Appreciate the People Around You | Aishwarya N.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
Well, here I am, on the other side of this tradition. I thought I would have things mostly figured out by my senior year, but unsurprisingly so, there is still much for me to learn.
Entering this school as a freshman, I was so excited to soak up as much knowledge as I could from my professors. But looking back now, the group of individuals that I have learned the most from during my four years at this school is comprised of the students with vibrant and colorful stories whose paths have intersected with mine throughout my journey. Our student body is made up of individuals who come from all corners of the world, and every student brings with them a story to tell and a unique perspective to share.
In the next few months, you will be caught up in a whirlwind of new people, and you might finish your first year a little dazed but simultaneously surrounded by a collection of relationships you’ve built throughout the year— be it with roommates, hall mates, team mates from a project (if the group did well of course), your pledge class, or the individuals in your performing arts team.
You might be content with these relationships, but don’t stop meeting people. In the midst of school and stress and basking in your comfort zone, don’t forget that you came here with your eyes wide open, eager to soak in every waking second of your time here.
So, reach out. Ask people what their hobbies are outside of what they’re studying, and you’ll discover the wealth of talent they have. Ask people for their advice. You don’t have to take it, but you might learn to approach a problem a different way. Don’t be dissuaded by connections that don’t work out as well as you might have hoped, and don’t blame yourself.
As you get older, it is increasingly rare to have the opportunity to be in a space like college where you are surrounded by hundreds of people of the same age, but of differing backgrounds, beliefs, races, interests.
The people I have met here have pushed me to be a better person, helped me to understand my values, taught me to stand up for myself, and expanded my view of the world, allowing me to approach new experiences and new people with an open mind, empathy, and compassion.
Your time here will pass as if on fast forward, so don’t let yourself settle into a routine. Ask that friend of a friend you thought was funny to lunch, go to speaker events that have nothing to do with your field of study and talk to the people there, grab coffee with the person in class who told a cool story.
My hope for you is that you appreciate the people around you while you’re here because they will teach you so much and these next few years are going to go by faster than you think.
Heart, Ache | Elise R.
Dear 2015 Elise,
As I sit here thinking about you, my heart aches a little bit. Kind of in the way when a friend is hurting and you can’t make it go away—all you can do is sit there, hoping that your quiet presence eases even a bit of their pain. Also kind of like the moment in a horror movie when you know the monster is about to pop out, and you’re yelling in vain at the screen for the protagonist to watch out.
My heart aches for your overflowing excitement as you piled your life into the back of a dark blue Prius. You were so impatient to escape into this new, bigger life that you moved yourself in completely alone—mini fridge and all—before Mom got back from parking the car. I ache for that fierce hope and determination.
I want to share some rambling nuggets of wisdom with you, even though I know that you can’t understand them right now. It sucks, but you have to go through all of the things that have made you into me. Even if I could mail this letter to you on August 20, 2015, you wouldn’t be able to really hear what I’m saying before you live it.
These next few years are going to be so f*cking hard (I swear more than you do, and our mom isn’t thrilled about it). I honestly don’t know how else to say it, how to cloak it in softer words. Really F*cking Hard. These years will challenge you to your core, and it isn’t until you’ve lost yourself, found yourself, and lost yourself all over again that you’ll be able to find your way back.
But you will be ok. Stick it out, and I promise you that you’ll be ok. Not all the time and not completely. I still have lots of work to do. In some ways, I’m more sad and anxious and lonely than you are. But you need to make space for these negative emotions, even when it’s really hard. They’re necessary in order to experience those pure and perfect moments where your heart breaks wide open, unable to contain the sheer magnitude of your joy.
You have to like you. You know how you feel anxious in every single social situation these days? It’s because you don’t even recognize, let alone like, the person you’re trying to be. I’m not going to tell you to “be yourself,” because I know you’re still figuring that out—I am, too. Good or bad, nothing is static, least of all your mood and your identity. You will cycle back and forth between anxiety and depression (note: if you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time playing iPhone games, you’re probably depressed). And you’ll have really good days, too, days where the light outside matches the lightness in your body.
A lot of people here are different from back home, and the sooner you put your finger on it, the happier you’ll be. Find the ones who are down to earth, the ones who look at you with deep understanding in their eyes. They’ll keep you grounded and in touch with yourself. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from people who don’t feel quite right.
Through a lot of lonely days and nights, you’ll learn how to keep yourself company. You'll cook yourself meals over podcasts and wine, you'll venture North and South, East and West. You’ll slouch down in bed solving crossword puzzles and watching Parks and Rec. Pay attention to when this alone time is recharging and when it enters the territory of isolation.
You will fall in love with Philadelphia—so much so that you’ll slowly make your way from Biochemistry to Urban Studies. URBS will teach you a lot about the world and your place in it, about oppression and privilege, justice and equity. (It also will teach you that capitalism sucks.) This is so important, because it will help contextualize your day-to-day stresses and deconstruct the isolation of Penn. It will teach you how very lucky you are to be here, and how little of your being here has to do with your particular merit. It will teach you to be critical, but to stay grateful. This is all great, but don’t let your knowledge of your privilege invalidate your pain. You’re going to dig up absolutely devastating experiences from your past, and it’s going to hurt. Your pain is valid. Feel it, sit with it, let it out in the open. This is the only way to heal.
One day freshman spring, you’ll be sitting at work entering data and listening to a podcast about women’s relationships to their bodies. This podcast is really important. Listen. At this moment, you’ll realize that no amount of shrinking your body will ever lead you to love it. You’ll call CAPS that day, and six months later, will take a leave of absence to deal with your eating disorder. This is the best decision you will ever make. Period. It won’t solve everything—I’m still messy and complicated and emotional and struggle to feel comfortable in my body—but it will allow you to be freer than you ever knew was possible. And you deserve this. You deserve this. You deserve to be free, not because you’re special, but simply because you are. Because I am.
Working through your eating disorder will open up deeper, more challenging work lying underneath, work rooted in trauma and pain. Don’t be afraid to dive into that work headfirst, even though you’re a busy student. I know that it feels like you don’t have the time or mental space, but there will never be an easy time to do hard things. Once you know that there are things you need to do to free yourself, there is no better time than the present. Even when it really f*cking sucks.
Take an art class ASAP. Don’t be like me and wait until senior spring. You’ll come to learn how centering creativity and self expression are to you, and this gives you a designated space to do this important work that you often put off.
Get a bike. I mean, I know you will, but you should’ve done it sooner. It’ll give you the freedom to explore every corner of this special city.
Please, please ask for help, both personal and professional. Penn has lots of resources at your disposal, but you have to advocate for yourself. I know you think you’re tough—and you are! But you can’t shoulder everything you’re going through alone. You are so good at supporting the people in your life, and you can ask for support in return. When you can’t get what you need from friends and family, turn to professionals. There is always someone to lean on.
Stay kind. This is one of my favorite things about you—about myself. Don’t underestimate the power you have to impact someone, simply by being kind. Don’t get sucked into the blasé “cooler than you” ethos. You are kind, and this is wonderful! Wave or smile at everyone you recognize walking around campus, even if you just had one class with them two semesters ago. It will make this place seem a little friendlier. (Note: when you’re having a bad day and don’t want to do this, just avoid Locust and choose Walnut or Spruce instead.) Ask “How are you?” and mean it, and say something more complex than “Good” when others ask you.
I wish I could take you under my wing and shelter you from what’s to come. But I can’t, and I think that’s for the better. Because you wouldn’t have become me without everything in between.
I love you so much, and I’m even beginning to love myself.
With warmth and love,
Be Where Your Feet Are | Gretchen B.
Dear Freshman Gretchen,
I know that this place can feel bad—no, actually, viscerally soul-crushingly awful. You’ll venture through bad grades, countless rejections and lonely nights. You’ll muse over transfer applications and fantasize about graduation. The disillusion you feel is warranted, but I promise you, over time, the good will outweigh the bad. This place is special, and I need you to believe that Penn is good. Being here is good.
You have so many half-baked perceptions of what college is supposed to be and what you’re supposed to learn. In truth, you have an entire blank canvas ahead of you, and you can either drag your paintbrush across the canvas to create a trite scene, or you can paint a colorful mosaic of different experiences and stories. I know now that you will choose the latter, but it will take immense effort. You will hear so many voices telling you what to do, yet the quietest voice will always seems to be your own. But you have to listen to it, and you will learn to do just that.
In the next four years, you will callous and openly bleed at the same time. Both of those things hurt, but they need to happen. You will watch your dad go through cancer diagnosis and unemployment. You’ll stay on campus for spring break because you have $5.27 in your bank account. You’ll go to a concert alone because no one wanted to go with you. But you will also watch your dad go through recovery and find a job. You’ll live in five different cities and traverse the world, spreading pieces of yourself in each destination. You’ll discover and chase an independence so enticing that it will almost lose its novelty.
You’ll meet your best friends in the simplest moments, from playing the Mamas & the Papas aloud in the Hill study lounge, to saying yes to being set up for a date night. The people you meet here are going to teach you what friendship really means, though I know you don’t believe that right now. You will meet people who help you move out of your dorm when your parents couldn’t, people who visit you every single day in the hospital for a week and a half, those who sit with you and help you frantically edit your paper thirty minutes before it’s due, those who challenge you and encourage you to think about things in a different, healthier way, those who listen to you lament over the same boy a hundred times, and those who somehow make you laugh until you cry. And I know that you are looking around right now, aching for these relationships and these people, but they already are around you. You just can’t see them yet because you aren’t being present.
I urge you: slow down, look around, notice the people in your life, and listen to them. You will create moments of spontaneity and dance where your feet are planted, which often happens to be in the kitchen at 3 am to ABBA’s Waterloo. You’ll finally start to spend your time doing things that make you look up at the sky and wonder how you got so lucky. You’ll try different experiences on like clothes, see how they fit, and throw them away if you hate them, and you will even stand by your conviction.
Still, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to listen. Listen and internalize what people say to you. Allow their words to sit with you. Think about them. Be wrong. Realize that they can be wrong. Change your mind. Learn. And listen again.
Listening is only half of vulnerability, but arguably the easier half. The more challenging part is dropping your fears of being seen to be able to connect with others. This will get easier the more you do it, because you will soon learn that every human is simply that: human. You are going to meet every kind of person, from UN leaders, to orphaned youth, to hedge fund owners, to refugees and Google executives, and you will recognize the sheer humanity in all of their eyes, all laden with the same insecurities, longingness for community and desire to be valued.
And this will teach you that beauty doesn’t lie in the perceived power of a coveted figurehead leadership position. It never did. It comes from authentic moments of connection, of sharing, of allowing yourself to move past internal barriers, of shifting perspective from resentment to gratefulness, and of allowing yourself to see the world differently than how it projects itself.
Now I look back years later, and I only want to look you in the eye and tell you that you are good, you are strong, you are resilient, you are here, you simply ARE.
I desperately want to tell you to stop shrinking from your existence, to stop shrinking from what scares you, to stop letting fear of the unknown prevent you from truly living. I want you to take up space and claim it. I want you to leave when you know the situation feels wrong or devoid of meaning. I want you to let go and spend less time dreaming and wondering about someone who could never be what you needed them to be. I want you to be present and mindful, engaged and active, reveling in the moments and people who make this place special. Everything else will fall into place.
But most saliently, I need you to know that you don’t have to do “well” in school, go out every weekend, have the perfect body, travel thousands of miles to survey the world, or label yourself by your interests and sculpt a curated identity to find that you are loved here, now, always. You don’t have to do any of these things to be capable of loving, either.
