deep down, deep, deep down, you’ll have this feeling that you’re okay, that it will be okay, that you trust yourself enough to know you’ll do the right thing in the end and be able to survive whatever shitstorm you’re in. You’ll develop a subtle kind of self-confidence because you’ve proven to yourself that you can pick yourself up, time and time again. You’ll appreciate yourself. And maybe you’ll love yourself? Yeah, I think that’s what that means.
Senior Year Chris
Light Yourself On Fire | Emily M.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
The beauty of fire lies in its simplicity. It only needs three ingredients for its flame to burn brightly: oxygen, fuel, and a spark.
Each and every one of you talented individuals is already a spark in your own right. Admissions doesn’t make mistakes. You all belong here. No one else can do you quite like you. This uniqueness is something you should own. I know it can be easy to want to fit in with the crowd and give into peer pressure, but stay true to yourself.
That said, don’t be afraid to try new things. Join clubs you never thought you would. Take a class outside your intended major. Say yes to the spontaneous hall dinner. Go on the leadership retreat you were invited to. Challenge yourself to get off campus. Run by the Schuylkill. Try as many food trucks as possible. Engage with the community through service outings. Cheer for the Philadelphia sports teams. Support Penn Athletics. Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.
Someday, sooner than you think, you will be in the same seat as me – reflecting on the past four years, and wondering how to capture everything you’ve experienced faithfully. Trust me, you don’t want to have regrets – just lessons learned, memories to treasure, and most of all, a lifetime of love and laughs.
In this very moment, you have the greatest gift bestowed upon you - so much beauty, excitement, and adventure is waiting at your fingertips. But your spark can’t become a fire without fuel. There is no one right way to approach Penn. However, it is essential to surround yourself with friends, mentors, and professors that meet you where you are, build you up, and inspire you to be better.
Find the friends that will bring you chicken noodle soup when you’re sick or wake up at 8 AM to cheer you on while you run your first half marathon. Find the mentors that answer your questions no matter how silly they might seem and continue to look out for you even after graduating. Find the professors who genuinely care about your success and go to their office hours and invite them to lunch.
In the journey to find them, remember that quality is more important than quantity. You may turn over a lot of stones in your search, but when you find the gems – keep them close. Nurture those relationships and shower them with gratitude. Invest in deep and meaningful connections, and don't settle. You may not find them right away, but they are out there waiting for you, I promise. You might find them when you least expect it and realize they were there all along.
Amidst all of this, don’t forget to prioritize yourself. Remember to practice self-care. It’s ok to say no. Loving yourself is the most beautiful act of survival. If you want to spend a Friday night in, do it. Don’t light yourself on fire trying to brighten someone else’s existence. Light yourself on fire so you can stay warm. Bask in the warm fuzzy glow when you are your own number one priority. Celebrate others, but please celebrate yourself as well.
In order for your fire to flourish, the final part of the triad is oxygen. Don’t let your failures define you. It’s easy to feel suffocated by disappointment when you compare yourself to others, but don’t let rejection rob you of your happiness. Challenges build resilience, and resilience builds character. Failure is encouraged and accepted. I know you might feel smothered when life doesn’t go your way, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Your spark will keep the flame alive. Nothing can snuff it out.
“Whoever said small things don’t matter has never seen a match start a wildfire.” – Beau Taplin
Fanning your flame always,
Imperfect Moments | Evangeline G.
Dear Freshman Me,
You really have no idea what’s coming for you. The first 18 years of your life were pretty good, but what’s coming is a fucking beautiful four years that you could not have imagined. They’ll be beautiful in all different kinds of ways -- through love, self-discovery, darkness, and hurt.
This year will be filled with the most darkness and hurt. For most of the year, you’ll be confused and beat down time after time again. You’ll wonder why you decided to come here, let alone apply ED, and not only have several “transfer moments,” but also create full on fantasies of what your life somewhere else could have been like. You’ll grapple and go ALL over the place in deciding a major and what you want to do with your life. You’ll continuously feel dejected by the flakiness and selfishness of others. You’ll experience culture shock from the elitism, unfathomable wealth, and absurdly troubling dominant social scene. You’ll cry in the middle of Reading Terminal Market when you’re eating lunch with your parents during Family Weekend and you’ll cry every time you leave home at the end of a break. You’ll also cry on bid night and in the middle of your 500 person Irvine Psych001 lecture the day after bid night as you question your self-worth and prospect of ever finding your place here.
Honestly, even senior year there will be darkness and hurt. You’ll still have retrospective transfer moments every now and then. You’ll have a major, but you still won’t know what you want to do with your life. You’ll feel uninspired by a lot of the individuals around you and, though you have adjusted to the initial culture shock, it will still baffle you in a familiar kind of way. There will still be times, after being away for a bit, that you do not want to return back to campus.
