I wish someone had asked me | jonelle l
Please, friend, ask me to finish this sentence:
“I will be successful if…”
Please, friend, challenge me. Ask me to consider.
When I am charting out my life and feel a little lost, ask me,
“What would you consider a good, meaningful life?
What kind of person do you need to be to achieve it? Do you like that person?
Who will you surround yourself with? Is anyone missing?
What are your deepest values, the things you prioritize, the anchors that guide your decisions?”
When I search for career direction and start job applications, ask me,
“What do you want to spend your life on?
What makes a fire in your belly?
What experiences have shaped you?
How will you use your strengths and privileges to serve others?”
When I feel hopelessly pressed on all sides, ask me,
“What are your expectations of yourself, and others’ expectations of you?
Are they realistic? Perceived? Which ones do you need to let go?”
When I am stuck in comparison and feel inadequate, tell me,
“Whether you match your peers is unimportant.
Think about why you want what you want.
What influences your desires? What is you, and what falls away?”
When I put on a mask and try to retreat, find me—
“Does anyone know you well enough to challenge you, help you, hear you?
Who will you let in? For whom will you do the same?”
When I get a little too smug—and I will—ask me,
“Friend, what happens if you fail?
On what, or whom, will you lean?”
Please, friend, ask me, “What will make you successful? How will you live your life?”
MIMOSAS ARE A GREAT SOURCE OF VITAMIN C | Niki G
They say every road comes to an end, but sometimes the end feels just like the beginning. I waited until my favorite time of the year, the start of summer, to write this letter because let's face it-you're a romantic. You can make all the checklists and pro and con lists in the world, but in the end, it's your heart that rules. But don't beat yourself up, you're in a constant state of improvement. You'll soon learn, everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing herself.
Until the last month of my college career, I didn't understand what this journey culminated to. I was finishing my foreign language requirement in my second semester. I turned down a summer internship to travel the world. I'm not sure where I will be in a few months. This definitely wasn't part of the plan.
But that was Option A which was a really just a rough outline of what people told me was the right thing to do. This whole time I was trying to fit my life in to this romantic narrative where everything would work according to what my freshman self had dreamt of. Needless to say it did not and what is infinitely more important to read is not what did happen but how I reacted. Sheryl Sandberg posed a very important question to the graduates of 2016, "We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?"
What did I do then?
The first day at Penn, the Dean of Engineering will tell you about imposter syndrome: an inability to internalize accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. You will dismiss your acceptance to Penn, your research position, your academic achievements, your past as luck. So you can never shake off the annoying feeling of being part of something you don’t belong in. That you were a mistake. Don't transfer because you don't think you are capable. Don't transfer because you don't fit the stereotype. Don't transfer because your mind hasn't learned how to be this flexible to new challenges. It will be hard-you will feel out of breath and frustrated because it will overwhelm you. When that happens, don't fight it-quiet your mind and have faith in yourself. It's okay to not understand right away. But if you do transfer-just love what you learn.
You'll be accepted by Penn, only to be rejected again and again. Ask yourself: what value would you have truly derived from this? Usually the answer is pretty simple and there's no need to stay upset about it when your time and energy can be focused into something else. You reject people, you get rejected, so why fear rejection? There were moments where everything went to shit, you slept in your best friend's bed for weeks, and you felt so up against the walls you could hardly breathe. So take some time to cool off, collect yourself, break down, eat a pint of chocolate fudge brownie, binge watch Game of Thrones, go to New York, whatever it takes. But when the time comes, forgive, let go, work harder and earn your shit. Resilience is like a muscle, built not by when you fell down, but when you stood back up again and again. Remember that no feeling lasts forever. Hold your head up high, wear lip gloss, and pretend to be psyched because after all, everyone loves a great comeback story.
Justin McDaniel, Professor of Intro to Buddhism, is one of the most profound thinkers you will come across. He will tell you that the hardest part of life isn't necessarily a tragedy…it's living. In your very last class at Penn, he will further explain that everyone deserves to be acknowledged. And there it was in all it's simplicity. In my wondering of why I would at times feel inexplicably lonely, there it was. It's not good enough to send a text with a heart emoji. People want to know how much you mean to them. There were many moments at Penn where I was deeply impacted by another student expressing gratitude. It was while grabbing late night study snacks at Fresh Grocer where she told me I had changed her Penn experience. It was during Walnut Walk where he said that he was going to miss me while I’m on the other coast. It was on my couch where we decided this friendship will last beyond college. It was at graduation where you noticed the bittersweet tone of every goodbye because they all at once wanted the moment to last forever, but would survive the pain of this loss because it means you are reaching your goals. It was, it was, it was…the list goes on and every time I am overwhelmed because I never thought that kindness could permeate my life at Penn so effortlessly. I never thought compassion would be my strength.
In the process of finding my Option B, I became the best version of myself. Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and where you want to be. I didn't get the A, relationships were broken, opportunities missed but it was okay. It was okay because I said no to good things to say yes to the best things.
Whatever you do, put your heart into it and never look back.
To kicking the shit out of Option B,
Proud Penn Alum
P.S. Have a lot of faith, and if that doesn't work-have a lot of mimosas.
Focus on Others | Arjan S
The next four years are often referred to as a journey and a discovery with the ultimate goal of “finding yourself” — who you are, what you want to do, what you’re good at, what you should improve, and so forth. And you should, but that’s not the point of this letter. You already know that. What I am going to encourage you to do here, my friend, is slightly different: focus on others, not just yourself.
People around you will be worrying about themselves. They’ll go through existential crises, they’ll get mad at people walking slowly in front of them on Locust Walk because they’ll be late to their classes, they’ll get frustrated at others for interrupting whatever it is they are doing, and they may secretly, or not secretly, get upset at others for “being better” than them. I’m asking you to take a step back. If my own — and soon to be yours — experience serves me well, at the core, people here (read: and everywhere else, too) want to be understood, they want to feel appreciated, they want to feel loved. Be that person that connects with others.
Put yourself out there. Maybe you’re afraid, but be afraid and embrace it, and do it anyway.
Enjoy other’s success. It’s important to be there for people when they are in times of conflict and despair. Equally as important is the way in which you celebrate other’s wins — no matter how small or how big. Take a genuine interest in others, congratulate them, celebrate them, promote their well-being. And don’t underestimate the power of the high-five. Maya Angelou was right — they’ll likely forget what you said, they’ll probably forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.
Listen to those around you. People move towards those that listen to them, attentively, thoughtfully and curiously. It’s a magnetic force that will draw people to you, make them unfold and expand. You’ll be amazed by what this will do.
Make it a goal of yours to understand people both alike and different from who you think you are. I used to tell myself “talk to everyone.” And by that, I did not mean I should not let one person go by without saying hello, but that I should go a little out of my way to chat with a classmate I haven’t met, the security guards on campus, the person whose interests are totally the opposite of mine. But, what you really should be doing is this — don’t just talk to “everyone”; try to understand them. I think some of the most important words you can tell someone is I get you. You’ve also recently heard and will continue to hear people push you to realize something along the lines of “your GPA does not define you” or “don’t let a fraternity put you in a box.” But, most people will not tell you, “don’t define someone else by his or her GPA” and “don’t allow yourself to put others in a box because of who they hang out with or where they are from or what they look like.” While it is important not to let yourself become defined by outward, easy-to-observe associations, it is even more important (and harder) to not define others in that very same way.
I’m not going to tell you how to specifically do these things or any concrete steps to follow. Because that’s on you, my friend. Though you should know this — at a time when figuring out who you are is put on a pedestal as the most important goal, it can actually be really hard to find yourself. You cannot just go look for it as if it were a coin you dropped on the floor.
Focus on others, get to understand those around you, radiate, radiate, radiate, with integrity and effort and love — and I promise you, that through that, you’ll come to a better understanding of yourself.
With much excitement for you,
PS — hang this up on your wall:
“Admit something: Everyone you see, you
say to them, "Love me." Of course you do
not do this out loud, otherwise someone
would call the cops. Still though, think about
this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not
become the one who lives with a full moon
in each eye that is always saying, with that
sweet moon language, What every
other eye in this world is dying to hear?”
Welcome to the Deep End | Fabian S
Dear 19-year old me,
I’m you, but future you. Three years from now. Believe it or not, I’m happy when I wake up in the mornings. I know you might not be at the moment. But it’ll get better soon, I promise.
Welcome to the Deep End. I’m not going to lie, this shit is tough. But you’ve never been the one to shy away from a challenge, so why start now. By the end, you’ll be in a good place, and, dare I admit it, pretty damn happy.
Let me start off this letter by saying this: I have no regrets and neither should you. Nevertheless, the following is a list, in no particular order, of things I wish I would have known three-odd years ago.
· You’ll find friends, and they’ll be great. They’re really smart, they have a wide variety of interests, and they’ll be there to comfort you when you need it. Don’t take them for granted though, be there for them, and do what you can to help even if that means doing something you hate – like the dishes – from time to time.