You are gracefully and beautifully bound by your thoughts and feelings, your ideas and musings, your conversations and friendships. The moment you let these truths seep into your being, you will find community, happiness, and contentment.
So thank you for staying. Thank you for persevering through the loneliness and disillusionment you feel right now. Thank you for staying humble, for seeking beauty and for sticking to your morals even when it seemed so easy to just let it all go. Your feet brought me here.
Be Yourself | Carter G.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
First of all, congratulations on earning your space here at the University of Pennsylvania. All of you worked so hard to get here. Although you will hear it many times this year, please take occasional moments to congratulate yourself. Regardless of your path here, you achieved a major accomplishment (even if we are all just Harvard rejects). There will be many times over the coming years where you may question your abilities and motives, but please hold onto the fact that people believe in you and you would not have gotten in if you did not have the potential to thrive here and change the world.
That being said, I am a rising senior here. Now that I am an old man, my inner 80 year old is coming out and I feel the need to give unsolicited advice. Please feel free to take my advice with a grain of salt. I will take the opportunity to give a quick content warning and say that I am going to speak really candidly about my experiences here at Penn. I love this school and all the friends I have here, but I would have done some things differently. Freshman year in particular was a really dark time in my life, and for me that was mostly because I was being really dumb.
My first day at Penn is what I would call average. I met with an employer at the Netter Center for work study, met people in my hall and made sure to say hello. I said goodbye to my mom, and then spent two hours late that night calling her and giving her an update. It was a really wholesome experience, but I was a nervous wreck the whole time. The whole day I was trying to meet new people by going to all the NSO events, saying hi to everyone, and basically being a 19 year old kindergartner.
Even in high school I was never the best at making friends. I have a twin sister and usually joke that she would make all the friends while I would just steal hers. That was something that always made me really nervous, but coming to Penn I was excited to meet people like me and who were really nerdy.
Let’s just say that it was not that easy. I made a couple of friends my freshman year, but I never had a group that I felt really confident in. In general, my self esteem was already a little low, but freshman year I felt like a fruit cup. ( Wizards of Waverly Place reference for all of you there, basically people only want to hang out with you if there is no better option). As a homebody living in a single in the quad, much of my time was spent doing readings for class and taking care of all the logistics for move in (not to mention naps). After two weeks in it seemed that everyone had a group except for me.
This is where things got kind of self-destructive. A lot of us probably have had the feeling in high school that eating alone made you feel like a loser. Well that feeling was so strong for me that I did not want to eat at Penn. Instead of the freshman 15 I lost 40 pounds. Honestly, I can’t say what I would have done freshman fall if it was not for the bright-spots I had working at the Netter Center and genuinely enjoying my classes. Going to college was the easy part, the isolation of not having a support network hit me so hard that it dragged everything down.
Winter break came and went, and I realized that a big part of the problem was me trying to be something I was not. Coming to Penn my attitude is that I could re-shape my entire life, be the cool kid and not be the nerd from High School. Freshman spring was significantly better when I started to be comfortable in my own skin and focused on doing things that made me happy rather than focused on doing the things that I felt that I needed to do in order to get ahead. I quit trying to get into competitive clubs, left groups that made me miserable because they were cliquey and honestly not my style, and really began to focus on the parts of Upenn that made me happy.
While that was really dark and might not be relatable for a lot of you, my point is that it is important to focus on yourself while you are here at Penn. This school is big enough that no matter what your interests are, there is a group for you. Do you like Anime? There is a club on campus (in Harrison college house). Do you like government and politics, then try GPA. Sports, even tiny ones like curling? Well last year I was walking by and watching a group of 20 people watch a curling match.
My point is that the second you land here at Penn you are going to feel that you need a group. That you need the Christina Yang to your Meredith Grey. A lot of people find that person during NSO, and good for them. However, really think about what it is that you like and are interested in. For me that is public service, and I have never been happier in my life since really investing my time into work at the Netter Center and into my fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. The best friends you will find here are not the random people in the class of 2023 who you happen to live next to or meet at a party, they are going to be the people you meet doing what you love. And it is never too late to make that switch. I did it at the end of freshman year, and I know seniors who feel much the same way.
This school is yours for the taking , you all deserve to be here NOT because you are all the same and meant to thrive in the same way. You are here because who you are makes Penn a better place simply because of who you are. Please be yourself and focus on making your life better while you are here. If there is toxicity in your life, cut it out because you don’t need it.
Again, congratulations on being here. You all deserve it and deserve the best in life. I am looking so forward to meeting some of you.
Break Up with Him Already | Romie B.
Dear Freshman Self,
You are about to have the most meaningful four years of your life. The greatest ups, downs, and surprise turns you could never imagine, accept them as they come.
My first piece of advice to you is to break up with your high school boyfriend. He is a great person, but he is a safety net. You don’t need the security of him. You will open yourself up to more opportunities sooner and be able to be fully present in the Penn community.
Then don’t worry about love, when it comes to you again, and it will, you will be so ready for it.
Join WLV sooner! This group will be your people on campus and change you permanently for the better. After being type A in high school, they will teach you how to handle the unexpected with grace and patience and how to lead from the back. They will bring you so much laughter and share the adventures that will shape your college experience
Don’t give others opinions too much credit. Just be you. The responsible, goofy, caring, nerdy, try-hard, goody two shoes, MOF. There is nothing wrong with it.
Get ready to experience a lot of moments of self-doubt. Just because everyone else seems to have it figured out, doesn’t mean you should know it all.
It’s okay to admit you don’t have a passion for something anymore, that is not the same thing as quitting. I still don’t know if we make the right choice, but I can tell you that often there is no right answer.
In the darkest of times, it is okay to let others in. Just sharing the anxieties big and small will help to ease the burden. And start seeing a therapist about that anxiety. She is really good at her job! (Seriously, don’t be afraid to start with CAPS, that’s what it’s there for)
See the best in people, and they won’t let you down. The snake reputation made you hesitant to trust, but once you opened yourself up and let people in, your greatest friends found a home.
Read more, make time for it. It restores your soul.
Make sure to take that Bio class you were intrigued by, and other classes outside of Wharton. You’ll meet your best friends in these classes and know a bunch of fun facts that make you seem cultured.
Have faith that it all works out. Because I promise you. It really does.
I have so much love for all of the resilience, courage, and optimism you will carry forward with you. I am so proud of the work you put in to get yourself to Penn. Keep working hard but don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
Your older, (hopefully) wiser, and much happier self.
Continue to Ask | Meera M.
Honestly, Meera, at this point in your life, you haven’t experienced enough “no”. Rest assured, Penn will kick your a**, so you will experience ‘no’ – plenty of times. Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect:
No looks like “Are you a freshman?” from the girl in the Cal sweatshirt that you tried to start a conversation with on the first day of STAT 102.
It looks like your (spoiler alert) ex clarifying that regardless of everything that’s changed, he does not, in fact, want to get back together.
It looks like none of the forty venture capitalists you talked to before freshman summer thinking that you’re anywhere near qualified, and telling you this tactfully – or not
It looks like you getting the role, but the role having only twelve lines, six of which are “yes”
It looks like the boy you were “kind of seeing” last semester rescinding his proposal of an actual date
It looks like the kindest club rejection email you’ve ever received
No looks like not hearing back from the buy side firm that you had a seven interview superday with in the middle of finals, because the boy who sits two rows in front of you in FNCE 250 did
No also looks like the ex calling you on your birthday, and hanging out with your family.
It looks like a VC reaching out and asking to see some work you’ve done recently.
It looks like a full house, and you struggling to suppress a smile onstage after seeing your friends in the front row.
It looks like the template you use when you, too, reject freshmen from clubs years later.
It looks like a serious evaluation of your interests and ambitions.
It looks like a valuable understanding of where people stand.
Sometimes, if nothing else, “no” looks like a fun story. Sometimes it will be funny right away, sometimes, it will be funny tomorrow, and sometimes, it will be funny after you graduate.
Sometimes though, “no” won’t ever be funny, not at all. And Meera – you will feel rejected and worthless. Sometimes it’s “no” because you’re a woman, sometimes because you’re a person of color, sometimes because you’re a woman of color. Sometimes it’s because the person you asked had a sh*t day, week, month. Sometimes it’s “no” because you just didn’t work hard enough or know enough. Sometimes it’s because you’re held to unrealistic societal standards, and sometimes, it’s because of money. Sometimes, you learn nothing from it, sometimes it’s not even “self!growth!and!development!”; it’s just f*cking sad and unfair and wrong.
But here’s the thing. Some of the “yes’s ” you’ll get, you didn’t think were even in the realm of possibility.
Yes looks like an employer (who later rejects you) paying for your flight from San Francisco to Durham, so you can visit one of your oldest friends.
It looks like a final exam regrade which bumps you up, even though you (god forbid) wrote in pencil.
It looks like a salary 1.5x what you originally asked for (when you had no idea you could negotiate your salary), and actually being able to take this cool startup job in Menlo Park.
It looks like your friends coming to celebrate your dad’s birthday with you in Harnwell because you needed an excuse to buy a whole - ass cake from FroGro.
It looks like just taking the next Amtrak to your interview because you missed the first one (paying nothing extra).
It looks like having a souvenir from the Canary Islands even though you didn’t step inside a single store, because a German hippie said that you could keep his peace sign lighter.
It looks like spending your last night at Penn with some of your best friends (even if you’re crashing a dance group’s formal, wearing jeggings).
Yes looks like a boy saying that he would love to see you again, and a whirlwind romance.
These “yes’s” are neither typical nor common, but they are more common than you’d initially expect.
Not all “no’s” turn out okay.
Of course it is easier to ask when you’re confident that you’ll hear “yes”, but also of course a “yes” will be more meaningful when punctuated by several “no’s” on either side.
So, instead of asking whether to ask, ask whether you’ll regret not asking, whether you’ll worry more about the “no’s” or wonder more about the “yes’s”.
And when you get the heart – wrenching, humiliating, senseless “no’s” – because trust me, you will – don’t build the habit of holding your questions in when the words are just there, on the tip of your tongue. Please, please, continue to ask.
Cracked Compass | Rashel T.
Dear Penn Freshman,
You walk down Locust for the first time and are guided by quotes by Benjamin Franklin. Eventually you reach the center of campus and are standing on the compass. Ironic, is it not, that our campus compass is cracked? From the compass you can choose your path: north, east, south, or west. All paths forward are created equal and all have quotes by Franklin to lead you forward. What will guide your compass?
College at Penn, college anywhere, elicits a range of emotions. You will feel, 100% of the time, like you are on the verge of losing it (whatever “it” is), yet you will have perfect the façade of having your life together. The better you are at this charade, the more successfully you can navigate campus. Slowly you realize that everyone else is doing this too. If you think someone else’s life is perfect, you do not know them well enough.
No one likes an angry woman. They like an angry woman about as much as they like a woman expressing any type of emotion. Well, challenges in life elicit strong emotions. Challenges like disabilities or abusive boyfriends or terrible landlords. As a woman who is learning (but still has a lifetime of learning to go) to keep her emotions in check, know that people don’t really care. Your family cares, the people you have chosen to be like family care, but everyone else, they don’t care or they don’t have the time or compassion to care.