I can promise you that by senior year, you will not question your self-worth or prospect of ever finding your place. You will have found and continuously broken in both of those through what you could not imagine.
The random freshman year roommate that you had initial tension with, the girl you spoke with for a second at the first Riepe cookie night and did not actually hang out with until months later, and your writing seminar classmate you started speaking with over shared geographical origin and love of Legally Blonde will become your best friends. You will love and support each other, as well as share connections that you cannot foresee fading. They will be there to give you an unforgettably strong hug after your grandmother dies, teach you how to be a legitimate badass, and run around at 3am on a snowy night in search of your lost wallet, among countless other times.
You won’t be a BBB major and you won’t stick with pre-med. Instead, you’ll study Communication and Consumer Psychology because that is the best fit for you -- note that you won’t even take a Comm or marketing class until sophomore fall. You’ll make this choice by prioritizing incredible, progressive professors and truly, consistently being interested in what you study, basking in its creativity and variety. You still will have no idea what you want to do by second semester senior year. Instead of scrambling to make the next four-year plan, you will be okay with the unknown and look at whatever you end up doing right after graduation as just that: merely the first step of many that you take right after graduation. So just remember to chill out, not rush, and, as cheesy as it sounds, enjoy the journey.
Going off that, start to believe and embrace as soon as possible that, though work is important, and that you should like what you do, it is by far not the most important thing.
Your health is way more important, both mental and physical. Learn how to lower your stress and anxiety levels, how to cleanse and calm your mind. Learn how to maintain a healthy diet, take long walks, practice positive sex in all its definitions; get at least seven hours of sleep a night, STAY HYDRATED, spoon lots of honey and get lots of sleep when sick, and experience the magic of a fluffy bathrobe.
Your relationships are way more important. Work on your relationship with your family -- start opening up and saying I love you more. Find amazing friends and keep on deepening the friendships, peeling off more and more layers of the onion with time -- make them your family while always leaving room for more. Fall in love, be careful of lust, and, even when things don’t work out, learn, appreciate what was, and keep on loving.
Finally, unforgettable experiences, no matter how big or small, are way more important. Plant on College Green for hours when it’s a perfect spring day. Dress up as a vagina on Locust Walk. Stuff into a booth at Allegro and ravenously down cheesy, fried, and oily food. Study abroad: learn, live, and play volleyball with people who have British accents and see the Piazza di Michaelangelo, Vienna upside down from a ride at Prater, and Guernica in person. Watch an episode of Black Mirror in the Huntsman forum, not holding back your gasps or expletives. Go to the fling concert in the rain. Win Quizzo. Go to Bourbon Street, jump sand dunes, and see the Blue Ridge Mountains at sunset. Do these things with friends, but also do them alone and be okay with that.
Like I said, it’ll be fucking beautiful. Also like I said, It’ll be imperfect and there will always be both ups and downs. However, everyone is experiencing their own imperfect journey and there is always some beauty to be found in even the most imperfect moments.
"Do What You Love" | Tiffany Y.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
There is the clichéd saying, “do what you love,” and supposedly, things should fall right into place. Yes, it is a cliché, but have you ever considered that it’s a cliché because it’s true? This is something I’ve come to realize after going through my past 3 years at Penn—so basically, the majority of my undergraduate career. But as you’ll grow to know, this itself is no easy task. To be most honest, it’s the most hear-breaking yet invigorating process but I attempt to share four steps in relevance to my own experiences at Penn I hope will help you navigate your way during your time at this amazing school: 1) recognize, 2) introspect, 3) accept, 4) pursue & kick-ass.
Be cognizant of your Penn’s socialized atmosphere and its potential consequences.
The fact is, it is very difficult to make good decisions without a clear mind—applicable whether drunk at 3 AM at McDonald’s with 200 chicken McNuggets with your other drunken friends or plain sober. I came into Penn as pre-med, then turned pre-law, then turned pre-med again, and then my junior year hit, everyone around me wanted to suddenly become consultants or investment bankers and live their life after college in New York.
At an extremely hypercompetitive and pre-professional environment like Penn, it’s even easier to let this ambiguity control your life. Many students tend to follow the crowd, pursuing jobs in corporate America. Banking. Finance. Consulting. The list goes on. These are the main career paths you oftentimes see your colleagues at Penn update in their LinkedIn when they get offers as you scroll through your feed.
The unstated truth is, many Penn students really come in thinking that they’re going to be the next Elon Musk and take over the world. As crazy as this sounds, it’s actually very easy to let the “Ivy League label” get to your head, almost defining yourself and your life. Typically, you hear about your fellow colleagues graduating and making 6 figures upon graduation. But the reality is, you’re 21. You. Are. Twenty-one. You are so young and you’re worrying about all of this as if the world is going to end tomorrow if you don’t get a job and make a lot of money. And though it may seem unlikely, to your surprise, the sun is going to rise again tomorrow morning, and you’ll still be here!