· Don’t forget Mama and Papa. They’re the ones that brought you this far and always enabled you to follow your dreams, so the least you can do is skype them once a week. Also, even though they struggle with their iPhones, they actually know a lot about “life things,” so value their advice. Oh yeah, and now that you’re through puberty, you can accept that they’re actually pretty cool people.
· Get up again. You know that song “I get knocked down, but I get up again, …”? First college realization: it’s about alcohol. Second college realization: getting up again is pretty damn hard. Yes, you’ll be knocked down during college. Sometimes you’ll have to say no to a BYO because of money, sometimes you feel like you’ve been backstabbed by your best friends, sometimes McKinsey will ignore you, sometimes the guy you’re really into will decide to end things for no apparent reason, sometimes you’ll get really bad grades. Yeah it sucks. But don’t let it keep you down – you will be able to prevail and come out stronger.
· Don’t be afraid to burn a bridge or two. There might be people you think are important now, but that make you unhappy. Your most important currency here at Penn is your time, so don’t waste it on people that you don’t love being around.
· Take SEPTA, explore Philly: You don’t like Philly right now, I know, and the MFL seems sketchy. On top of that, it always smells funky out of the gutter in front of KCEH. Well, you’re wrong. Philly has so much to offer – great food, concerts, museums, art galleries, ... Get out there and start exploring!
· Study Abroad: Yeah, it really is that great. To give you a brief excerpt of your time abroad: you will rent a Toyota Yaris and take scenic pictures of it in Patagonia, you will take your first business trip, you will have a view of the Eiffel Tower from your “bedroom,” your shower will be in the kitchen, you’ll see hospitals in many different countries, your host mom will be a total boss, and you’ll fall in love with a foreigner who you may never see again.
· Oh, and on that note, come out already, will you. You’re lucky to have parents that will accept you no matter what. Also, despite all of its flaws, Penn is incredibly accepting. You won’t lose friends because of your sexuality – and even if you do, are those the kinds of friends you want to have?
Yes, Penn is stressful. Yes, the Core sucks. Yes, MGMT 100 is absolute B.S. Yes, you’ll have your heart broken once or twice. Yes, you’ll be unhappy from time to time. But let’s paraphrase our friend Dory for a minute: just keep swimming, and you’ll be more than fine.
Reality Check | Sandra L
You had a lot of offers from different schools. You could have gone anywhere – UT Austin, an hour from home, or NYU, lost in the city lights, or Cornell, forever instagramming “Cornell is gorge-ous,” or Brown… the list goes on. But you chose Penn, because something resonated here when you came to visit campus as another minority college-hopeful looking for a place to belong. You got out of the taxi at 34th and Walnut and said in a gasp of awe, “This is what an Ivy League school looks like…”
You ignored the warnings you found on student chat forums of people saying that Penn was viciously pre-professional. You told yourself that you wouldn’t hang out with those crowds, that college is what you make it. “Timshel… thou mayest;” the quote from your favorite book (East of Eden, John Steinbeck), summing that all up. And you’re going to pack up your life and head to Philadelphia, 2000 miles from the South Texas sun. It was going to be amazing – you were (are) going to be one step closer to becoming the physician you’ve dreamed of being for so long, to scrub into a surgery with a surgical cap featuring a dog pattern, and to pull 36 hour shifts, rounding on patients and drinking a lot of hospital coffee. You want this. So bad. And you still do.
But, three years later, your eyes are encircled by the darkness of poor sleep (sleep tracker app says 80% quality, but it feels like less), your shoulders weighted with expectations you don’t know how to handle (first generation student whose whole family expects a Harvard MD degree – not likely, and not what you want, but you don’t have the heart to tell your family that). Those forums were right. Penn is so pre-professional. There is a cut-throat culture here, a desire to excel and surpass regardless of what it takes. There are people who believe you don’t belong here because you checked the “Hispanic” box on the Common App, because the Admissions Office pitied you and your culture that you so love. You went from being top of the class to doubting yourself. There are days you don’t want to do anything but lay in bed and cry, and disappear into your pillow, or run away and get lost in the world, leave your life behind and start anew, just a random small human amongst another 7 billion.
There’s another but to this. There always is.
I want to tell you it’s going to be hard. But I need you to leave the expectations of others behind, in a grave for all the bad juju people throw at you. I want to tell you that even though the thought of transferring to UT Austin has crossed your mind so many times – yes, even as a junior, when transferring would be a nightmare – that you’ve come so far, and if you’ve survived this long, you can keep on surviving. When you think it’s tough, when you’re sick to your stomach from the toxic culture of Penn and how unhealthy it is, to leave University City, leave the bubble and breathe in the air of sincerity, of calm; to enjoy. You don’t have to indulge the Penn Monster. Focus on yourself – your health, your dreams. Leave the expectations of others buried, and realize that you don’t have to be like them – you don’t have to be anyone but who you want to be. And yes, you may have to tweak that as life happens and throws you curves, but don’t be afraid of the changes you encounter: I guarantee, you’ll find who that is on this journey.
Remember how you used to be afraid of everything? You’d be so surprised to hear the things I’ve done, the personality and outlook changes I’ve experienced – and still am experiencing. If you had gone to UT Austin, you would still be the same person you were in high school. You’re going to start fresh here. You wouldn’t recognize me if you saw me now, because who you are and knew is a shell, an outer layer to a much richer inside – much like a Ferrerro Rocher chocolate. I’m slowly chipping away at the shell of our fears to reveal the sculpture that is the real us underneath. And once I get there, it’s going to be amazing, liberating, and the scars will be worth it. I promise. I’m still not there, but I have to keep reminding myself of that. I look forward one step at a time, and it’s the only thing that keeps me from going insane sometimes. But just breathe and put one foot forward. The world is much more than the space between 34th and 40th Streets.
I’m not doing the chipping on my own. I’ve met so many people here who listen, who understand, who are supportive, who care. You have people here; you’ll make people here. Not just during NSO, but during the years to come, too – peers, TAs, professors, advisors. It’s going to be hard, but creating a masterpiece is, isn’t it? It doesn’t happen quickly, it takes time, blood, sweat, tears.
Don’t forget why you’re here: because you have something to give, and the experience has something to return. This isn’t a warning, but it’s a reality check: Look at who you were, and look forward to who you will become. Stay strong. “[The human soul] is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because ‘Thou mayest.’”
You may conquer. I give you permission to.
I met myself at Penn | Monica W
Dear Freshman Friend,
During my last year in high school, there was one phrase that seemed to flow so naturally from the lips of every adult I spoke to: “College is the best four years of your life.” As a senior still riding the roller coaster that is college life, I think I have a slightly different perspective. College might not exactly be the best four years of your life, but it is the most needed.
The life transition to college can be very difficult. It certainly was for me. Senior year of high school, I was on top of the world. Sports awards, salutatorian, best friends for life. And then BAM, graduation came and it was all over.
The first week I was at Penn, an alumni group was giving out pins on Locust Walk. My already anxious disposition deepened when I read what exactly these pins were showing: “I met my best friend at Penn”, “I met my husband at Penn”, “I met my wife at Penn”. Wow, four years to find best friends and a soul mate? As if all the change I was already dealing with wasn’t enough? Talk about pressure. I thought I came to Penn to pursue the subjects I had been passionate about, to find a career I would enjoy, to discover a calling. But then again, there were no “I learned more than I ever thought I would” pins. Everything was out of my control and everything was ending. I was lost. Surrounded by people, I often felt alone in the world. But in reflection, it was during this lonely time, that I met someone I am thrilled to be spending the rest of my life with. No, not my husband… Myself.
Looking forward, I’ll try to remember that sometimes we need to get a little lost to find ourselves. I’m sure I’ll have a whole lot of difficulty adjusting to life after college as well. But what I have truly internalized throughout my life, and these past four years in specific, is that it’s okay to be afraid. Uncertainty might be unpleasant in the moment, but when viewed from a different perspective, it can just as easily be defined by a different word: opportunity. And ultimately, uncertainty (and the anxiety that so often accompanies it) is no match for the healing powers of optimism, hope, faith, and self-compassion that lie within.
This I believe: It’s really difficult to be okay with getting lost and spending time getting to know yourself. It’s even more difficult to verbalize what you believe. But it’s sure good to try. There’s a whole world of opportunity outside. I wholeheartedly hope to keep exploring this my entire life. But there’s a world of opportunity inside as well. Despite my internal uneasiness at the moment I saw the “social pressure” pins, I do have to admit that I took one of each. Sure, I’ve definitely met some best friends (and who knows, maybe I’ve already met my future husband here too) but in the end, I won’t be donning either of these pins on graduation day. Rather, although there might not be a pin to prove it, I met myself at Penn. I’m not perfect, but I sure am proud.
All the best,
Degree of Impact | Julia P
Dear Penn Freshman,
It’s a couple of days after the end of junior year final exams. I’m en route to a conference, sitting in New York JFK, super annoyed at my delayed flight, and typing this letter to you. So much has changed since freshman year, but so much remains the same. At Penn, the days are long, but the years are short. 4 years may seem like a long time to you now, but trust me when I say it passes by in a flash. And with 3/4 of this college career now in the past, here is what I want to say to you:
1) You will not fit into the Penn mold - and that’s ok. The reality of Penn is a lot different than what you’re expecting right now, as is the ideal Penn student. Consulting & investment banking are not the only two career choices in the world. You don’t have to be in charge of three clubs. You don’t have to go downtown every Thursday. It will take a while for you to realize this, but when you do, it’s a very freeing moment.