You deserve to be here. Your disability gives you a perspective that no one else has but it will also fundamentally change your experience in college. You will encounter deans, professors, and administrators who will tell you that because you are differently abled, because you cannot see like everyone else, there is no place in higher education for you. You are technically one of the big eight tenets of diversity, yet there is no student center or group fighting for your rights or a safe space for you on campus. Identifying as disabled is terrifying. If your disability is invisible—if it is psychological, visual, developmental, or learning—people question whether it’s real and treat you differently. You hear labels thrown around casually by friends who have no idea the impact those words have. Choose your battles. You will not be able to change everyone’s mind. Understand their comments are out of ignorance regarding a large group of people and are not directed at you personally, no matter how much they hurt. Stand tall, keep your head held high and know that even as they tell you that your accommodations are a privilege, just like your place at Penn, they are actually your legal right. Join a newspaper and write an OP-ED on the subject. Speak your truth. Take advantage of the professors who want to help— as most do. Introduce yourself and start a dialogue.
Put a face and name to the standard letter you receive from Student Disability Services (SDS). Utilize the resource that you have in SDS. They are understaffed, underfunded, and do not have the space they need to serve the increased number of students that have been identifying with disabilities in the last few years. But they are trying their best and truly care. The university severely limits what SDS can do on your behalf, but they will advocate for you if they can. So, when you want to scream at them because they are the only administrators that you can access, consider whether they are the ones you should be yelling at.
Maybe you have to take a leave of absence. How do you know it’s time? How do you know that you need a break? Learning is supposed to be fun. You have had a lifelong passion and desire for knowledge. But, lately, that drive is gone. Let’s be honest, it hasn’t been there for a while. You came to Penn after being assaulted determined to prove to everyone, and yourself, that you could survive and that one night didn’t change anything. But, it did. You are a sum of your parts, your experiences. You made it through your first semester fighting and did phenomenally but then you crashed and every semester since has been like a wrestling match where you are pinned down and the referee is about to call the match for the opponent “1…2…” but you escape the choke at the last second. It is no way to live, no way to love. Why torture yourself and let your PTSD, anxiety, and depression flare to the point where it’s a good week when you have showered and made it to class 3 out of 5 days. Failure is not admitting you need help. Sometimes to survive we need to reach for a life raft.
Being differently abled does not define your time at Penn. It will change your experiences from the Penn student sitting to your right and left, but just like it does not define you, it will not define your college experience. You will survive anything that comes your way, and a lot will come your way, because you are only presented with the challenges you are capable of overcoming. When you need a reminder that you are strong enough, look at the quote that you hung that very first day in your dorm room and that will be on your graduation cap when you walk across that stage come May:
Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will.
An Homage to Caring | Danielle G.
Dear Freshman Self,
You missed your connecting flight and it’s a day into NSO, but you made it. You packed two suitcases and both are overweight, but I guess that’s just what happens when you try to squeeze in 18 years of life and far too many pairs of shoes. The next couple of years will be a mixed bag of experiences containing opportunities and challenges as well as euphoric highs and lows you never could have imagined. There is a lot I could share with you, but today we shall focus on the topic of ‘caring’ because, at Penn, where time for others and yourself seems to always be in scarcity, we could all benefit from cultivating a little more mindfulness. Caring is a tightrope you will continue to traverse, trying to find the right balance between too much and too little.
The idea that being ‘cool’ is synonymous with consistently maintaining an air of blasé has been instilled into popular culture; however, contrary to this, your very cool Junior self wants you to know that having interests, being openly supportive of other people and doing the most are, in fact, the primary signifiers of coolness. Washing your makeup off before bed is also unbearably cool, and you should definitely try it out sometime. Removing yourself from authenticity is not cool. Being a Chill Girl™ is highly overrated, depth-diminishing and an ideal you would benefit from eschewing as soon as possible -- life’s fuller when you embrace your lack of chill. Care less about others’ opinions of you but more about everything else meaningful.
You have always cared a lot about school, and that doesn’t change anytime soon. You arrive at Penn with some vague notion that college will be hard, but also with the optimism that you will still be able to succeed as long as you put in the work. Don’t beat yourself up too much when you discover that sometimes the correlation between success and hours spent at the library isn’t as strong as one would hope. Continue caring about learning and gathering new experiences but care a little less about grades so that you actually make time to see your friends before leaving at the end of the semester.
You will be so lucky to make the friends that you have. It’s going to take a while to find people that you click with, but the wait will be worth it. They will be some of the most kind, fun and motivating people you have ever met. You will laugh with them (when you BYO board game to Dim Sum House), dance with them (despite the stickiness of the floor and the fact literally no one else is dancing), cry with them (as you eat Chinese takeout from a rundown food truck) and share so many more memories with them. You will care about them so much, so make sure that you let them know – through words but more importantly through actions.
Don’t worry too much about boys, or really, the lack of. Trust me, you will have so many opportunities to dwell on f*ckboy induced anxieties later! I know you don’t really care about dating because you want the fullest opportunity to figure out your goals and to build your best self, but do learn how to be more emotionally vulnerable. Allow yourself to feel things, even if you claim it’s just the chemical effects of oxytocin – and when you do worry about boys, care more about the ones that fly over the Pacific to see you and less about the ones that take a week to text back.
Most importantly, care for yourself -- eat well, sleep well and live well. Bagels before bed is a pastime that should be enjoyed less frequently and perhaps retired. There will be instances where things get really tough and know that it’s okay not to feel okay. Understand that it is fine to feel completely at a loss at times and to create distance between yourself and what causes you anxiety. You can’t care for other people if you don’t take the steps needed to care for yourself.
With all of that being said, go forth freshman self. The next few years will be some of the most formative in your life so care more about the people and things that make you a better person. Spoiler alert: you end up doing a pretty good job.
Pressure and Release | Sanjana R.
Pressure. Pressure like you’ve never faced before. Boiling up in you, threatening to erupt at any second. Pressure to be calm, to be collected, to never show any sign of stress. Pressure to look and feel pretty, to be healthy, to be happy. Pressure to get good grades, to get a job, to prove that it was worth your parents’ blood, sweat, and tears for you to be here. Pressure to not be hurt by the betrayal of the boy who lived upstairs. Pressure to always be smiling, to look like you’re having the time of your life, to be in the know always.
I didn’t know how my story would play out in college. I didn’t know that I would meet the most dynamic, interesting, kind people here. I didn’t know that cheese and hot Cheetos would become my main form of nutrition in college. I didn’t know that people I met the first day of freshmen year would be the same people I am ending my 4 years with. I didn’t know that I would struggle for almost 4 years with what I wanted to do with my life (disclaimer I still don’t know!). I didn’t know that I would be so lucky to have people who love me on this campus.
Release. I feel release in knowing I am leaving with unforgettable memories and people in my life. Release in knowing that I really did try here. Release in being lucky enough to know what love looks and feels like and knowing what heartbreak is. Release in experiencing things I would have never felt at any other university. Release in knowing that looking back I have absolutely no regrets.
Ground Yourself In The Real World | Cathy Z.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
First of all, congratulations! Take a moment to appreciate the steps you’ve taken and the decisions you’ve made to get here, because it’s a pretty special thing.
I generally don’t like giving out advice to strangers because I never know if it’s relevant to them, but this is the one piece of advice I genuinely believe applies to all Penn kids: get off campus more. Not just Crown Fried Chicken kind of off campus (although going there is my next best piece of advice), but into Center City, out to H-Mart, by the river, in West Philly. If you don’t already have a SEPTA Key, head over to the 34th or 40th Street subway station and get one; it’ll be the best investment you make over the next four years.
Inevitably there’s going to be parts of Penn that stress you out, whether it’s the hypercompetitive vibe, the exclusivity of all the most visible social scenes, or how stiflingly rich and white the entire university is. Chances are, a good portion of those problems won’t exist in spaces off campus, where people also aren’t going to expect you to have your “Penn Face” on. More importantly, stepping away from campus will remind you of all the important and interesting things that exist outside of college. Volunteer with an organization you care about, try new foods in Chinatown, and take a walk by the Schuylkill when the weather’s nice.
If you feel like you don’t have the time to do all that because of classes, make it a part of your classes. Academically-Based Community Service (ABCS) courses let you get credit while engaging with the local West Philly community. And if you decide you want to stay involved with the students and communities you meet through your class at the end of the semester, the Netter Center will help you coordinate that.
Penn is a really exciting place to be, and there’s always going to be something exciting going on on campus. Don’t forget to take a breath and ground yourself in the real world every once in a while.
Grateful for it All | Breanne M.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
If there is one feeling I could use to describe how I feel at the conclusion of my four years at Penn, it would be gratitude. Gratitude for the relationships, for the education, for the programs and resources, and for the unexpected challenges and accomplishments that made me love myself and this school so much. There are so many experiences that I did not appreciate when I first encountered them, and now I am spending every waking moment trying to take all that Penn has to offer in for the last time. I hope that after reading or listening to some of my most significant moments of my life at Penn, you too will find so much more value in each of the elements that comprise your time here.
As grateful as I am for the wide range of opportunities to explore my newfound freedom, coming to Penn was overwhelming and still is. This is a totally normal way to feel. You may be overwhelmed by the diverse spectrum of people and things to do. You may feel like you have to say “yes” to everyone and everything, but I can tell you that if there is any time in your life to focus on doing what YOU want to do, it is now. This is not high school where you may have been scrambling to add all sorts of activities to your resume to appear superior on college applications. This is college – you have already been accepted. Participating in activities is important, but don’t feel like you have to do it all. Even if you are still looking to apply to further education after Penn, the amount of things you do is not the end all, be all. Take advantage of your newfound freedom to do what you love and fully dedicate yourself to what you are passionate about. Although students here may appear to prove otherwise, you can’t do it all. It’s just not possible for a human to dedicate themselves fully and completely to everything they are involved in: academics, friends, extracurriculars, athletics, and a personal favorite: sleep. Invest your effort into balancing the aspects of your life that are most important to you.
Maintaining balance in life is not complete without also stepping out of your comfort zone. I am thankful for the risks that I have taken over the past four years, especially my decision to run in a student government election during the second week of my first semester. After participating in student government before college, I came to Penn completely set on not continuing. I had heard a few things about elections happening at the start of the semester but knew that it wasn’t for me. When I saw a post in our Nursing Class Facebook group about a student who was campaigning for a Class Board Nursing Chair position, I was intrigued. I read the description of the position and thought, “Wow, that sounds like something I’d actually love to do.” However, I realized that it was too late to participate. Participants were given 2 weeks to receive a required amount of signatures in order to run for their desired position and signatures were due that day. I felt torn because I really wanted to run in the election – not to win, but just to see what the experience would be like. I realized I only needed the signatures of 7 students in our nursing class, and fortunately, I would be seeing my class that afternoon in our biology lecture a few hours later. I darted off to print my petition papers and got as many signatures as I possibly could during class. A blur of an afternoon later, and I was a candidate running in an election! I was soon educated on campaigning and found myself staying up late designing posters, creating flyers, writing statements, and recruiting a team of friends to help me. I would say I was successful in this experience, not because I won this election and I ran unopposed for the next few years, but because of my attitude towards it. I went into the competition with the mindset that I would be happy even if I lost because of my ability to put myself “out there” so early on in college and the variety of people I met during this process. Winning this election provided me with the opportunity to lead my class in event planning, alumni networking, decision-making, and most importantly (and literally), graduating, as I carry a flag to lead the procession of the class at Commencement. Had I not taken the chance to run for that position, my college experience would have been immensely different.