I’m currently a senior at Penn and a fair number of my colleagues have graduated following these ubiquitous paths of banking, finance, and consulting. Whenever I talk to them on the phone or meet with them for coffee, they always complain about their job.
“I hate my job.”
“I’m doing the scut work all the time.”
“I had to stay until 11 PM tonight.”
“I saw the sun set, rise, and set again during my time at work.”
So, let’s take a step back and evaluate. You clearly don’t like what you do for living. Then, have you ever considered asking yourself, why are you still there? If you’re spending the majority of your time from now until you retire doing something you don’t like, don’t you think you’re wasting your time away even if the job pays well? There are so many smart people at good schools like Penn. But they are practically heading into the corporate life as if they were placed on a Penn-conveyor belt, letting the materialized false sense of pressure, pride, and ego of Penn control them. The reality is, those are NOT the only career paths.
Distinguish what others want versus what you want. Define your values.
Personally, my family is a strong advocate for the pursuing a career in the medical field. So, growing up, like every other Asian kid, I knew that I wanted to be a doctor. It would almost come as a second natured response “I want to be a doctor when I grow up.” But as soon as I entered college, I realized, that being a doctor really wasn’t the only career out there.
Truth be told, upon beginning college, my family faced some legal issues. And knowing about all the stress that they were going through, I began gravitating towards the idea of becoming a lawyer—to protect innocent people, to help them. Being a rebel, I never told them for my entire first year of college that I wasn’t too interested in the medical path, taking legal studies classes in Wharton, thinking that I was going to become a successful lawyer.
I could go on and on talking about this, but in reality, I switched from pre-med, to pre-law, back to pre-med, back again to pre-law, then to research. And at this point, I was just beginning my junior year at Penn—prime recruiting time. I’d see basically half of the school rushing off to information sessions in suits and formal dresses. Just the site of this made me extremely anxious, making me realize that I had no idea what it was that I wanted. Through this insecurity, I began to follow the trend, following everyone on this pressurized conveyor belt.
I sat through several hours of information sessions from different companies. But I was not interested in what any of them offered. It just didn’t interest me. I interviewed at a few places and received offers, but I ended up turning them down because I was just so lost and realized that I did not know what I wanted to do. It was then that I forced myself to stop recruiting and take a step back to really focus on what I wanted to do.
Accept that you’re your own person with your own values, desires, and ambitions. Be open-minded.
Back tracking to the summer prior to my junior year, my friend Isabella asked me if I wanted to be a Campus Director for Hult Prize@ Penn. For some information on the Hult Prize, it is the foremost platform in the world for the creation and launch of social enterprises. It does this through case competitions ranging from the local to global scale, where the winning team at the global stage will win $1,000,000 of seed capital to implement their idea. Pretty cool, right?
Isabella was the Campus Director the year before and I was actually working under her, helping her through a more distant role of creating graphic designs for the program. Unfortunately, that year, Hult Prize@ Penn was not very successful. We barely had any teams compete.
When she asked me if I wanted to take her place, I answered “Sure! Why not?” knowing that I had nothing to lose anyways considering how lost I was. So, I was recruiting and trying to put together this competition simultaneously in September of my junior year. But around when October came, I stopped recruiting because I realized that I was not very happy with any of the companies or job offers. Instead, I decided to just focus on Hult Prize and go from there.
To my surprise, Hult Prize was the best thing that ever happened to me. In the process of organizing it, I brought in refugees occasionally to talk about their experiences. And after listening to all the insane things that they had to go through to migrate from Syria to Philadelphia was so incredibly moving. As a few months passed after organizing all my events for Hult Prize, I knew that I wanted to help. I knew that there is so much that only an individual could do to help and create impact.
4. PURSUE & KICK-ASS
Follow your passion. Seize opportunities available to you. Create opportunities for yourself.
From there, I applied for an M.S. degree in Nonprofit Leadership at Penn and got accepted. Not only that, I wanted to take Hult Prize further, contributing to the organization that really turned my life around—I really owe it so much. My solution was creating an all-Ivy League platform for Hult Prize. And to my surprise, from there, Hult Prize has taken me on an absolutely insane journey, allowing me to meet its Founder & CEO and have dinner with him, staying in a grandiose castle in London, being hired to work with them over the summer—and also being offered to work full-time after graduating—while enhancing my Hult Prize all-Ivy League initiative, speaking at Google, and being invited to United Nations and meeting former President Bill Clinton.
Yes, I know that escalated VERY quickly. Now, I am a senior at Penn, simultaneously pursuing my M.S. in Nonprofit Leadership, and launching my all-Ivy League initiative, Hult Prize Ivy. I’ve been working tirelessly the past few months recruiting campus representatives for every Ivy League university to lead 800 students to participate in Hult Prize, while mobilizing Fortune 500 companies and top startups to fund our several-thousand-dollar cash prize, allowing teams to launch pilots around world, and attend world’s largest accelerator program at Hult House Castle and pitch at United Nations for chance to win $1,000,000.