2) Go to office hours. You’ll thank yourself when exam time comes. Also, get to know your professors, because they’re usually a lot cooler than you think. Teaching is only one of the things they do - get to know the super interesting research they’re involved with.
3) This is only the beginning of your successes - but also your rejections. Congratulations on your acceptance to Penn. But it doesn’t stop with the acceptance letter. As you’ve probably found out by now, all the campus clubs have interview - and the more exclusive ones have several rounds. Your first rejection will be a shock. You won’t stop asking yourself, Why didn’t I get chosen? What did I do wrong? How could I have not been good enough? And you will feel worse because the rejections come from your own peers. However, keep in mind that you won’t be the only one doubting yourself. Everyone gets rejected, statistically speaking. And 3 years down the road, you’ll laugh as you remember how much stress that one club rejection caused you.
4) Penn can be very status-driven, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. See above advice about rejections. Every student wants to belong to the most exclusive groups - whether that is academically, extracurricularly, or socially. You will eventually find yourself seeking exclusivity. Comparing yourself to others constantly. And that’s fine; that’s a part of human nature. But it doesn’t have to be the most important factor driving your decisions. In fact, a lot of things at Penn are constructs that only exist on campus. Remember that there is a world outside Penn - one with issues beyond downtowns, societies, and the Penn Face (which is very real, by the way).
5) Don’t ignore emails from the International Students’ Office. Their emails may be in small font, and may be the last things you want to read. But you’d much rather take the 10 extra minutes out of your day to read them, than to face the possibility of deportation. Guess which option is more stressful?
6) It may be tough to make time for people that matter, but that shouldn’t stop you. Skype with your sister every day, grab coffee with friends to catchup, don’t say you’re too busy to help someone. As cliche as it sounds, at the end of the day it’s the people and the relationships that make this place great.
7) Sometimes Penn will support you tremendously. And other times, it will tear you down. This institution is not perfect, and we sometimes have to fight for what we need - mental health support, administrative support, an under-represented voice. Penn’s job is not to coddle you. Its job is to provide a world-class education - which it does. But as students, our lives exist beyond just classes. And if you do not fight for your cause, then no one else will.
8) Never underestimate the power of napping. Live as close to Huntsman Hall as you can, and find all the opportunities to take naps and recharge between classes.
9) Realize that at the end of the day, your degree is not only for yourself. Yes, you’re dedicating 4 years of your life to this institution. Yes, you’re paying tuition. Yes, it will be stressful and sometimes the lows outnumber the highs. But what is more important is what you go on to accomplish with your education (and the plethora of Penn graduates I’ve talked to probably all agree). Penn will help you jumpstart your career, but things like your GPA do not define you as a person. There are so many global issues that need solving in the next few decades. There are also so many ways you can use your degree to impact the world. Your goal in the next 4 years is not to be caught up with the small things, and instead try to figure out how to position yourself to make an impact with your degree.
With all that being said, HAVE FUN. These next 4 years are yours to experience. You’re going to meet a lot of amazing people and become friends with them. Your perception of the world is going to change so much. You’re going to learn from what life throws at you. So sit back, kick your feet up, and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.
See you in 3 years,
Julia Peng firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: there are also a lot of rooftops to watch sunrises from
Be Your Own Hero | Emily C
Dear Freshman Self,
Congratulations on getting into Penn! Starting now through graduation, you’re going to notice the universe sending you the same message over and over again…
You know nothing, Jon Snow.
And every time you do think you understand how the world works, you’re thrown another monkey wrench. Embrace it. Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the wakeup calls you’ll get, followed by the 8 most important lessons I’ve learned at Penn. I hope they’re helpful!
At Penn, you’re going to learn how to study—I mean really study—and you will cry because you think you were admitted by accident and you will accomplish things you never thought possible. Keep going.
You’re going to learn the difference between hi-how-are-you-we-have-to-get-lunch-some-time friends, and friends who show up to your room when you’re locked away for OCR and make you get-some-freaking-Sweet-Green-with them-or-else.
You’re going to watch helplessly as your 5-year career plan enters a phase of continuous fluidity – constantly modifying itself as you take in new information, meet life-changingly inspiring people, and learn to ask the right questions. Embrace perpetual uncertainty.
You’re going to learn that things and people are not always who they seem at first. Sometimes they’re better, sometimes they’re worse. You’re not in Kansas (er, the Appalachian Mountains) anymore—you’ll have to learn how to navigate a more complex world. But this is good! This means you’re up for a lot of surprises! So open those big eyes, roll with the punches, and embrace the unexpected joys life will throw your way.
1. Cherish your people.
At Penn, you will find true gems. Do not lose a second with them. It’s so hard—I know—but despite that paper or interview, find a way to go out to the mixer or birthday party or movie night. These are the people who will make you laugh until 4am. The ones who love you and accept all your shortcoming and quirks. The ones who show up to your dorm with soup when you’re sick. The ones you’ll watch Frozen with while eating Honest Tom’s. The ones who see you at your darkest moments and pull you back up. They are everything.
2. Work hard and be kind.
My #1 advice for everything that lies ahead: work hard and be kind. Always bring your A-game, and always act with compassion. Hold the door, share your notes, strike up conversations, give up your spot in line to someone in a rush… Put positive energy into the community.
3. Express gratefulness regularly.
Because we have so much to be grateful for. In times of stress or failure, it’s easy to lose sight of all of our blessings. I highly recommend journaling five things you’re grateful for everyday. It’s one of the most powerful changes I’ve ever made in my daily habits.
4. Let whoever think whatever.
Be your best self and exist on your own terms. Refine your own definitions of success. Decide for yourself what is ‘good’ and admirable. Be brave about what you want to accomplish. Don’t become confused between what people say you are and who you know you are. Set goals so challenging that you cannot achieve them until you grow into the person who can.
Constantly strive to improve—not all at once, but gradually and continuously through incremental efforts every single day. That is all you can ask of yourself—be your very best and kindest.
You can’t make everyone happy—you are not Nutella. Focus, instead, on making yourself proud of who you become. The more you love your decisions, the less you need others to love them.
5. Learn from your failures & be your own hero.
There will be dark days. Things won’t always work out as you hope. But mistakes are proof you are trying! Penn can place a lot of pressure on perfection and living up to expectations—it’s up to you to find beauty in the ugliest of days. Courage is waking up to aiming to succeed against all odds. Courage is going to sleep after failure saying, I will try again tomorrow.
You will face rejection, and it will hurt. But then you’ll realize those things were never right for you anyway. Whether we’re talking clubs, jobs, people—say adios to things not meant for you so you can seize the bigger, better, badder things life sends your way. Sometimes things will feel like they’re falling apart, but everything will be FINE (eventually.) Take a deep breath and just keep swimming. With friends by your side, family cheering you on, determination in your eyes, Disney movies in your room—you’re fully equipped to take on whatever challenges life hands you.
Find a way to turn your setback into a comeback. Let go of what is out of your control and focus on what is in your control. Attitude is everything. When putting on the gameface you wear everyday, choose wisely.
On the grind: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (If Kanye said it, it has to be true, right?)
On attitude: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore (the ultimate authority on all subjects)
6. Put yourself out there.
Be proactive. Show up. Soak in your classes. Sign up for events and committees and get to know the world. Apply as a sophomore to junior internships (it's good interview practice, and you never know!) Apply to women's and diversity programs. Attend guest speaker events on campus. Explore and learn as much as you can!
There will be obstacles, so you must push for what you want. Do not be afraid to ask for help or advice—but learn how to be conscientious of others' time and ask the right questions.
As my favorite fortune cookie ever once told me:
DO IT YOURSELF
DO NOT DOUBT
YES YOU CAN
YES YOU CAN
7. Say yes to adventures.
Let go of your need for control. Have faith it will all work out.
The little girl who showed up to the Quad with her Eyeore stuffed animal hated surprises and wanted to plan everything. She quickly became afraid of this new, unpredictable, and overwhelming world. …One day, she made a New Year’s Resolution to go on adventures—and despite being scared, just say, “Yes.”
I could proceed with the long list of the new cities discovered, the new friends found in unexpected places, the secret trip to Europe, the near-crises (always averted in the nick of time!), the hopes that became realities all from saying, “Yes, I’ll go for it” – but telling you would ruin the surprise, wouldn’t it?
In all respects of life, I urge you to go all in. Work relentlessly, dream fearlessly, love passionately, adventure boldly.