I am also appreciative of the experiences that exposed me to the reality of lose-lose situations. I didn’t really think these existed until college. My most notable was withdrawing from my microeconomics course during my first semester of Freshman year. While taking this class, and investing what I thought was my best effort, I failed my first midterm terribly. I immediately addressed my concerns with my professor and teaching assistant and found a very expensive tutor. I improved my study habits and was getting help from friends as well as attending office hours. I thought I’d be totally set for the second midterm. However, I felt completely frozen when I began working through the exam. A few tricky multiple choice questions led to free responses that I could not answer. It was as if my mind went blank. I knew what I studied, but in no way could I apply it to the exam in front of me. It was so hard not to break down in the middle of the exam and cry. All those hours of help, all those hundreds of dollars spent in tutoring, and it was a waste. That realization made it even harder for me to sit through the rest of the exam and try. Although I was devastated because I knew I performed poorly, I still had some proactive fire left within me. I immediately contacted my professor and teaching assistant about what to do because I was so concerned about my exam grade. They were able to tell me the grade immediately and it was lower than I could have ever imagined. Option A was to remain in the class, try to perform better on the final exam, and end up with a C at best. Option B was to withdraw from the class, so that all that would show up on my transcript was a W and I would have to eventually take an extra course to fulfil my academic credit requirements. Well option A was a lose, but so was option B. regardless of which I chose, I knew I’d be sad either way. Tears and a deliberation later, I decided to withdraw from the class at the recommendation of my professor. I felt so defeated – certainly one of my lowest points in college. Despite my sadness, I was able to accept the experience and move on because I feel that I made the best choice. It was certainly not a winning choice. I am also grateful for the remarkable support I received from my close friends during this time.
These stories are just a few of the times over the past few years that I look back on and realize how significant they were to my character. I highly respect the determined, compassionate, and persevering person that I have evolved into. Although I have always loved being a student here, I was not always this appreciative of my interactions and encounters with the successes and challenges of college life. During the fall semester of my junior year, I decided to begin a list of positive Penn memories to help myself think a bit more optimistically while surviving an intense course workload. My goal is to list 2,019 of these memories by the time I graduate and I am thrilled to say that I am pretty far along. Making note of the joys of my college experience, both small and large, inspired me to reflect on my life and find value in just about everything. It also reminds me how strong of an attachment I feel to Penn. At this point, I am wishing that I could relive the vivid memories that I am so fond of. However, all I can do now is appreciate them and seize every opportunity to create more in my remaining days here.
I encourage you to do whatever helps you appreciate your experiences at Penn so that you too, can look back on your time here with nostalgia and gratitude. College really is a whirlwind, so don’t forget to take a look around once in a while along the way. Thank you for reading and listening to my story.
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing Class of 2019
Dancing on Locust Walk at 3 AM | Nikki L.
Dear Freshman Year Nikki,
Well…this is it. You’re finally on your own and you feel so utterly terrified…what now? The first thing you do after moving into Hill is blast ‘Starships’ by Nicki Minaj and sing it at the top of your lungs in your room (p.s. the walls are super thin but thankfully your atrocious voice doesn’t scare off your future best friend/neighbor). But seriously-how are you going to make it through these next four years?!
Be kind to yourself
Penn is a culminating point for you facing off with your insecurities: don’t let them beat you down. Self-confidence is hard for you to come by, and it’s worth learning to differentiate between having a self-deprecating sense of humor and being unkind and disrespectful to yourself. Embrace yourself and recognize how far you have come on your own two feet. Eventually, you’ll find yourself dancing (badly) down Locust Walk at 3AM when no-one is around laughing and singing to yourself…and you’ll love it because of how good it is to be yourself.
When you’re panicking: don’t isolate yourself. Phone a friend who has time to listen to you word vomit up all your problems and help you chase away your doubts and fears – you’ll feel much better after. And know that you don’t have to live your life at Penn feeling anxious and stressed 24/7 – schedule work-outs (buy a class pass!) and social events to ensure you are taking care of yourself every week.
Know your priorities
There are so many opportunities to take advantage of, people to get to know, and things to do…and it is incredibly overwhelming. Spend your time at Penn discovering the kind of lifestyle that makes you happy. For instance, you learn that you cannot stand eating food and working at the same time, and you learn to make mealtimes social times to catch up with friends. Know what makes you feel happy and good about yourself…and build your life around that.
‘Fitting In’ to Make Friends
You call home a few weeks into school to ‘accuse’ your parents of raising you to be such an obnoxious, sarcastic, and outspoken New Yorker that you’ll never fit in here. You’re also freaked out that you’re not ‘Asian enough’ to be here. The endless jokes about how bad your Mandarin is and how non-Chinese you are makes you so self-conscious and alienated from your own identity. You feel like a freak. How on earth are you going to make friends?!
You’re going to find that ‘fitting in’ has nothing to do with making friends. There is no average Penn student, and if there was…you would never be her. Be your blunt, slightly awkward, very silly self and see who decides to stick around and continue to make time for you in their lives. You’ll find the people you can talk sh*t with and still have deep life conversations with I promise. Explore your identity at your own pace and don’t worry if you’re not what others expected you to be. Hang out in the Hill lounges and embrace your soon to be Hill family, and swallow your fears and invite people to eat meals with you. Being a proactive social person will take you far at Penn.
Also, don’t blow people off because you are ‘never going to see them again’ or because you’ve made some snap judgements of them…you’re just wrong. You see ALL of them again, and they are all now people whose friendships you cherish. Their friendships will carry you through thick and thin whether that’s staying up late to teach you math the night before your midterms or taking time from their studies to help you execute all your ambitious plans.
Over the next four years you’re going to learn a lot about love. The main lesson being that you don’t really know what love is, and that it’s okay to not have the complete answer four years later. For starters, love is not what you thought it was in high school. To this end, I promise that the world does NOT end when you breakup with your high school boyfriend (twice!) even when you’re absolutely convinced otherwise. Heartbreak and betrayal are tough parts of life, but they’ll open so many doors to better days in the future. Allow emotions to run their course, don’t worry about everything you’re ‘missing’ while you’re taking care of yourself, and lean or call on friends as often as needed.
You WILL find that love is having friends who will both go buy you medicine when you have a high fever and get you so drunk on other nights but still be there to tuck you into bed those same nights. Love is finally taking control of your sleep schedule and prioritizing sleep over endless studying because you now have some level of self confidence in your abilities. Seek out ‘true love’ by looking within yourself and embracing the loving relationships you created for yourself and with yourself. Oh, and, don’t overthink those ‘kinda sorta’ dates or those actual dates – it gets you absolutely nowhere except maybe driving your friends insane.
Kindness is a choice, and it is never the wrong choice. You will ALWAYS be busy, so it is never truly a reason to not be kind. There will be so many people that have your back in your times of need, and you will deepen every relationship you forge at Penn by just being thoughtful and compassionate of the existences of those around you.
Leave your comfort zone
College is about trying new things right? You have to force your risk-averse self to go out into the world and do things. Some of the best adventures you embark on at Penn happen OUTSIDE your planner and Google Calendar. You’ll fall in love with your Alternate Spring Break experience after making a snap decision to apply the day applications are due. And, after realizing you’ve never physically challenged yourself, you’ll end up running not one, but two half marathons and taking weekly body combat classes. Seek out adventure and go abroad rather than trying to follow the stream of juniors OCRing…and know that the world isn’t ending because you’re going against the stream your own life-plans. It will all work itself out!
Home is home
Let’s face it, your relationship with your Mom was not in the best of places when you left for college. But don’t let that stop you from trying to mend bridges!! Keep calling and texting home. Realize that your family always has your back, and recognize how much you love going home to them and the dogs. You’ll learn that love is being able to call your parents when you’re in panicked tears about ANY problem in your life (FYI: go to Dad to laugh away the sadness and go to Mom for tough love troubleshooting advice).
Don’t compare your ambitions
For you, Penn Face will always be wondering and worrying about whether you’re ‘doing enough’. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities at Penn enough to make the tuition worth it? Everyone you meet impresses you in one way or another…and you want to make sure you’re chasing your dreams right alongside them.
Instead of getting caught up in that, just know that when moments present themselves…you will speak up. Trust yourself to pursue your passions, speak your truths, and define the path to your dreams. Most importantly, when you fail or stumble trust yourself to know that you will always get back up. You don’t need anyone else’s affirmations in the end of the day as much as you need your own.
Whatever you’re doing make sure you’re engaged in it. If you’re with people, be it grabbing a meal or just hanging out in your living room, put your phone away. When you’re in class, try your hardest to stay off your laptop. Regardless of what you say to yourself, you WILL not be able to resist doing other work or texting in class. You’re here to try your hardest, and the first step to that is allowing yourself to live in that moment.
Evaluate life decisions based on how they will impact your ability to be present. Consider not double majoring and minoring so that you don’t spend every class credit fulfilling different requirements instead of taking a deep dive into one single major. Consider how jobs will impact your ability to enjoy your senior year. Decide what kind of present you want to have for yourself.
Ultimately, your goal is to embrace your time at Penn. There will be so many mistakes and triumphs big and small, and I can promise you that you’ll find all that you were hoping for and more. I’m so proud of you for all we’ve accomplished and failed to do. You are more you than you have ever been in previous moments, and that is a beautiful thing.! You are more than you give yourself credit for and you got this!
Class of 2019
Finding That Balance | Lamis E.
Dear Penn Freshman,
Balance. A word ingrained in me by my 11th Grade AP US history teacher. It was something I have been trying to accomplish ever since then and I think I finally figured out the formula.
Freshman year was tough, there is no way around it. It was my first time away from home for an extended time and there was an academic rigor unlike I had ever experienced before. I started to catch a glimpse of what I later learned to be Penn Face. As an engineer, four out of my five credits were STEM classes and I really struggled with physics. Coming into Penn, I did not expect to be the smartest person in the class, nor did I think I would be getting straight A’s. I am grateful for my realistic expectations that helped me get through that first semester, but that by no means meant I cruised by.
Freshman year was filled with the excitement of meeting new people and finding some of my closest friends juxtaposed with anxiety and the inability to sleep at times. At one point I even had to go to the hospital with a 103˚ fever that resulted in me failing a physics exam. Stuff happens and that’s okay. All I can say is I am grateful for the understanding professors and a great support system.
Lesson Number 1: Find your allies and support system that can help you in those times where you feel like you’re just spiraling.
Freshman year of college was the first time I stepped into a psychiatrist’s office. My inability to sleep had gone too far and I needed help. The sleeping pills I was provided saved me, and thankfully after a few weeks I got back into my normal sleeping patterns. Thankfully, I only needed them for a few weeks and am happy to say I have never used them since.
Lesson Number 2: Ask for help.
I can confidently say that life got better after freshman year. I found my footing on campus, had a solid group of friends, and knew my limits. However, by sophomore fall I was taking 6 credits and I was reaching my all-time highs stress level (emphasis on reaching; I didn’t know what I was in for). By sophomore spring I knew something had to change. I could not be doing school work all the time without any breaks. And this is where I (read: my mom) came up with what my friends like to call my sabbath. No matter what I have due the following week, I am not allowed to do work on Fridays (other than attending class, of course). This would be the bare minimum of a break that I’d provide myself. I needed to look forward to the end of the week and enjoy my time with my friends. This is by far one of the best things I ever implemented in my college career. It was especially helpful with my intense engineering workload my junior year. Once I implemented this “sabbath,” I felt like I finally accomplished the balance I was trying to find for years.