I did what I loved. I followed my gut and everything fell into place. Now, instead of listening to information sessions, I’m the one giving them in addition to giving motivational talks on occasion. I’m proud to say that I’m 21 and doing what I love, helping people and cultivating an ecosystem of social impact. Now it’s your turn. Recognize. Introspect. Accept. Pursue. And of course, kick ass.
More information about Tiffany:
Tiffany is a current submatriculant at Penn, pursuing her M.S. in Nonprofit Leadership while also completing her final undergraduate year to obtain her B.A. at Penn. She is the Team Captain of the UPenn Women's Golf Team and also the Founder & Director of Hult Prize Ivy, an initiative to bring together all 8 Ivy League universities for social entrepreneurship. For more information on Tiffany or Hult Prize Ivy, you can visit a recent article from Penn News Today: https://news.upenn.edu/news/hult-prize-ivy-provides-direct-path-pitching-student-business-plans-social-impact
It Sometimes Rains in Philadelphia | Anika R.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
I hope you are doing well! I know life at Penn can be a mess sometimes and there’s always so much going on. I spent a couple days this week feeling like a puddle, so the sensation is pretty normal at the same time that it sucks. If you ever feel like a puddle, I think it’s okay to acknowledge the emotion. But try not to drown in it (sorry if this makes no sense). And if you feel like you are drowning, which also happens to me sometimes remember that there are so many caring people around you to reach out to. That is, don’t be afraid of telling people if you feel like a puddle.
I think I keep waiting for some magical moment when I will grow up and stop procrastinating and finally have a regular laundry schedule and eating healthy and going to the gym. But don’t be mad at yourself for not accomplishing all your goals right away! Because it takes time and honestly I’m not even there yet. Amid all the people that you feel like have their life together, know that you do too! I’m sure lots of people think I have my life together though I don’t feel like it. One of my friends often asks me, “what is your small victory of the day?” The small victories are just as important as being an adult.
Finally, know that having the answers is not merely as important as asking the right questions. Do I have meaningful relationships with the people around me? Am I doing too much work and setting myself up for failure? Am I constantly seeking to learn from my environment? Who do I want to become in 5 years (not career but humanity)? How do I feel? What am I passionate about? Am I challenging myself? Am I prioritizing myself? The questions might be different for you, but these are some good ones. Though Penn can be hectic and rushed, we have ea lifetime to grow into who we want to be.
Everything Happens For A Reason | Pearl
Dear Freshman Pearl,
Yes, it’s 3 am, and I know you can’t sleep. Staring at the ceiling is not going to help. You can call home. They will pick up and talk to you.
If there is anything that these next 3 years are going to bring, it is a tremendous amount of growth. You have had your fair share of hurdles these past 14 years, but it is nothing compared to what you are going to face. I’m not telling you this to scare you, but what I am about to say will help you get through your time during what you thought was going to be the ‘best four years of your life’.
Repeat after me: everything happens for a reason.
You will have your fair share of health issues, and get sick every few weeks during the semester, but that will teach you to eat less Insomnia and drink more water. You will make a lot of friends very quickly yet still find yourself feeling lonely; you’ll struggle to find your place in different social circles, scroll through Instagram and Facebook wishing that you were as pretty or as smart or as talented or simply as happy as that girl from high school or that guy from your Writing Sem, but you will learn that above all, your empathy towards others is your greatest strength.
You will have to miss taking finals, be threatened to have to take a leave of absence, get your fair share of Course Problem Notices, and have to withdraw from a class. Your heart will drop into your stomach every time you check Canvas and CITSender; you will get anxious every time you walk into the Chem Building, and you will lie awake at night agonizing over your career path and whether you lack the ability to do well in this school.
You will learn that your dad will drive 80 miles to calm you down before an Orgo exam, your mom will pick up the phone at any time of day (even from across the world) to listen to your crying, and both of them will love you no matter what that three digit number on your transcript is at the end of the year. You will realize that CAPS is a great place to just pause once a week and reflect on what you are thankful for. You will discover how much the friends that have been with you from pre-school to prom care about you, and value those relationships more than anything.
You came here to study something that you are passionate about. Take the classes that interest you. Volunteer, tutor, and get a job that you will grow to love. You will have amazing summer experiences, travel to new places, and meet people who will have changed you for the better. Stay courageous, confident, and compassionate. You came to college to learn. Although it may not come in the form of theorems and tests, learn from every person you befriend, every professor you meet, and every problem you face.
Above all, you will realize that everything happens for a reason. Life only throws at you what you can handle.
And you will be able to handle it all.