8. Enjoy every second.
My final, and perhaps most important, quote:
“I never look back darling, it distracts from the now.” – Edna Mode, The Incredibles
It's the climb | Kevin Z
Dear Freshman Kevin,
I’m so proud of you. Being thrust from the caring bosom of Alabama into the frigid clutches of Philadelphia is not the easiest transition, but you’ll call this place home soon enough. Congratulations on your success so far by the way! You got into your dream school and you are about to start another four year journey. Understand, however, that this journey at Penn will be completely different from what you experienced in high school. Your graduating class of 100 students will now swell to over 2000. The classes here will push you to think in ways you never even considered before. Club activities actually brim with passion and purpose. You won’t get to meet everyone, take every class, or join every club, but I’m proud of you for trying. It’s probably not healthy for everyone to be as restless as you are, but it makes you happy. It’ll be another few years until you are able to reflect as a senior again, but as long as you keep trying your best, the feeling of having no regrets about college is incredible.
You might think you will regret not having higher grades, but I’m proud of your mediocre GPA. You worked hard to get it. Yea, you probably could’ve spent a little more time hitting the books, but you won’t regret how you used that time on friends and other meaningful activities. You might think you will regret not having prestigious internships, but I’m proud of the ones that you did have. It doesn’t matter where you are so long as you keep moving forward. 2016 may feel far away, and admittedly, the school weeks can pass by very slowly sometimes. The years certainly fly by though. Here are some of the things that you will come to realize along the way:
- Each semester will feel like a whirlwind of activity, and never before have you micromanaged your day down to each hour. Be careful not to get lost among the strong currents. Take a moment once in awhile to reflect on where you are and why you are doing what you are doing.
- The most indelible experiences you’ll have here will involve the people in your life. Make time for meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends. Additionally, don’t take your family for granted. You haven’t yet realized just how lucky you are to have them.
- There are a ton of wonderful communities at Penn. Don’t feel like there is one you are supposed to be in, or that there is one that will make you look the best. Find the ones that you truly feel comfortable in. You won’t be involved some of the best ones until a few years in.
- You are just as capable as everyone else. Everyone is on the same playing field, and no one has a significant ability over the other. It is merely about how you choose to spend your time.
- Your experience at Penn is however you decide to frame it. Penn can be an absolutely wonderful place, if you let it be. It can also be a poisonous place. “This person is the president of this club, why can’t I be like that?” “She got this amazing job, what am I doing with myself?” You’ll ask yourself these questions many times. Instead, be proud of your friend for being awesome and be proud of yourself too. Let it motivate you, not bring you down.
Just because I am telling you these platitudes doesn’t mean you should necessarily believe them yet. The only way to truly internalize these thoughts is to learn them for yourself.
Finally, this is the most important thing I want to say: the real pleasure is in the journey. There won’t ever be a time where “you’ve made it” or a time you can stop striving. Of course, there will be times where you find success, but the process of growing never ends. No matter where you are, you will still need to work hard. You aren’t waiting for your life to begin, it is already very much in progress. You will have the rest of your life to think about being in college again, so enjoy every minute of it now.
In the words of your girl, Miley:
There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side
It's the climb.
Talk, Talk, Talk | David T
Dear Penn Freshmen,
As I am not well-equipped to impart wisdom upon you since I do not have as much as one would believe, I have summed up my advice to all of you in a few bullets listed below. Take these and use them as you may. Note, however, I wish I had known all of these when entering Penn for the first time.
1. Talk, Talk, Talk - The number one piece of advice I have is to talk to everyone. Be nice to them, get to know their stories. This will be the last time that you’re surrounded by such wonderful individuals of the same caliber as you: take advantage of it. Not only that, but when you’re feeling down (as inevitably everyone does), talk to someone. Go to your peers, advisors, supervisors, anyone you trust. The important thing is that you have a friend to talk to, and be upfront. Talk, talk, talk. I can’t tell you the amount of life talks (aka heart to hearts) I’ve had with multiple friends over the past, and each time I left them, I felt so much happier and relieved. Believe me or not, everyone stresses and is going through something -- don’t be afraid to open up.
2. GPA is not the only thing that matters - Being in a very fast-paced environment like Penn, you may tend to lose sight of this fact. I did not have a great GPA my freshman year, and I just continuously worked to get it as high as I could. I still made it, and so will you. Don’t worry about grades. Strengthen your personality, leadership skills, and make friends. People will hire you because they like you.
3. Take Breaks - My Italian professor at Penn once told me this piece of advice, and I took him ever so seriously. This paid off huge dividends. I encourage you all to take breaks in between studying or going out or exercising. You should take time for you, even if it’s 10 mins every 2 hours.
4. Imagine your past and future self - The most powerful exercise I did this year was sit across from an empty chair and pretend to have a conversation with my freshman year self about how proud he was of me (or not), what changed, and what he would/wouldn’t have expected to happen in four years. Try the exercise each year: it is SO powerful.
5. Be you, and have fun your way - You only have one life, and it would be ashamed if you didn’t live it the way you wanted to. Don’t fall to peer pressures. Make decisions for YOU and stick to your guns. If people dislike you or poke fun, they aren’t your friends.
6. Pat yourself on the back - Every now and then, celebrate your short term victories. It means a lot to give yourself the confidence you deserve.
7. Make a Difference - Be nice to everyone and let other people matter. Give your time to others and make a positive impact on the lives of others. You won’t regret it.
Feel free to contact me if you need anything:
Sometimes you’re terribly flawed. It doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to more | Praneeth T
Dear Penn Freshman,
You’re coming into a very formative period of your life. That assertion has been reiterated to you so many times that you’re probably sick of it. You bring with you all your hopes and expectations, desires and ambitions. Standing at the altar that is the University of Pennsylvania you pray that all of these elements of your character will be shaped into the ideal persona you clearly long for. Yet in doing so you forget so quickly that your essence is not summed up by the five to ten things about yourself of which you are most proud. Insecurity and vanity will come at you from different sides and leave gashes on your soul that probably will never fade. It’s interesting how two forces so different in nature can affect you so similarly.
They too are a part of you. Until you accept that your expectations for yourself will not be reasonable. You’re not perfect and you’re never going to be perfect. You’re not going to have a perfect life with a perfect job and a perfect family.
Until you understand that happiness will elude you.
Love yourself as you are. Love your flaws and imperfections because to some degree you have to live with them. It shouldn’t be more complicated than that. Looking back you won’t be proud of every decision you made over your college career. You won’t be happy every single moment of every single day. If you think you’ll be smiling because you’re so fundamentally happy between classes for no reason at all – I urge you to manage your expectations. College isn’t like what the brochures would have you believe.
You do find solace in the people who matter though. You do eventually pursue the projects that excite you. In hindsight there is some sorrow that you spent so long coloring within the lines instead of finding those things that make you tremble with excitement. Acting to manage pedigree or manage the expectations of others is a disservice to yourself. Try and catch that earlier rather than later. You do eventually develop into someone that you’re proud of. Interestingly it’s not for the reasons that you’d expect. It’s not because you work hard and accomplish every single academic or professional goals that you’ve set for yourself. It’s not because you wreck the curve or ace the presentation. It’s because of the relationships you build and the people in your life that matter. It’s about the pursuit of your passions even when they don’t make sense using the conventional heuristics which you have set up.
You have the potential to fly inherently because you were born with wings. That’s fundamental. Don’t waste it and certainly never forget it.
Lots of love (because everyone needs that),
On vulnerability, etc | Nicole J
(Freshman) Nicole –
Where do I even begin? It’s been such a whirlwind and you’re about to embark on the most challenging, memorable and special four years of your life. I remember back when I was in your shoes, arriving on campus early for Pennacle as an eager, naïve freshman impressed (and, not to mention, intimidated) by everyone I met: high school valedictorians with perfect SAT scores, authors of published books, entrepreneurs with their own companies… What was I doing here??
Penn is full of perfectionists and overachievers, and sometimes it can be so easy to forget that you’re good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough… I want you to remember that you’re more than an exam score or a number on the scale. At the end of the day, what do those numbers mean anyway? The only number that matters is the number of people you will love and impact here over the next four years. So stop comparing yourself to others and stop worrying about what people think. Nobody cares that you spent last night being a hermit enjoying some good old Netflix and chill (with grubhubbed Mizu) by yourself. Nobody cares that you’re not tall/skinny enough, or that you’re single – after all, dating at Penn is hard and there is no better place or time for you to discover and love yourself first. Everybody is insecure and nobody is perfect. Just remember that confidence is everything, and that you gotta fake it till you make it.
I know it’s easier said than done, because there are a lot of bumpy roads ahead too. Sometimes it’s okay not to be okay. Heartbreak, betrayals and late-night binges will happen – maybe more than once. But that’s what friends are for – those late night talks on the hallway floor, those desperate calls to Dad and last minute flights to your best friends in LA… It’s okay to be vulnerable. After all, everyone is fighting their own battles…
… but those battles are what will make you stronger. Those are the times that will remind you of what matters. You will grow a lot over the next four years, so cherish and make the most out of every moment: snow days in the quad and not making it to the Spring Fling concert; reunions with freshman hall mates and celebrations with seniors at Feb Club; midnight birthday surprises and weekend brunches in Center City; throwing toast at football games and heckling at dance/acapella shows; learning from mentors and watching a group of ten Sigma babies grow; Morocco with your roommate and Iceland with your little; spontaneous day trips to NYC and weekend trips to Berlin; attempting at start ups with NiViNi and eating away at your friends’ thriving cookie company; going to concerts at Soundgarden Hall and putting together Soundcloud playlists for late nights in Huntsman… Those are the memories that matter, the ones that will define your next four years at Penn. I know that freshman year can be tough, but it’s also just the start of the time of your life.