Lesson Number 3: Give yourself a day off to look forward to.
In the moment, everything seems so important. However, in reality, you are not going to remember that exam from freshman spring years into the future. While you are at Penn to get an education, you cannot forget to live your life as well. When I look back at my four years, the memories that stand out are the ones with my friends and the cool things I was able to take part in. I know hindsight is 20/20, but there are a lot of times I wish I knew how little the things that stressed me out so much years ago mean to me now.
By junior year I learned a novel concept: stress is a choice. Now, this is a very hard concept to grasp but is also so vital. I know my work is going to get done as long as I organize my time. As a result, there is no reason to stress. A lot of times I would stress for the sake of being stressed or because people around me were stressed. That is not a healthy environment to be around and I learned that pretty quickly. Once I fixed my environment and embraced the fact that stress is a choice, my perspective towards academics changed drastically and I got better results.
Lesson Number 4: Stress is a choice.
By my senior year I feel like I was finally able to implement all the lessons I had gathered over the previous three years. As a result, my senior year has been my best year yet. I cultivated relationships I will cherish for years to come and minimized my stress. A big factor in this stress reduction was definitely surrounding myself with the right people and improving my time management. I am forever grateful for the lessons I learned and the balance I achieved.
Lesson Number 5: Find your balance.
My advice to you is implement these five lessons to optimize the rest of your Penn career and achieve your optimal balance.
All the best,
A Graduating Senior
Get Out of Your Head and Focus on Others | Jackie B.
Dear Freshman Me,
I’ve been having trouble writing this letter because I’m anxious about the future and a lot sadder about the prospect of leaving Penn than you probably think you will be three and half years from now. I don’t want to focus on what I regret about my Penn experience or wish I could do over. So even though I’m looking back at the journal entries you’ll write and am cringing at some of the things that you’re going to needlessly worry about or blow out of proportion, I know that all of it was just part of the journey.
The next few semesters will be emotionally tumultuous. There will be days when you sail down Locust feeling on top of the world for no reason other than the fact that you’re alive, you’re here, you’re learning and doing what you love.
But you’ll be surrounded by a lot of negativity while at Penn, and it will affect you. You’ve never been in an environment where people talk so much about mental health, even in positive contexts. It will seem like people are talking about it all the time. And it will seem like people are complaining about Penn all the time, and that’s because they are. So when you hit your all-time lows, mostly during breaks when you’re not even at Penn, you’ll wonder whether you’re being influenced by all of that talk. You’ll often feel torn between knowing that it’s important to keep the dialogue on these issues open, but that these discussions about the “toxicity of Penn culture” are what perpetuate the negative atmosphere. You’ll try to support friends who are going through rough patches, and it will be draining and you will not feel like you’re doing an adequate job. One of the hardest things about Penn will be knowing how to surround yourself with people who make you feel good.
Penn will challenge your self-confidence, which I know you have already been struggling to work on. You’ll feel like you’re the worst in a lot of things you do, like when you join jazz band or when you try to sound half as smart as all the super articulate people in your upper-level history seminars. And a lot of embarrassing moments will come from that and they’ll seem like the end of the world, but believe me, by this point nobody remembers the specifics, not even me. You’ll eventually learn to appreciate being surrounded by so many talented and intelligent people, because that’s one of the most amazing parts of getting to be at Penn and an environment you’re not going to have replicated anytime soon. The sooner you realize that, the better.
You’ll spend a lot of time in your head. You won’t put yourself out there because you’re too self-conscious. You will beat yourself up about this because it’s an aspect of your personality that annoys you. I don’t have an easy fix for this, but I know that focusing more on others will help. Realize that people aren’t actually scrutinizing you as much as you think by shifting your attention outward.
That’s not to say that being more selfless will come without its own challenges. You are coming into Penn with a newfound, but strong sense of what it means to be a contributing member of a collective. When you give up time and energy for the good of the group, your work will often go unnoticed. You’ll wonder why you made an effort to go out of your way to be nice, when people don’t seem to appreciate you. You’ll sit through a lot of student performing arts groups, some good and some mediocre, because you show up for people and hope they’ll do the same for you. They often won’t, but just appreciate the times that they will.
Just know that you don’t have to be publicly acknowledged to know that you’ve made a difference. You will probably end up impacting people more than you know, and you will stay true to your values. Let that be enough.
You’ll try to do too much on campus and will wonder whether you’re being unfair to yourself and others by stretching yourself too thin. You’ve trained yourself to always make yourself available to help people and never back out of a commitment. Saying no hurts sometimes, but you’ll slowly learn to do that and not feel guilty about it. You’ll take classes that are outside your comfort zone, and Penn culture will cause you to struggle to reconcile your love of learning with the need to maintain a decent GPA. Always choose learning.
It feels weird to give you advice when I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s no getting around that Penn is hard- socially, academically, and emotionally. So what I���ll leave you with is that building your resilience and learning to take it all in stride is the hardest and most important lesson you’ll learn here. You’ll be tested on it every day, but good news – that just means you’ll have so many opportunities to practice and improve.
Just remember to keep things in perspective, and keep being grateful.
-Your Senior Self
Growth, Patience, and Stalling for Time | Kasra K.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re sitting in your dorm room in Sansom West, a day into NSO, wondering whether you made the right decision. Is it too late to go back to U of T? You can still call it quits on all this transfer stuff, go back home, and pretend like it never happened.
You’ll get through the night by heading to your parents’ hotel room in the city. You’ll feel a weight lifted from your shoulders as you eat fruit in their company, remembering that the world is always bigger than the small pocket of it that you inhabit. And once they leave, you’ll find other ways to make the time pass, stumbling between classes, club interviews, and awkward exchanges at parties.
There are a few things I want you to keep in mind as you begin this experience. There’s only so much that words on a page can do to help, but I hope that remembering even a small piece of these musings will help you once or twice in the next few years.
i. You are not a monotonically increasing function
You’re heading into Penn with the conviction that you always get better over time. You expect that every year you will grow—that you will finish the year objectively happier, stronger, and more confident than you were at the start. With the passing of time, you expect to have more friends, more lessons learned, and a better ability to handle your emotions.
As you venture further into adulthood, you’ll realize that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Yes, you’ll learn and grow, but you’ll also experience setbacks that really begin to wear you down. You won’t always feel wiser and more mature than you did before. You’ll sometimes look back at yourself a year or two in the past, wondering where your self-esteem and happiness went. You’ll feel increasingly weak in the face of even small rejections and failures.
Rather than expecting to always be better, think of yourself more as a continual process of regeneration. You will find new sources of strength, and unfamiliar points of weakness you hadn’t noticed before. You’ll be broken down time and again, and if you don’t put the effort into rebuilding yourself, it won’t happen on its own. Go exercise, meditate, find small things to be grateful for, and re-establish your belief in yourself. And know that you’ll have to start the process all over again tomorrow.
ii. Be less afraid and more patient
As you start your journey here, you’re burdened by fears of how things will turn out. Will you find your group of friends? Will you be able to manage the pressure without breaking down? Will you regret coming here?
Not to spoil the surprise, but some of your fears will come to fruition. You’ll feel like no one wants to be your friend during Fling and St. Patty’s and any other occasion in which it seems like everyone else is having more fun than you. You’ll spend months of your last year waking up and going to bed consumed by regret over a decision you made. Time and again, you’ll experience anxiety and helplessness that you’re convinced you can no longer endure.
But endure you will. And I want you to know that it’s not just your best friends and family that believe in you. As much as it won’t feel true in the moment, there’s a small source of courage within you that believes you can overcome these things. You don’t need to be afraid that you can’t handle the worst that will come at you.
Through it all, have patience. It will take a year and a half to finally feel at home and find your group of friends. It will take six months to get over what was just supposed to be a small crush. In the moment, every challenge you face will feel like it’s taking way longer than it should; but when it’s over you’ll look back and wonder how it passed so quickly.
iii. You can’t defer decisions forever
One last thing you’ll begin to see as you spend more time here is that you’ll have to make bigger and more consequential decisions than before. They won’t be as simple as the decision to join a club, or as binary as the decision to transfer. At some point, you’ll have to figure out exactly what it is that you want to do, rather than just follow the guidelines set forth by everyone else’s expectations.
You will try your best to shy away from these decisions. You won’t know how to decide, so you’ll defer, stall for time, and try to keep as many options open for as long as possible. The future seems so bright and open when you haven’t committed yourself to one particular path.
Eventually, you’ll realize that you can’t do this forever. You can’t completely dispel fears of missing out on the path you didn’t take, and you can’t eliminate all possibility of regret. You’ll never know the right answer or be one hundred percent sure of what you want—you’ll just have to take a leap of faith. It’s better for you to take this leap than to let some default decision be made for you (which will happen to you more than once, by the way). Make the best decision you can with the information you have, and be ready to experience both the joy and the suffering that is inherent in our ability to choose.
I’ll leave you with a few practical tips. Always keep a supply of teabags, honey, NyQuil, and tissues for when you get sick, because you won’t want to get out of your bed once you have a high fever—let alone make the trek to CVS in the snow. Try to live in a building that has a fitness room so you can strengthen your body, and download a meditation app so you can strengthen your mind. Do send the message to the girl from class, and do send the email to the upstart club that wants to document unconventional career paths—these things will mean a lot to your experience here. And finally, FaceTime Maman and Baba more often; they think about you every day.
Heartbreak/Heartmake | Debbie R.
I’m having trouble describing my time at Penn, so I made up a word of my own: heartmake. Heartmake is what comes after heartbreak. Heartmake is hopeful and anxious, irrational and exhilarating, tenuous and expansive, and most of all, heartmake is brave.
When you land in Philly after Spring Break your freshman year, you cry the kind of deep, shaking sobs that make your chest hurt. Homesickness is a new kind of grief; one you were not prepared for. You long for the cantadito of Spanish spoken in a Peruvian accent, for the glimmer of sun setting behind the Charlotte skyline while driving on I-77, for your person, for the openness and earnestness of kids in youth group. You write an article for the DP in which you admit to yourself that Penn is “everything I wanted it to be, but nothing of what I needed it to be,” and you break down, believing you picked the wrong place.
But sophomore year you collect fragments of familiarity in three communities – in CityStep you find meaning, in RJC you find friendship, and in Mujeres Empoderadas you find strength. You dare to jump headfirst into creating a new board position, into leading services, into being honest about struggling. It doesn’t matter that it took longer to figure out your place at Penn. Heartmake.
If abroad is supposed to change you, then doing a three-country program puts you the hell through the wringer during your junior year.
In Argentina you feel vibrant and effervescent all the time. You go to Shabbat and it dawns on you that this is the first time you’ve ever been somewhere where you didn’t have to constantly reassert your identities all the time. The streets you walk and the classes you take feel second nature. You spend hours memorizing the faces of distant family members gazing out from your grandma’s albums – she had once seemed like a distant family member too. Leaving Buenos Aires, you panic. Maybe you’ll never find another place where you fit so well.
In Vietnam, you realize you need to end a relationship you’ve outgrown. The sad epiphany comes suddenly and then there is no going back. You tremble silently in the last seat of a bus, watching scenery speed by, trying to catch your breath and wrap your mind around being single for the first time in two years. The mountains make you feel small and confused. You feel untethered, but not in the fun way like in Argentina.