So have fun, love lots, and enjoy the ride.
You're going to transfer to Penn and other surprises | Tilyn B
Hey bae (you’ll learn what this means in a few years),
As you tape up the first box you packed for college (which is full of shoes, naturally) and prepare to leave for college, you have no idea the whirlwind that is awaiting you over the next four years. You are excited but nervous to leave your family farm and hometown of 160 people to what you currently consider the “city” of Lawrence, KS, and you’re also a little hurt by the still-fresh sting of rejection from Penn. There are so many lessons you’ll learn during your time in college, but I’ll try to clue you in on the major ones.
First thing’s first (and I apologize for the major spoiler alert), you’re going to apply and be accepted as a transfer student to Penn. This day will be the greatest rollercoaster of emotion you will have ever experienced and there’s nothing I can say or do to prepare you for it. Just enjoy it. You deserve this. Don’t let anyone – especially yourself – ever convince you otherwise. Never believe for a second that you are less qualified than your peers to be there, or that you somehow “snuck into Penn.” You will eventually come to find that this is an insecurity that most, if not all, Penn students struggle with, and it’s a) untrue, and b) a waste of time to dwell on.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are some lessons to look out for:
Take risks. Apply for internships that you’re severely underqualified for. You will learn that the worst thing people can tell you is “no”, and there are a lot of times where you’ll expect a “no” and be shocked and blessed by a “yes”. When taking a risk does end in failure, shake off your hurt pride and keep moving forward.
School isn’t always the most important thing. Skip class, take the train to DC, and watch your former boss argue in front of the Supreme Court; your professor will dock your attendance grade way too much, but there are some things that you can’t learn in a classroom. When you’re having a breakdown over a fight with a friend, it’s okay to email your professor and tell them you have to submit your paper late; your self-care is more important than any assignment. Neglect your responsibilities for a couple of weeks and watch all 10 seasons of Friends when they’re released on Netflix; I don’t really have a justification for this one, but I still think it was worth it.
Don’t give in to peer pressure, do everything in your own time. You will feel like an outsider for not wanting to drink, and it will take you much longer than most of your friends to experiment with alcohol. When you do get drunk for the first time, forgive yourself. You will have many more experiences with alcohol after this – there will be some times you’ll regret, and some memories you’ll cherish. College is a time for making mistakes, and while this doesn’t mean you should actively go out and look to make them, every experience up to this point has made you who you are, so appreciate the not-so-good decisions for who they’ve shaped you to be.
You’re going to get some B’s, and that’s okay. Also – don’t freak out – but you’re going to get a C and that’s okay too.
Embrace Philadelphia. You’ll hate it when you first get there and the big city will terrify you, but you’ll soon realize that Kansas never really was what Philly has become: your home. Embrace the city, its people, and its culture, as early as you can, because it will become a major part of your identity.
Continue to prioritize church. You are lucky to have found incredible church communities both at KU and in Philadelphia. When you stop going, your life starts to suck. You’ve known this since you were a kid, so don’t be stupid and stay involved in your church community.
Be spontaneous and a little reckless. Buy concert tickets and plan road trips on a whim. These are the some of the best memories you’ll make.
Apply for ASB. Little do you know, you’ll become one of the co-directors and your journey with the organization will be one of most fulfilling parts of your college career. Your ASB family will help you grow and mature, they will support you in your various struggles, and they will only judge you a little when you dance on an elevated surface every time you drink together. Cherish this community and look forward to all it will teach you. Becoming co-director will be the most transformative experience you’ve had as a leader, so prepare for a wild ride. You’re going to make mistakes, but you will become better from each of them.
When you start to struggle with your mental health, don’t wait to start seeing someone. Your laptop has a “destigmatize mental illness” sticker on it, for God’s sake, it’s both annoying and unhealthy to be talking-the-talk but not walking-the-walk on this one. Admit to yourself early on that you need help, and then go get it.
You’re not going to date during college. There are plenty of times that this will seem unfortunate, but looking back, I don’t regret the decision to stay single. It has given me the freedom to do so many things that I couldn’t have done otherwise, so be happy and enjoy this stage of your life.
Learn to recognize and accept your privilege. This is a lesson that you will never stop learning. During your time in college, you will learn what microaggressions are; the mere fact that this is something you learn about in college is proof of your privilege. Having conversations about race, gender, identity, power, privilege, oppression, and the many social justice issues that exist in our country and world, is one of the most difficult things you’ll do in college. That being said, seek those learning spaces out – take difficult classes and join organizations that challenge you and make you have those discussions.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Your perception of the world will change, your political views will change, and change can be a good thing.
Fulfill the Physical World sector before senior year. I know you hate science. But I promise you’re going to hate yourself a lot more for putting it off and having to struggle through Geology as a senior when you have much more important things to focus on.
Rejection sucks but you’ll get through it. And you’ll become stronger because of it.
Cherish your friendships, but also learn that it’s okay to let them go. During college, one of the longest friendships you’ve ever had will end. It sucks, it hurts, and you’ll still think about her all the time. But at some point, you will accept the loss as something that is probably best for both of you. Just because you thought your friendship would last forever, doesn’t mean it was meant to. Remember and respect the times you had together, the memories you shared, the lessons you learned, and then let the rest go. Look around and realize that you have healthier relationships now and that holding on to something of the past is negative energy that you don’t need in your life.
Throughout your four years, you’ll have thirteen roommates. Four will be awful, three will be okay, and the rest will become some of the best friends you have. If you never had to deal with bad roommates, you wouldn’t appreciate the good ones. Plus, the bad ones make for great stories. Side note: you’ll also have some unwelcome critters as roommates in the dorms, so you should learn to deal with that unpleasant reality now.
You’re going to take a gap year before law school. Get over it. Accept it sooner rather than later – it will save you a lot of stress. While law school has been your dream since fourth grade, that doesn’t mean you have to go right away. You will come to realize that waiting is the best decision, but that you’re too afraid to admit it to yourself because the idea of law school has become a crutch to continue school, something you’re comfortable with, and avoid “the real world” (whatever that means).
Graduation is in less than 100 days and I still don’t have it all figured out – thank God. Imagine how boring life would be if I did. College has been a crazy, beautiful, wonderful journey, and I know that life post-graduation will be as well.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is something that I wrote down and taped to my wall this year: “My worth isn’t in my grades, my GPA, law school, the prestige of my job, or the amount of money I make, but in Christ alone.” I think this is the best piece of advice that current me has, so don’t forget it.
All my love,
You think you're hot stuff | Ashna B
Dear Baby AVB,
I feel you, you think you’re hot shit. Let’s be honest, you probably are. But here’s some advice to get that big head of yours out of the clouds:
Friends will come and go. I know you’re rolling your eyes right now saying things like “We’re going to be friends forever” but let me tell you, you aren’t. Living situations and friend groups will come in the way, so be careful. And don’t worry, you’ll find your core friends. They might change every year and maybe you’ll never have a ‘group' or an active GroupMe, but you’ll have those true few who will literally do anything for you. Give people a chance to show you how deep and amazing they can truly be. And when they come back again after leaving, give them another chance. Also, don’t think you are missing out because you aren’t part of the cool kids. You’ll soon realize that instead of having one group on campus, you’ll rather have a handful. Also get excited for your linages- they will save your lives more than you can count.
Forgive easily. For the sake of your sanity, forgive easily. Whatever they did, whoever they became, whatever they said…it’s all fine. You cannot have the same expectations out of others that you have from yourself so forgive them. I know it’s not easy since you have the loyalty issue but just really take humans as humans— and nothing else. Take them as the imperfect beings we are created to be and don’t hold those grudges. It’ll only weigh you down.
Shut up sometimes and listen. You’ll see how this works out but when you feel you have something snarky to say, think about it first. There will be a times when you say things and it all works out…but then other times when you just wish you had closed your mouth and maybe given the other person a chance.
It’s okay to say no. Please learn this soon, it’ll save your life and sanity. Think about yourself first sometimes and do what makes you feel good, not what is the good or right thing to do. Say no to people and don’t let them fill up your voids.
Love a little less. Yep, right there. You’ve met him on Day 1 and he’ll be great. He’ll buy you things, be sweet, make you think your thoughts are valid, and it’ll be amazing. Guess what, the break up? Not so much…but I promise you, you will be fine. When it seems like all your walls are being crashed and smashed, YOU WILL BE OKAY. Don’t let it creep into your pores and make you any less of the person you are. Don’t let it degrade you like it wants to. And lastly, don’t let it kill the love you have for others and for yourself. Give yourself space from it all and fill your voids with better things. You’ll learn that confidence is more than having a smile on your face. You’ll learn that loving yourself is more than speaking up for yourself…sometimes it’s being quiet and allowing things to just happen. You’ll learn that life truly goes on and the only person you owe anything to is yourself. You’ll also learn that you can’t help everyone and that hurts the most. Get excited though, you’re going to learn so much from being in love and then even more from being hurt.
Please study, please. That first semester GPA is going to hurt you like a rock and as much as we know college is all about the experience, just crack open a book for once. Don’t go to Huntsman to talk but go to study. Also, get off of Netflix, right now- this isn’t CHS.
Travel out of here. Mom and Dad might hate you for it but it will change everything for you. So apply for that class, for that WIP trip, for everything. Try looking for cheap flights every week if you have to. Travel and let the world show you just how big it is. Pop the Penn bubble often.
Don’t talk to people who stress you out. It’ll be a while till you get the hang of this, but you are in control of your surroundings. You get to decide who affects you and who doesn’t. You don’t need to talk to anyone you don’t have to, so when OCR comes along, don’t talk to anyone recruiting.
You’ll never have your shit together and that’s A-okay. The people of Penn will make you feel like you need to have it all together by the time you end freshman year, but let me tell you- you don’t. Some people in life just don’t have a direction until they live some of their life and that’s fine. Enjoy the fact that you aren’t stuck in a mold, that you can switch labels, that you have that privilege. (Side note: mind your privilege)
Family is everything, always. Family stuff is going to rock your world junior year. Things you never thought could happen, will. Hold them tight and always remember they are first.
Pray. I know, life is great- why do we even need to pray? It’s all working out and it’s not like the heavens did all of this, you did right? Pray because there is more to it than just that. Pray because it gives you peace and allows you to put things in someone else’s hands when they get tough. But always remember- pray like you want to pray.
And lastly, you are more than a position, a number, a date night, a boy and a club. You will not be in the same circles that you are in right now…and honestly it’ll all work out. Remind yourself when you get rejected from a ton of things that you are more than all of that. That you are a person and not being on a team or in a leadership position does not make you anything less. It does not mean you are a terrible dancer, singer, person, or leader. It does not mean anything you don’t want it to mean. You’ve never been afraid of trying but stop being afraid of failing.
Right now, I’m proud of you. You’re going to face a ton of shit and handle it all like the badass woman you are. You’ll survive Penn, this I know.
Love yourself, be happy, and be humble.
an older, slightly less of an obnoxious mess, still insanely talkative AVB
P.S. Drink wine, often.
Make Yourself a Happiness Wall | Krusheeta P
Dear Little One,
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably walking down Locust Walk feeling like you were accepted to Penn by mistake. Everything here feels bigger and more intimidating than you think you’re cut out for – the people are bigger, the streets are wider, and the buildings are taller. But I’m here to remind you to embrace the feeling that you are smaller than the community that you’re a part of. It’s nothing short of magnificent that there are so many people here to learn from and to grow with – you should spend every moment of every day of every semester of every year that you’re here appreciating that fact. Not sure how? Hopefully, these small tidbits will help.
“Let’s get lunch” often.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been part of the classic conversation that starts off something like, “OMG how are you? Let’s get lunch sometime!” Don’t fall victim to the bad habit of making hollow plans for coffee dates and lunches. Make yourself a promise to get lunch with someone new once every week – you’ll learn so much from people who you never would have even talked to otherwise.
It’s okay (encouraged) to stay connected to home.
From the moment you wave goodbye to your parents after they move you in, you’ll be encouraged to forget about them for a while and just focus on getting accustomed to life at Penn. “It’s time to let go,” they say. I say don’t do it. Stay connected to home and to the people who carried you this far. Call your family often, and not just when you need something. Text your friends from home, and not just when you go home for winter break. You’ll make new friends, I promise. Just remember to keep the old.
Make yourself a happiness wall.
The very best part of every dorm room or apartment I’ve ever lived in at Penn is what I call my “happiness wall”. Your wall can be made of anything that you love, but my happiness wall is a collection of quotes. One reads, “Anyone can be cool, but awesome takes practice”. Another one asks, “When was the last time you woke up and thought this could be the best day of your life?” This wall is basically my daily source of the “warm and fuzzies”: it keeps me going when I’m running on fumes and reminds me that even in the darkest of times, there’s always a little bit of joy to be found.
“Sleep is not an indulgence.”
Russell Foster, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, reminds us “sleep is not an indulgence”. I still don’t understand why there’s an unspoken competition for the person who gets the fewest hours of sleep (as if how little sleep you get is some measure of how smart or hard-working you are). Believe me - it’s never cool or fun to be the person who sleeps for three hours a night and then feels like a zombie every morning. Sleep at least 7 hours a night. I promise that you will be fresher, happier, and more emotionally and mentally stable if you treat sleep like the non-negotiable necessity that it is.
“Do small things with great love.”
I’m borrowing from one of my favorite Mother Theresa quotes of all time for this one. “Do small things with great love” for others – hold the elevator open for someone when all you feel like doing hitting the close button as many times as possible, send your friend a quick text to see how they’re doing, smile to the stranger on Locust, listen when your friends are upset. They deserve all this and more. But also, don’t forget to “do small things with great love” for yourself – buy yourself flowers every once in a while, laugh often, take naps, eat pizza, treat yourself to Taco Bell, take a walk outside, watch a little TV every now and then. You deserve it, too.
In closing, be kind to your mind and your body. In return, they will serve you when you need them the most. Spend as much time as you can with friends – old and new. In return, they will hold you up and carry you through your time here. And most importantly, work hard to build your home here at Penn. In return, it will welcome you with open arms.
All my love and best wishes,
Throw it all to the wall and see what sticks | alex g
Dear mini me,
Welcome to college, or rather your beloved four-year-long quarter life crisis. This will be a bit all over the place, but hopefully you’ll find it helpful. The past four years have been by far the craziest of my life, filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows I could have imagined. From these experiences, I have a few pearls of wisdom to share with you.
Rule #1: School is just school
I know you’ve worked your ass off over the past few years – I mean, hey, that’s how you got into Penn – but you don’t need to hole up in Van Pelt for weeks at a time. College is hard, but no matter how much you study, you will have one class per semester that just doesn’t click. You’ll get your first B. Life goes on, you’re an engineer and your GPA doesn’t matter half as much as you think it does. Definitely don’t listen to your advisor when he tells you that you won’t get a job unless you have a 4.0 GPA. He’s wrong and he sucks, and honestly so does the cutthroat nature of Penn at times. It’s one of the things you will learn to love and hate about being at this school. I mean, with so many super-involved geniuses in only a few square blocks, everyone’s competitive edge comes out. It’s motivating as hell. That being said, don’t let it overwhelm you. Be confident in your intelligence and make sure to #treatyoself every once in a while. Don’t be afraid to to class late if you’re exhausted, take a long walk downtown for brunch with friends, or drink a glass of wine at 3 p.m. because you feel like it, damn it. Yes, there will be a few nights where you’re up working until the sunrise; but when that moment comes, grab a coffee, sit back and just enjoy it for a few minutes. These little things will do wonders for you, I promise.
Rule #2: Make new friends, but keep the old
I’m probably one of the few people who can say that I met most of my college best friends during freshman year. The people you’ll meet during NSO, PennQuest, and rush (yes, Greek life is actually fun) will stick with you through thick and thin. They’ll never forget the obscene number of ratchet hookups and other questionable activities you did freshman year, but they will love you nonetheless. These people are worth more than their weight in gold. Continue maintaining these friendships throughout your four years, but don’t forget that there are 10,000 undergraduates at Penn. Don’t be afraid to say hi to someone new, even when you’re not a cute little freshman anymore. A smile and a wave won’t hurt anyone.
Rule #3: “Dating”…lol
For lack of better terms, dating at Penn sucks. As a serial dater, I know it’s hard to picture yourself outside of a relationship, but this environment will push you out of your comfort zone and teach you so much about yourself. I’m not saying you’ll like it at first, because you won’t. Spending a night home alone Netflix binging may not sound as good as going on a date (at least not now), but I swear that it’s incredibly liberating to be single. Once you finally break up with your boyfriend from high school, freshman year becomes ten times better. You’ll meet so many new people and become so much more outgoing because you won’t feel restricted. You’ll have a little serial dater relapse sophomore year, when you think you’ve met a complete catch. You will live, sleep, and breathe this guy for a full year. You’ll go weeks without seeing your closest friends and they will bitch and complain for months on end about how they never see you. They think the boyfriend “kind of sucks.” If this starts happening, wake up and get out. It’s kind of annoying at the time, but your friends are saying these things because they genuinely care about you. Listen to them, even though it’s so easy to stay in the comfort of a (dysfunctional) relationship. They will help you learn one of the hardest lessons of college – it’s okay to be on your own.
Rule #4: It’s “me” time
On that note, college is the one time in your life where you can genuinely be selfish. Don’t be afraid of that. You’re not living at home any more, you aren’t married or with kids, you don’t have a full time job: you can basically do whatever you want. If there are people or activities in your life that aren’t making you happy, get rid of them. In the words of my beloved Mean Girls, you just need to “suck the poison out of your life.” It will take you a couple years to truly be comfortable with this, but that’s okay. Find something or someone that makes you excited. For you, this will mean going abroad. Go to a place you never visited and go without any friends from school. Never stop traveling, either. Whether it’s with friends, complete randos, or alone, it’s worth it. The experience will shock you in good and bad ways, and it will be the hands-down the most revolutionary part of your time in college.