In South Africa, you and a friend sprint into the ocean on a day when it’s objectively way too cold to go outside, not to mention to go swimming. It’s frigid but it’s like a mikvah. The wind drowns out your shrieks and peals of wild laughter. Salt whips against your shoulders and tears stream down your cheeks. The water is ice and your fingers and toes are numb figments of your imagination. You float with your head tilted upward so you can’t hear your thoughts but you can feel a bit of sun on your face. Heartmake.
Senior year is asymptotic – everything is just out of reach. “After careful consideration the Committee reluctantly decided not to include [my] name among those invited to attend for an interview.” A- thesis. Minus! LinkedIn tells me I’m nearing the search limit for free accounts, I might consider upgrading to Premium. The world seems to be falling apart and I feel uncomfortable in every space that has come to feel like home. Boys are trash. I have never felt so inadequate.
Applying for three fellowships and getting none brought me two of my best friends. It also gave me clarity on what I actually care about – making human rights accessible. The more I say that the more I relish it. Heartmake.
Writing a thesis reminded me that I have defied every expectation set for me. I remember when my eighth grade friends placed bets on when they thought I’d drop out of high school. Then told me about it. Bitch, I’ve produced knowledge. Heartmake.
I looked for answers at Hillel – Why is this building so white and why do the new security measures make me feel like I’m at an immigration checkpoint? I looked for answers and I found allies. A sage mentor, a kid who is Orthodox but doesn’t believe in labels, a fellow Jew of color – all searching for new answers together. Heartmake.
I kneeled on Locust with the new class of Cipactli, my thighs arguing with my calves for crouching for so long as we chalked the walk with a hundreds of drawings of our sign and letters. We claimed space in a place that was not built for us, our pride boundless. The term familia feels right for the first time. Heartmake.
Oh and, I might be falling in love. I can’t tell if it’s with a guy or if it’s with myself. Hopeful and anxious, irrational and exhilarating, tenuous and expansive - brave. Heartmake.
Debbie Naomi Rabinovich
Class of 2019
Inhale Every Moment | Victoria M.
Dear Penn Freshman,
Welcome to Philly! I’m going to start off by reminding you that there is a world beyond campus. So please take as many adventures downtown as you can fit into your busy schedule. When the “Penn Bubble” becomes overwhelming, take a stroll to de-stress. Find a cozy cafe, sit on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, or wander deep into Old City, where you’ll find cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages. I truly regret not exploring the city my freshman year. Please don’t limit yourself to University City.
Next, I’d like to congratulate you on making it this far! There will most definitely be times throughout your four years at Penn when you won’t feel good enough. But (and I cannot stress this enough) know that you ARE smart, you ARE talented, and you ARE fully capable of handling whatever obstacles your college experience throws your way. Hold on to the sense of accomplishment you feel right now, and remember it when you experience self doubt. You will make mistakes. Embrace this fact and strive to learn from your failures. Don’t worry about being “perfect,” because there truly is no such thing. Give your best effort and focus on progress. And do NOT be afraid to ask others for help. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a sign of strength.
I learned more about myself at Penn than I did in the classroom. This is not meant to discredit the professors at Penn, because they’re mostly excellent and have lots of wisdom to share. But your college experience should be defined by more than your GPA. You are not just a number on your transcript. Meet new people, make lifelong friends, join clubs, volunteer, and make time for yourself to reflect.
I’ll end by confessing that I was terrified to begin my journey at Penn. After 8th grade, I planned out my future in great detail, and had my eyes set on a rival Ivy. When my attempt to get recruited to play soccer there fell through, I was devastated. Coming to Penn felt wrong, and I was worried that I was making a massive mistake. But four years later, I can say, with full confidence, that my decision to attend Penn was the best decision I’ve ever made. My time here has not been easy, but I’m beyond grateful for how much I’ve grown as a person. I’m terribly sad to leave Penn, because it has become my “home sweet home.” Your time at Penn will fly by. Take time to inhale every moment.
Best of luck,
Lies, Legends, and Fairytales | Anshuman K.
Dear Penn Freshman,
Around five or six years ago, I sat in my high school cafeteria talking to one of my friends. I wondered why I felt so out of place in high school – why I wasn’t one of the “popular kids” or why I hadn’t kissed a girl yet. Don’t worry bro, he said, just wait for college. College? What’s so special about college? I wondered what this promised land was like and what it had in store for me. I imagined a place where I had nearly flawless grades, never felt out of place, and had an active dating life. I don’t know, I responded. Is college really all that?
Yeah dude, he interjected, College is gonna be YOUR time.
So here I am – five to six years later – wondering if college was really the best four years of my life. Let’s start by taking a look at my criteria.
Did I have nearly flawless grades? Nope. At the end of four years, I’m left asking myself if it was even worth it to put myself through such a difficult course load, when my mental health and GPA suffered so much.
Did I ever feel out of place? Of course I did. Coming into Penn, I became friends with almost entirely South Asians, but as a queer individual, I constantly found myself uncomfortable and lonely in South Asian spaces. It’s become really hard not to feel lost when looking for guidance or just lonely when looking for someone to understand me.
Do I have an active dating life? No, it’s been almost nonexistent. I’ve watched so many of my close friends enter into meaningful, healthy relationships that made them truly happy, and I can’t help but wonder when something like that will finally happen for me.
Thus, I can conclude that college was truly not the time of my life that I wanted it to be all those years ago. I’ve struggled with feeling out of place ever since I got here – an emotion that was exasperated by my experiences with poor school performance and loneliness. Now I’m just wondering what went so wrong. Do I even have anything to show for myself after I graduate?
I think I do. Maybe I didn’t fully enjoy my college years, but I experienced something far more important than academic success, popularity, or a functioning romantic life: Growth.
I came into college identifying as bisexual, but during the summer before my sophomore year, I came to the realization that I’m only into men. With this new awareness, I found far more freedom of expression than I ever did before. I started dressing more effeminately, sporting crop tops and chokers to every night out, and even transitioned to feminizing my casual, day-to-day clothing. I took a larger creative role within my dance team, and realized that dancing was a space where I could most unapologetically be myself. Despite usually being categorized into “boys piece,” I was finally able to perform in “girls piece” during senior year, an experience I found both rewarding and illuminating of how far I’d come in terms of being myself.
And it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve experienced so much backlash, both from friends and strangers. From simple occurrences like weird looks from people at parties to more traumatic experiences like homophobic comments on my Instagram or exclusion from femme spaces, being myself has become more and more of an uphill battle. And yes, there will always be people who tell you that it’s not worth it – that the repercussions of being yourself are just too much for you to handle.
But what they don’t tell you is what happens along the way. Your uphill battle will bring many obstacles, but it will also give you a stronger appreciation for the people in your life who are helping you fight. I’ve truly learned which people in my life are inherently thoughtful and compassionate, and who will stick by me through thick and thin. Over the past four years, I’ve become genuinely happier; my productivity increased and I’m less anxious about my grades. Even though my academic performance can often be disappointing and I have zero romantic prospects and I still feel alone sometimes, I’ve recognized how far I’ve come from who I was in August 2015 when I first set foot at Penn.
I guess that means that my four years at Penn weren’t the best years of my life, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve made questionable decisions and faced plenty of consequences, but they’ve made me who I am. I’m still growing and changing and realizing who I am but the fact of the matter is that I’m a stronger and smarter version of my 2015 self. So even though the last four years might not have been the best years of my life, who knows? Maybe the next four years will be. Or even the four years after that. Maybe it’ll be 40 years from now. All I know is that I’m so incredibly proud of the person I am today, and if the next 4n years continue this trend of growth, then I’m also incredibly eager to get to know the person I’m going to become.
So to all you young freshmen, anxious to have the times of your lives, I would advise you to focus on something different. Focus on becoming a better version of yourself, even though that path is going to be difficult. Cut out those toxic presences and habits, and focus on what makes YOU happy. When you look back after these next four years, I hope that you can be appreciative of who you’ve become, and truly excited for the person you’re going to become in the future.
Life & What A Time It Is | Divya R.
Dear Freshmen Div,
Hi. I remember being in your shoes on the first day of NSO. You had absolutely no one to sit with when you walked into that freshman hall meeting. Your GA scared you and this annoying kid across the room wouldn’t stop cracking the most horrible jokes (watch out, he’s about to be your best friend). You just kept your head down, texting all your home friends, wanting to be anywhere, absolutely anywhere, but here. You remember seeing how excited your best friends were to go off to college the year before – why isn’t that happening for you? You’re horrible at making friends, you’ve never left home before...why on Earth did you come here? Well, I’m rounding out the end of my time here, and coming to Penn has been the best decision of my entire life. This place has given me my highest highs and my lowest lows. Here is just a fraction of the things I learned in my time here.
Rejection is okay. Being upset is okay too.
Penn is like Disneyland – everywhere you turn, there are new rides and parades and food stalls and experiences for you. You’re going to try and do it all. Who wouldn’t? There are clubs and performing arts teams and Greek life and everything in between. You want to do it all, be it all, experience all that Penn has to offer.
The harsh reality of Penn is, not everyone and everything is going to want you back. You are going to be rejected by more clubs than you can count. Some will make you roll your eyes while others will make you cry yourself to sleep at night. It won’t end freshman year. But honestly, truly honestly, everything happens for a reason. Each rejection you experience, whether it’s a boy not texting you back or not getting into a group, will make you stronger. You’ll learn how to pick yourself up, get back out there, and keep trying. You’ll have people who will literally grab you, drag you out the door, and make you get back out there (thank you for that). Every closed door is just a redirection to more opportunities, more growth, and more amazing friendships. You may not believe it as a freshman but truly, you are on a path with mountains and valleys for a reason, though it may seem dark at times, it is a reason that is bigger than you. You just need to keep your head down and have faith that you will get your happy ending. You will.
It’s okay to take time to be sad though. I know that you always took pride in being untouched by emotions (you still do, to a degree). But that’s not human and that’s not how you should live your life. Feel things, even the bad things. It will help you learn more about yourself, what you value, and what makes you tick. It’s okay to be sad. Even if it’s at the most inconvenient of times (trust me, your friends will understand). The bad times will also make you enjoy the good ones all the more. Trust me, everything gets a little brighter once you start letting yourself feel things.
It may not be what you envisioned but trust me when I say that one way or another, you will achieve every single dream that you had coming into Hill freshman year. Just remember the best things always take a little bit of time.
Keep your friends close. But it’s okay if your friends change.
At Penn, you’re going to make some of the best friends that you have (and hopefully will) ever have. There is going to be a hallmate that you can sit in bed with and talk about your deepest regrets from high school. A guy that you meet on the floor at a random frat party who will hold you together every time you want to cry and fall apart over your grandmother’s passing. A friend years older than you who you’ll sit on top of dumpsters with (yes, you heard me right) to talk about life over a bottle of wine. Girlfriends that will literally sleep on your bed anytime you feel alone in this world, who will make you feel like Beyoncé on a random Thursday, who will FaceTime you for hours on end just to keep you company. Role models who will literally push you harder than you ever pushed yourself, because they see something greater in you than you could ever imagine. You’ll travel the world and back with these people – or sometimes even to just to the bar a few blocks away. You’ll have impromptu dance parties in your room with them and get to know some of their families as if they were your own. They’ll change your world and make you feel alive and understood in ways that you could never imagine. Tell them you love them, maybe even hug them from time to time (yes, I’m cringing too, but it’ll make all the difference to them). Embrace it, enjoy it, live in the moment – and let go, when the time comes.