Last but not least, don’t forget to take care of yourself. You’ll spend your entire freshman year fighting cold after virus because you refuse to take a day off. Sophomore year is just more of the same. If your body isn’t happy, listen to it. Don’t shrug it off and assume the problem will fix itself, because sometimes it won’t. This will come back to bite you in the ass your senior year and you’ll learn the hard way, but at least you learned eventually.
TL;DR – College is the best, worst, most exciting, scariest shitshow of your life. Embrace it. Cheers to a happy, healthy four years ahead.
Penn is like a walk through the woods | fifi y
Dear Freshman Self,
I wish I could tell you everything, I wish I could share every piece of knowledge I’ve learned here at Penn over the last 4 years, but that’s not really possible to do in one small letter. Instead, I think I’ll give you a preview and the guiding principle I wish I had followed more.
A few weeks ago, one of my professors said that when people teach, they either focus on the whole forest or on just one tree. An effective teacher will look at both the forest and the tree to understand the details of the tree, but also how the whole forest works together as one living system. This is great advice for how to approach your studies, but also to life. So as Forrest Gump said “life is like a box of chocolates”, I’ll make my own quote: “life is like a walk through the woods”.
Until Penn, life for you might have been a pretty straight path, but now you’re coming to this forest and you feel like you have to navigate it alone. You’ll meet some friends at the beginning and embark on this trail together. At first it’s really because you crave company and friendship to live up to the expectation of this being the “best four years of your life”, but you quickly realize some of you don’t get along, and maybe some of them want to take different paths. Your group changes shape and size all the time, but things are good.
Lesson number one: the path isn’t always straight. This is something I really have to repeat to myself when things get bad. Things are sometimes going to be great, and sometimes things are really really going to suck. One of your best friends will tell you that the only way you can appreciate the good in your life is in contrast with the bad… (you’ll call bullshit on him, but realize it’s really true). There isn’t a straight line to the goal… in anything really. The last 2 years of Penn, you’ll struggle with overcoming depression and anxiety. On some weeks, you’ll feel like you’re getting so much better, but on others, it will feel like the world is ending, life is pointless, and there’s no reason to keep going. Getting better takes so much effort, and when it feels like it’s not working, it may seem easier to just give up and stop trying. You can’t do that. You just can’t.
Lesson number two: don’t get stuck on the trees. Things will happen to you, some good and some bad. You can’t dwell on the bad things. That’s easier said than done, but here’s some secondary advice. When you are stuck looking at the trees, don’t ignore the people around you trying to help. More than a few times at Penn, you’ll get really stuck on bad things that happen… whether it’s a boy dumping you, or something worse. You’ll continue staring at that tree, thinking about it, what you did wrong, how you can “fix” it. You can’t let it consume you. You also can’t keep pushing away the people around you. Some of them might watch you staring at the tree and eventually just walk away... and that’s okay. (You’re probably better off without them.) But some of them will stay there with you, getting you to move past it. Those are the people worth keeping in your life - the ones who don’t give up on you when you’re down. Don’t be afraid to open up to them. You never know when one of them might have gone through something similar and can help you too.
Lesson number three: look at the forest. In the roll of Penn life, it feels like you’re just going from midterm week to midterm week, barely holding on with academics, clubs, and friends. You haven’t gotten a moment to yourself in the last month. Take some time for yourself to step back and look at your life. Reflection is the key to becoming a better person. Look back at the forest you’ve been walking through. What mistakes did you make? What would you have done differently? Now look forward to the forest ahead. How can you learn from those past lessons and apply them to the next stretch of path? It’s in these moments of reflection that you grow the most as a person.
Lesson number four: don’t let other people invalidate your struggles. The “other people” also includes yourself. When you’re on this forest path, sometimes we take the problems we’re dealing with and compare them to those of the people around us. Other people might say that your problem is “nothing compared to what I’m going through”, and tell you that you aren’t entitled to feel like you’re struggling. That’s not healthy. Your problems are just as real to you as someone else’s are to them. You can’t compare to anyone else because you are your own unique person. Instead of being told you shouldn’t feel the way you’re feeling, go back to lesson three, and reflect on the feelings. Why am I upset? How can I fix this? Maybe it’s not something that’s fixable, but you can still fix yourself. What support do I have? How can I cope with this?
Lesson number five: you don’t have to be invincible. By your senior year, you will become someone who many people seek help and support from, as an RA, TA, mentor, peer advisor, and friend. Just because people seek help from you doesn’t mean you can’t seek it from other people. Going to CAPS is really not enough to fix all your problems - it’s not like a one stop shop and everything gets better, you have to actively seek out help from the people around you and build a support network. It may seem impossible at times because you’re “supposed” to be the one who “has it all together”. Get rid of that idea. Just… throw it away, never think of it again. No one has it together. Actually, as a mentor, talking about these problems is the most powerful thing you can do to break the cycle.
I’m currently on leave from Penn. When I left, I had a conversation with my floor’s GA to decide how I was going to tell the floor I was leaving. I hadn’t planned on giving any specific reason, but she told me that the best thing I could do as an RA was be honest and set an example. If I said it was for mental health reasons, it removes that much more stigma on the subject. It’s okay to say I’m not okay, and it’s okay to say I need a break.
Get ready for the rollercoaster that is college. Keep an open mind as you start this adventure, and make sure you leave time for yourself in the whirlwind that is Penn.
Taking it all in (or not) | Catherine P
Congratulations on getting into Penn! All of your hard work paid off and now you're here at Penn. Breathe it in and remember this moment. Remember the feeling of having your dream came true (or the sigh of relief you got from finding out you have a college). You now have a chance to reinvent yourself, do whatever you want, and just explore everything and anything. As everyone will tell you, make the most of it.
So here are my three pieces of advice of getting through life at Penn: Savor it. Figure out who you are. Account for variable change.
1. Savor being at Penn.
It's easy to get lost in everything that's stressful about this place - clubs, academics, OCR, greek life and everything else in between. But every once in a while, savor the fact you're here. Remember the joy you first had when you found out that you were coming to Penn and celebrate that! As far as your high school self was concerned, you made it. Remember everything you were excited about - the people you're going to meet, the classes you get to take, and the cool opportunities that only Penn has. Don't feel down about the fact that you're not in five million clubs, and instead remember just how lucky you felt to be here in this school.
This also means putting your failures into perspective. That low exam grade in MATH104 or BEPP305 is not the end of the world, even if it feels like you won't get that job you wanted or you're no longer on the Dean's List. Instead, like everything else, it's just another story to tell. Through MATH104, I met some of my closest friends because we struggled through the mess together. As I'm about to graduate, I flirted with the fact that I could petition my grade. Now, I realize I don't want to because those grades are a part of my Penn journey. I wouldn't give up those late nights and those tears for anything.
2. Figure out (as Wharton-y as it sounds) your unique value proposition.
You can't do everything at Penn. It's literally impossible to be the best at everything. Someone out there will always be better than you at finance or dancing or art history. However, with that being said, no one is going to be better than you at being you. And that's what will carry you through the roller coaster that will be OCR, and club interviews. Over and over again, you will get rejected from clubs you thought you were perfect for and jobs that you thought would make everything worth it. You'll feel inadequate as a person, like you could have done so much more with your life. But at the end of the day, something out there will always be more perfect and more worth it for you.
The best advice I've ever gotten at Penn is to take a piece of paper and write on it who you think you are. Write down your values, write down the things you love, write down the relationships you care about. Those all make you you and whenever you walk into an interview or just feel down, remember all those things about yourself. Somehow - it's such a calming and reaffirming experience to remember what makes you you. More importantly, any club, sorority/fraternity, job is going to choose you based on your entire package (not just one aspect of your resume).
3. Account for variable change.
In life, you can never choose when to go through a loss or when you need to overcome setbacks. They all just sort of happen, and you need to deal with it no matter what else is on your plate. In sophomore year, in my effort to keep up with what I perceived as success, I decided to take on seven classes and join the board of three different clubs. To some people, this is their normal. And so, I thought I could handle it too. I just didn't realize what price that came at. That semester, a good friend of mine from back home died in a freak accident. That was the first time I ever faced death in my life and I didn't know how to cope. I somehow got myself to go to board meetings and go to class. I told only a few friends but I refused to let anyone help me. And so this all came at the cost of my mental health. I won't go into the details of what that meant. But, in those moments, I truly felt lost and overwhelmed. I just didn't have the space I needed to process everything going on and still keep up with everything I had. Had I only left myself time to breathe, maybe things would have turned out differently.
At the same time, it's also important to never be too busy for your friends. Many people at Penn have the sickness of "busyness." They can't make lunch with you cause they have so much work, or they can't stop for five minutes to say hi, how are you, because they need to finish something. Don't let yourself be infected by that. Instead, always make time for the people you love. It's so easy to get stuck in the short-term of papers and exams and interviews, but in ten or fifteen years, you're going to remember most the people who changed your life at Penn and beyond.