Sometimes it will be distance – the miles, time differences, workloads, and schedules add up to the point where you don’t talk 24/7 like you used to. Sometimes it will just be growing apart, as you slowly start to drift into different phases of your lives. Sometimes it will be just plain falling outs (these suck the most) because it was not meant to last. It’s okay and it will be okay. For some of these friends, in a few months or a few years, you will fall back into it with some of them like no time has passed. You just needed the space to grow, separately, before coming back together. For others, it may be a permanent end. Cherish the memories and experiences and laughter, wish them well, and know that for every friendship that fades away, there are many more out there that are waiting for you.
Stop taking things so seriously.
You, my friend, are the epitome of a Type A worrier. You will be that person (yes, to everyone else, I was that person) who will have a minute by minute blocked Fling schedule so that you could make it to all the events that you wanted to go too. You will be one of those people who asks someone to get lunch and then suggests a date that’s in two weeks.
One word. Breathe. Did it? Cool, now do it again.
There are so many things that happen at Penn and most of them don’t matter in the long run. No one will care if you don’t make it out to one social event. No one will hate you if you don’t text back immediately. I’m also here to tell you that some of the best experiences you will have at Penn won’t be scheduled on your GCal months in advance. It will be walking down Locust and being ambushed by your friends to go to Copa, because why the hell not, it’s a Monday night. It will be sitting in your room long after you were supposed to leave for the party, because you are too busy being absolute idiots with your best friends. It will be when you book plane tickets to see friends because you miss them, bus tickets to support your best friends at their show, train tickets home to surprise your family on a whim. Life doesn’t wait for anyone, that’s true, but it isn’t as serious as you make it out to be. It’s meant to be enjoyed. You will graduate, you will pursue the weird, convoluted academic path that you set out for yourself, you will take the MCAT, you will find a job (yeah, I know, I’m shocked we did it too). Events you plan will go horribly wrong – and you’ll wing it and everyone will have a great time anyways. You will truly, completely, bomb many exams. You will accidentally tell a cute boy that you think he’s a complete idiot for not being into you (you do this a few times, unfortunately – you still have no game, sorry). It’s okay.
You love running through life, doing everything you possibly can (perfectly), never stopping for a breath. Life is not meant to be organized, it’s meant to be messy. The messier it is, the more beautiful. Remember to stop every now and then and take in the view. Be grateful. Let it inspire you to keep pushing yourself. It’s really, truly magical.
Yeah, you also got much more verbose and deeper as you got older. I can feel you rolling your eyes at me.
Just know that I’m so excited for you and what the next four years hold for you. You will fall in love and get your heart broken and repeat the cycle all over again. You will travel further than you ever have before, to countries that you only dreamed of. You will learn so much from your classes and your clubs and your friends, far more than you can ever imagine. You will make incredible friends that you will cheer for at the top of your lungs for (cough drops, my friend), travel thousands of miles for, and stay in touch for years with. Most of all, in this mess of four years, you’ll start to find yourself. You’re going to do great, kid. I promise.
P.S. Go to 40th and Spruce as soon as you can. You’ll thank me later ;)
Off-Balance | Sanika P.
Dear Freshman Sanika,
It’s, what, 4 am? You’ve maybe just gotten back from Huntsman Comp Lab (#tbt) and are thinking that it’s an appropriate time to go to the Quad gym. It’s not! You probably went anyways because you can live off the 4 hours of sleep you’ll get. After all, that’s college! Live life, make friends, go to parties, eat Wawa, celebrate freedom, right?
Right. Sort of. It’s put us in a weird situation buddy, because we do all of these things and we’re having a great time, but we’ve lost the constraints—having parents nearby, being in high school, not having a license—that kept our life unintentionally balanced. Discipline: it’s a word Dad has thrown around a lot, specifically in the context of “you have none,” which we’re finding is not entirely off base.
Our catalyst to change this came sophomore year, as energetic Penn Face-d me posted fun Snapchat, after Instagram, after Facebook post, after Snapchat…after failed test, after assignment submitted late, after zero hours sleep, after nights I couldn’t remember that left massive pits in my stomach. That, is not balance.
The week before spring break I got over a standard deviation or more (!!) below on not one, two, but three midterms. Massive yikes. I felt like I was running, running but each step caused a new earthquake. All I wanted was home so that’s where I went, and no, Mom wasn’t mad about me cancelling pre-paid plans to go elsewhere because she’s on our side. Remember this: your parents are dope, and they helped me figure out some things I needed to do:
Learn to say no: I’m still horrific at this, but your friends won’t hate you for cancelling sometimes, and the ‘not going’ option on Facebook exists for a reason! Pick and choose what you want, and, if you’re not having fun, go find something that ‘sparks joy’—you won’t understand that reference yet, freshman Sanika. 2018 was a weird year for Netflix.
Reevaluate obligation: Going out of your way to do something for a friend is a nice gesture but no one will be mad if you don’t do it. Standing up for yourself when someone isn’t treating you well is not confrontational, it’s normal. You are not obliged to be close friends with anyone that doesn’t make you feel loved. If that’s confusing right now, don’t worry, you’ll realize this when your time here feels too short to grab lunch with people you feel anxious around, or with people who suggest going to Greek Lady. We might not get to choose our blood families but we do get to pick our college equivalent so drop that annoying second cousin, so you have more time to spend with your roommate.
Think less: Science tells us that a major cause of unhappiness is mind-wandering/over-thinking, but even after learning this in an empirical way, we can’t stop. Our mechanism to avoid thinking is to surround ourselves with people—never be alone, never stop to think—but it’s exhausting and decreases the quality of each interaction. It’s not balanced at all, and honestly, I’m still figuring this out. What has helped is to be more present in the many, many happy moments. Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t which is a well-worn cliché but quite freaking true.
Share love: The most! important! Tell your friends how you’re feeling and what’s on your mind: they want to know. They have a vested interest in your happiness and will send you reminder gifs and messages of love when you need them. Your friends give love unconditionally, and that’s something you will learn how to do too. How to be there for others, how to listen, how to give advice when needed, and how to give a great hug. Be vulnerable and tell the squad those thoughts—its therapeutic as hell to talk about and deepens your relationships.
As I write, I realize there’s so much more I want to say, but I know some advice won’t stick unless you learn it on your own. Also, let’s be honest, who knows if I’ve found an ideal balance. What I do know is I’m so excited for you to experience these next 4 years—they are absolutely incredible.
In the vein of sharing love, I want to sign off by saying, I am so, so, so proud of you. You grow and mature and change in ways I didn’t know were possible. You stay true to yourself and your passions, you learn to be yourself in diverse communities, you surround yourself with incredible people, and you are a good friend.
Have fun, live life, enjoy that freedom, say no, reevaluate obligation, think less, share love, call home, and drop Bepp 250 this semester, it gets way easier. See ya on the flip side :)
Love in the Time of Penn | Abby L.
Dear Freshman Abby,
There’s this multiverse theory. The one that says there’s an infinite number of universes,
corresponding to the infinite number of choices we make in our lives. Every choice we make leads to a different parallel universe. The one that we are living right here, right now, was probabilistic. That means everything has at least an infinitesimally small probability of happening, and nothing is impossible.
Looking back on my academic career at Penn, it’s easy to forget all the lost battles that seemed like the end of the world at the time. But in hindsight, I can see all these consequences led to something greater than just that moment.
What if I hadn’t failed my first biology midterm and given up on being pre-med? Right now, I would be living in a parallel universe where I was applying to medical school for all the wrong reasons (most of them having to do with liking Grey’s Anatomy).
What if I hadn’t fallen asleep during almost every single Russian history lecture and realized the history major wasn’t for me? Maybe I would be graduating with a history major, albeit sans my sanity.
What if I hadn’t slept through my Math 114 final, and then had to take it four months later in the Fall? I know now that I wasn’t prepared, and would have catastrophically failed.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense to dwell on the possibilities, because those Abby’s aren’t me, right here, right now.
I know now that next year I’m joining a PhD program in Astrophysics because of all these failures. Countless small steps backward, one giant step forward. Cut yourself a break, and don’t beat yourself up. I think one of my favorite lessons that I learned about myself at Penn is that I am exceptionally average at almost everything I do. But you don’t need to be good at everything, just one thing. And give yourself all to that one thing, and be extraordinary.
Before coming to Penn, I was privileged in that my mental health was not something I thought about. After Penn, well that’s a whole different story. It’s hard to articulate what it’s like to be in a constant battle with my own mind. I realized something wasn’t right around time between the rush of senior year, when I was drowning and suffocating in seas of graduate school apps, classes, and standardized tests. I began to lose control over my academics, so I started compensating by tightening my grip on every aspect of my life. I made schedules down to the minute of my days, to-do lists, and calendars. My mind would race through the future, the past, but never the present. I knew it was a problem when it started to affect my relationships. I felt like no one got it. I tried to think my problems into the ground. But that never worked long-term.
I imagine two Abby’s: Controlling Abby and Chill Abby. At first, I tried to tell Controlling Abby to go away, to leave me alone, to shut up. But I’ve realized that with mental health, it’s not about banishing Controlling Abby forever. No, she’s always there, lurking, waiting to strike when the times get tough. It’s a matter of making her small, and learning to deal with her when she comes crawling from the corners.
But somewhere through the ashes, I emerged, recently, a better person. I went to CAPs, and got help because it’s not healthy to feel like that. I learned methods for dealing with my type of OCD. It took me four years to figure it out, so don’t stress out if you ever feel like something is wrong. Mental health is always such a journey, and a process.
I’ll never know if Penn, or my decision to apply to graduate school during senior year was the root of these issues, or the inciting factor that revealed issues more ingrained. But I do know that after the past year of fighting myself in so many battles, I emerged more empathetic and less naïve. And in this universe, this moment, I am thankful for the experiences that led to who I am today.
When I think about my Penn experience holistically, I feel like there is one shining beacon of light that stands out in the darkness. I feel every moment, every decision, every failure, every success, every choice, led me to one person.
What would have happened if I hadn’t chosen to do the physics major, and met Andrew? Or what if he didn’t like to sit next to the door, and noticed me every day walking into class during Electromagnetism? What if Andrew hadn’t decided to hold my hand during a concert we went together with our friends, and then kissed me underneath the flashing lights? I guess I like to think that in every universe, Andrew and I are together, happy, and in love.
Maybe that’s what a soulmate is.
Give every part of yourself to someone, and don’t hold anything back. I’ve learned more from Andrew than I have any one class, about being generous, kind, forgiving, and gracious. I’ve learned how to apologize and how to forgive, things I’ve had trouble with my entire life.
Loving someone unconditionally and growing with another person has been by far the most rewarding part of my Penn experience.
I’m glad I came to Penn, because no matter the trials and failures that have occurred, I met and found the best part of my life, and I am forever grateful for that.
Somewhere else out there, there is an Abby that is doing much worse out (sorry other Abby!)
Or an Abby that is doing much better (good for you, other Abby!). But right now, right here, I’m here at Penn, a person that resulted from millions of decisions and choices throughout the past four years. And I am happy to be here.
All the best,
Loving Who You Will Grow To Be | Frances L.
Dear baby Fran,
I’m going to make this short, because I’ve procrastinated writing this letter to the last day the same way I do when studying for my exams and finishing assignments.