And so looking back at my Penn experience, I still remember the first time I stepped onto Locust Walk. Like many others, I didn't think I belonged. There had to have been some mistake at admissions because I was not shiny enough to be here. I wasn't smart enough, sociable enough, or accomplished enough.
Yet, somehow it's been four years. I still don't feel shiny enough to be at Penn. What's changed though is that I learned to be okay with that. I'm never going to be the smartest or most accomplished person in the world. Instead, I've learned to love myself and respect myself for who I have become.
I hope that you too have the best time at Penn. It's going to be rough at times, but the highs make every moment definitely worth it.
So here's to the craziest and most awesome four years of your life (so far),
PS please please please feel free to keep in touch :) Whether you just want someone random to rant to, get advice from or even just to listen, would love to be of any help!
Don't get jaded | Jialin Z
Dear freshman me,
To be honest, the next 2.5 years are not going to be anything like you expected them to be. This is the first time you’ll have the freedom to make independent choices about how to fill your time, without limitations that held you back in the past, and might hold you back in the future. Realize that you have a hold on real life for 4 years; you’ll have countless opportunities to really grow into yourself before you start the day-in, day-out. Do us both a favor and take some time to mull over some advice in that big head of yours.
College is a rare time in which your primary job is learning. Take classes in subject areas that you have purely non-practical interest in. Don’t falter from taking a course because your friends said it’s too difficult; do what interests you. You might find a new passion in it (or you might just learn a lot more about comparative literature). During the summers you spend working, you’ll realize you love learning random stuff a lot more than you like right-aligning slide decks.
That being said, also realize that in the future, you will remember the (weird, deep, hilarious) conversations that you have with some of your future best friends at 2am rather than the time you spent perfecting an essay. Find your people and keep them close to you. This will take you some time to do, but don’t worry, they’re a lot closer than you think. (That skinny/tall/awkward boyfriend your freshman year roommate has around? He’ll become one of your best friends shortly after they break up. The girl you ignored at your program retreat? One of your future roommates.) These people will show you how to be more compassionate and understanding, how to listen, and how to feel comfortable literally skipping down Locust from unexplained happiness. Drop those friends who say, “you’re too much”. There is no need to let other people create self-doubt from thin air. Consider the advice given by people who have your best interests at heart and invest in relationships with those who love you for who you are already.
Third piece of advice, please, please, please don’t get jaded. Many things will seem to go wrong for you, especially that first year. You won’t win the class board election, you won’t get into many of the clubs you apply for, you’ll hate how the Panhellenic rush process breaks you down, your heart will get broken; inexplicably, you’ll even end up in a wheelchair for 2 months (during that awful first winter). You will make many, many mistakes in your academic and personal life. With everything that seems to not go your way, it will be easy to become guarded, to fear failure, and to focus only on the bad. If you do this, Penn will become a prison that you reluctantly return to after each break.
Please don’t let this happen to you. As cheesy as it may sound, things happen for a reason. Remember that your heart is a resilient muscle and will bounce back time and time again; don’t close it off because you’ve been hurt. You’ll end up finding groups that you love being a part of, with people who will become some of your closest friends at Penn. You’ll also find that you have friends who love you enough to 1. spend 10 hours in the ER with you when you break your ankles, 2. brainstorm about stealing a wheelchair from HUP for you because you’re cheap, and 3. push you in your shitty wheelchair (found in Hill) up that steep bridge to get to Commons dinner (because even though King’s Court has a dining hall, you’ve been going stir-crazy staying indoors). If you can’t pick yourself up after a hard fall, don’t worry – people are watching out for you.
Take a deep breath. In. Out. I promise that you (we) are going to be fine. Enjoy the crazy, turbulent times ahead. Eat plenty of ice cream, drink more wine, go for long runs outside, find new music you love, dance alone more, and laugh lots. Don’t forget to be humble, keep your mind open to trying new things, and always be entirely comfortable being yourself.
All my love,
Please reach out to me if you ever want to chat: email@example.com. J
The Power of Saying No | Alex A
Dear Penn Freshman,
I spend a lot of time pontificating, but when I am asked to give advice about college life (as I have for this blog), I struggle. Four years go by quickly, and I cannot say I am any more prepared to meet the challenges of adult life than you are.
Sometimes, when I am lying in bed unable to sleep, I find myself thinking about the role chance has played in shaping my college experience. What are my chances of meeting someone I like at a concert? Or someone with similar interests? Or someone I can recommend music at two in the morning? I asked myself these questions during my freshman year, because I was unwilling to reach out to these people directly.
Indeed, some of the most interesting people you will meet at college, many of whom will become your best friends, you will meet by chance. This fact sometimes alarms me, since the decision to go to one party over another could change my life. I attended a very small private high school with around 200 students, and chance usually brought together people with shared aspirations, hobbies, and outlooks on life. You will soon discover waiting for chance is futile.
Be selective in choosing how you use your time. Do not commit to more than you can handle.
I overestimated how much I enjoyed chasing down clubs, and looking back, I find myself wishing I had spent more time with those who were important to me. Learn to say “no”, otherwise you will end up stressed and overworked.
Invite friends to lunch as often as possible. Do not second guess when reaching out to people you suspect share your passion. The worst that could happen is that they will feel bothered for a few minutes, but they will go back to their lives. Many of the students you will talk to during your first few months on campus won’t talk to you since then, and that is okay. Freshman year is when a lot of college relationships take shape, and only you have the power to revive them.
Do not think you are alone. You are very bright, and you are going to be studying at one of the best universities in the country. Tomorrow, you might find yourself riding a punt in Oxford, attending a Bob Dylan concert, or watching Casablanca with two great friends. You will meet some of the most intelligent, passionate, beautiful, thoughtful, creative, and honest people in the world in the next four years, as well as some of the most important people in your life. You have a lot to look forward to, I’m certain.
This letter is as much for me as it is for you. I am writing this in the early hours of the morning, before I go to sleep, because writing this letter is itself a small way of making time for myself. Being a junior, I still have one more year to make up for time wasted. Hopefully, you will have gleaned a kernel of wisdom by the time I finish my penultimate year at Penn.
Wishing you best of luck,
Find your happy place | Megha K
Dear little Megha,
Welcome to Penn! You’ve been visiting Penn your whole life, but this time is different; you’re officially a Penn student. As you walk down Locust Walk, pay attention to the awe that you’re feeling because you will spend the next four years immersed in it; in awe of your brilliant peers, in awe of passionate professors that reshape the way you think about the world, in awe of all that Philadelphia has to offer, and most of all, in awe of everything you have the ability to accomplish here. As you begin this whirlwind of a journey, let me impart some words of wisdom.
Go on as many coffee chats as humanly possible: Penn is filled with the most intelligent, interesting, and inspirational people you have ever met; get to know as many of them as possible. Sure, you may not become best friends with them after an hour of chatting, but more often than not, you will find a world of similarities and connections that you never could have imagined. Don’t make the hollow promise of “we should grab lunch sometime”; you may never be surrounded by people as diverse and accomplished, so make the most of it. And who knows, you may actually end up learning to like coffee by the end of college!
Don’t be afraid to say no: It doesn’t mean you are a quitter, it just means you’ve realized what you want in life. College is for learning about yourself and who you want to become, so don’t waste your time on anything that doesn’t have value. It is never too late to try something new, so explore your options and give yourself time to find what you’re passionate about.
Don’t be afraid to say yes: Right now you may be thinking that you’re here to study hard to prepare yourself for the real world. But that’s only half of the story; you’re also here to build life-long friendships and make memories. Some of the best memories you’ll make will be having a 3 hour long heart-to-heart conversation the night before a final, wandering into Center City during your one hour lunch break, or belting out Bollywood songs until 3 AM with friends. Never prioritize classes over adventures, studying over friends, or commitments over experiences; the fun will always be worth it.
Find your happy place: You’re about to enter such an exciting stage of life. So much will be happening at once that it may sometimes get overwhelming. Find the things that put your mind at ease, bring a smile to your face, and help you forget about Penn for a little bit. Go for a walk to clear your mind, find a new quote for your “Quote of the Day” board, spend the weekend at home, research Center City restaurants, go to the gym, watch an episode of Friends/Parks and Rec/Brooklyn 99/(insert comedy show), you get the idea. Find those happy places and never compromise on them.
Be your own person: One of the realest quotes that I have ever read is “comparison is the thief of joy” by Theodore Roosevelt. Penn is an incredibly competitive place, and it will initially be a culture shock. But trust in your ability and don’t waste time comparing yourself to others, because nothing good will ever come of that. Trust me when I say that you will be happiest when you don’t worry about what others are doing. You do you.
No matter how busy college gets, always make time for family and friends; their love and support will get you through everything. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t be afraid to make more. Smile freely, laugh often, and love unconditionally; there is no such thing as being too happy. Perform random acts of kindness, because god knows sometimes you will need them too. And above all believe in yourself, you are capable of so much more than you know.
Remember, you are lucky to be at Penn, but more importantly, you DESERVE to be here. So make the most of every day, every experience, and every opportunity. Because before you know it, college will be but a memory. Make it the best one possible.