There is no way that you can picture what life at Penn is like. What I mean by that is, you’re currently looking towards college through a far away lens. You’re so nostalgic that you’ve been telling all your friends you’re sad about graduating since August. You’ve visited Penn and been thrown loads of information that you can’t retain, and have started forming expectations in your head. College is a mixture of hopes, nerves, excitement and confusion, an unknown ahead of you. As you navigate through the fogginess, it feels like there’s this hand pushing your back, forcing you to walk faster than you’d like. Once you enter college, that fog does thin a bit, but let me just say this: you will grow so much in ways that you can’t imagine right now.
To clarify, you won’t become a genius and get all As, or become an amazing public speaker, or even take an art class (maybe senior Frances will). You’ll make mistakes, lose friendships and build them back up again, fail multiple finals (oops), injure yourself more often as your body for some reason decides to fail on you. You’ll let things slide that you really shouldn’t and be incredibly disappointed in yourself afterwards. When you go to therapy, you’ll dig out things you wish you had never known and cry from a place you didn’t know hurt that bad.
But you’ll also challenge yourself to grow, not every day, but gradually over the years. You’ll regularly reach out to friends and form bonds with people who inspire you to be better. When you study abroad in Stockholm, you’ll conquer your fear of heights (to a point) by becoming a flyer. You’ll live alone for the first time in Beijing for a summer internship and fall in love with your country again. When you work out, it’ll be for strength rather than aesthetics. You’ll start recognizing when you need to recalibrate your mind before you go down a negativity spiral. To be honest, there’s so much more I could keep writing about, because you’ve grown so much.
Growth is a continuous journey. There will be days when the negatives weigh you down more than the positives lift you up (you will learn that this is called prospect theory). Even now, I’m figuring out how to be confident in myself and avoiding addressing certain things that I’d really rather not think about. But I��m happy to say that it does get more manageable.
You are an amazing person full of passion and kindness, more so than you may believe, and I’m proud of you.
PS. To the future Fran who may one day look back onto this letter as she is probably just as nostalgic as all the versions of myself have ever been, I can’t wait to grow to be the person you are.
Make It Count | Michael K.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
If you think about it, your freshman year is about to come to a close. All of the magic of NSO, your first college classes, the meals that you share with your hall are soon to be memories in the rearview mirror. Likely some of those moments include wild nights at frat parties, downtowns, or mixers, leaving nothing but faint memories of times that you’ll never get back.
If you know me, you know that I don’t drink. It’s not as a result of the physical aversion to alcohol that I tell people when first prompted with the question “why?”, but rather a manifestation of a pivotal point in my sophomore year. That fall, I bit off far more than I could chew in extracurriculars with an overloaded course schedule to round out my life. I wasn’t sleeping, I was gaining weight, and I never felt truly relaxed or happy.
I have a personal rule for myself that I can’t engage with substances if I’m not in the right headspace (i.e. “don’t drink when you’re sad), which I would implore you all to take up, and so I cut out alcohol entirely. Even months later, when I finally got a hang for everything to which I had committed myself, I never felt the need to take it back up again. The idea of being out of touch with my own reality in a state of inebriation never beckoned, so I haven’t had a sip of alcohol since October 21, 2016.
I tell you this story because going through Penn “sober” has been eye-opening. First, it’s kind of awful that drinking is so baked into the culture that it is considered weird if someone says “no” to the boat race or to doing a shot. Second, it showed me that the most important moments are those shared with good friends in a good state of mind. Why waste time with nights that you won’t remember if you can share experiences with people that you’ll never forget?
I’m not suggesting that anyone cut out booze entirely, but I would encourage you, as you move through these next three years, to take stock of the moments that are important. They often come when you least expect them. Whether it’s a decorating your room for Halloween, a meal that takes two hours to cook and two minutes to eat, a prank on a mutual friend, or driving to the Philadelphia Museum of art to scream out your frustrations at 3am, remember that the most important moments are those that you’ll want to be present for.
To sum it all up, here are two takeaways that I hope you’ll think about over your next three years here. First, don’t feel the social pressure to go out and get wasted every moment that you are not doing classwork or extracurriculars. Parties and nightlife certainly have their place, but the “work hard, play hard” nature of Penn that somehow makes socializing competitive is ridiculously toxic and you’ll be far happier if you don’t buy into it. Second, know that the moments that you will take away from your college experience come when you least expect them to. Teach yourself to recognize those moments and to hold on to them, stay in them, and remember them when they seem fleeting. You only get one shot at your four years, make it count.
Class of 2019
Me to Me: Some Advice to Ignore | Elana B.
Dear Freshman Me (sitting in your dorm room in PJs on a Sunday morning, upset that you have no friends and aren’t doing something more ‘collegiate’),
College is both an exceptional time of life and not so. Everyone seems to put pressure on these four years to be marvelous and transformative--”the best” of our lives. And indeed, there are marvelous and transformative times, but that is so with many times in our lives. And indeed it is a special time, but other times have been and will be too. So chill.
Now, some tips for this year and beyond:
Reframe “I’m not good enough.” Lots of things and people, including yourself, will try to tell you you’re not good enough. Tune out the noise, move past this whole framework, and start focusing on how to be the best you.
Find your sacred space (mental/physical/emotional). Whether it’s your bed freshmen year, the comfy chair in the common room, the gym, or anywhere you have a journal, find the place you don’t feel pressure to pretend.
Say yes and then no: learn to quit pivot. Everyone says try new things in college. That’s awesome. Do that. Say yes! But then say no. Quit things. Quitting is often seen as failure. It’s not. Instead, it’s recognizing the power of pivoting (thanks, Halla Tómasdóttir). Leave the scholars program, the sorority, stop planning the event you think will fail. Try not to agonize over the decisions either. You’ll be better off for it.
Build ‘nothing time’ into everything. When you get back from a semester in Spain, you will realize that the way we see time at Penn is warped. We rush from one thing to the next without ever getting to feel truly present. Reject this concept of time. Build in ‘nothing time’--15 minutes between meetings to run into someone on Locust and actually say hi, a free evening to watch a movie or literally sit in bed and do nothing, an empty afternoon so that when your friend’s parents spontaneously drive up, you can join for dinner. You’ll come to cherish these pauses as some of the most valuable time you spent in college.
Be generous with yourself and with others--you don’t need to play by the rules.
Be generous when life is messy: We are all PIP (people in progress). Revel in this fact of life. Allow yourself to cancel lunch when you just need a moment for yourself. Allow your friends to do the same--even at the last minute when you’re kinda annoyed.
Be generous with the rules: Give yourself the freedom to be do your own thang, to people watch at Allegro’s at midnight on Halloween, to go to Morris Arboretum during fling instead of getting wasted, to opt for a Shabbat lunch instead of a St. Patty’s day party. Let yourself stray from the norms.
Live your own timeline. Society has created a timeline for you--gotta have friends by the end of NSO, gotta have a major picked out now, gotta have a job by graduation. Don’t subscribe to these invented deadlines. Instead, let things go at their own pace; let yourself go at your own pace. You can plan, but go with the flow. Give yourself the time to be uncertain. Give yourself the time to explore. You’ll stumble across a field you adore senior year because you didn’t lock into a career path--patience can lead to discovery.
Embrace vulnerability--people will reflect it. Go ahead and put yourself out on a limb. Ask that question you think is silly in class. Say hi to that cute guy in your class in Spain. Share how your year is really going. Soon, you’ll notice how others let their guard down too. Watch the tough Wharton guy talk about what he really enjoys reading in the morning. See the super confident leader talk about insecurities. Be daring. Start those conversations.
Don’t forget to be there. It can sometimes be hard to prioritize our humanity at Penn. Try not to fall prey to this. You can’t do everything, so commit hard to the people and the things that you have decided to invest in. Throw yourself into being a good friend, a good family member, a good person. Be there for the lowest lows of others when they just need ice cream and a hug while they cry, and be there for the highest highs of others when they perform a concert after months of practice or just want to run circles on high rise field at the end of a great day. Definitely put yourself first (the trifecta of sleep, eat, and exercise is key), but be careful to note a distinction between egotism and self-care. Sometimes a little selflessness can get you out of a little funk. Sometimes you just need to move past the ‘I.’ Sometimes you just need to be there for someone else.
Of course this won’t sink in for another few years, but here it is anyway. Nothing is as you expect, but don’t let that stop you from doing or being. You’re pretty great. Be easily inspired, and strive to be inspiring.
With a huge hug and lots of love to freshman me,
Senior Me (sitting in my dorm room in PJs on a Sunday morning, completely content that I have this moment to myself to reflect)
My Diamonds | Mary D.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
Everything is about perspective, right?
If your experience is anything like mine, college is going to be rough. That word, those five letters, do not have the descriptive ability to show you the emotional rollercoaster you just strapped yourself into for the next four or five years (you read that right; stay tuned). I’ve had more than enough time to contemplate Penn and all of its complexities, and the most realistic way to describe Penn is by comparing it to a coal mine. Before you jump in, it seems like it’s going to be awesome—you’re just ready to dive in and get started on the “best four years of your life.” There’s so much to learn and so many people to meet--how could it not be amazing? But the further down you go, you realize the hard facts: It’s not as magical as you once believed it to be. It’s cold, isolating, socially and economically stratified, pretty moldy (looking at you, The Quad), and people are just as terrified as you even if they pretend they’re fine with their prestigious, soul-sucking internships. I came in as a soft hearted freshman, and I’m leaving a little more jaded than I would like, but there’s a lot to be said for what I’m taking away from this experience.
Aside from being dirty, there are diamonds in coal mines. Beautiful, irreplaceable people, moments, & opportunities. It just takes a LOT of digging (and maybe a few years) to find them. At the end of a rough journey, we have two options: we can focus on all of the terrible moments and experiences, or we can embrace the little wonders that appeared during those not so shiny times. I decided I wanted to shift my perspective and look at the diamonds I found and at what I’ve learned from digging through the soot; what good opportunities that have come as a result of the awful, of enduring the worst. This is how we grow as humans; not by ignoring the bad, but by looking for what good rose up in spite of it.
Here’s a some of the gems that I’ll carry with me after I leave this campus:
“You know you have to leave for a year, right?” Yep, leaving for the entirety of freshman year due to two concussions was quite a time… I fought tooth and nail against Penn’s research that they used to force a yearlong leave, a study that shows that students do better if they return the following academic year. I went home and cried A LOT. But this was the first and biggest diamond that I had to dig deep inside myself to find: the beauty of time off, of doing less and being more. Taking a break before jumping into Penn was the greatest blessing in disguise, and now I’m the biggest advocate of leaves. Take time for you, and never hesitate in doing so (but please don’t get a concussion—take a leave at your own will & not at the hap stance of a lovely brain injury).
The American Sign Language (ASL) Program: Everyone usually cringes at the idea of completing their language requirement, and I can say there were definitely days where I was terrified of it as well (#ASLclasspresentations), but the ASL program became my first home on campus. I met my first close college friend in an ASL class. Jami Fisher and the rest of the teachers truly cared about my well-being as well as my academic growth, made class exciting and engaging, and created a space that I will always treasure.
THE BEST CHAPLAINS Chaz Howard and Steve Kocher are two of the kindest souls on this entire campus, and I had the pleasure of taking my first Urban Studies course, Heart of Social Change, with them (spoiler alert: I later declared URBS as my major). They cultivated such a great community amongst such a diverse group of students. Chaz and Steve are rays of light on our campus, making this space less lonely and more wholesome by simply knowing they are in it. Thank you both for all that you do, seen and unseen—you are truly appreciated.
Rabbi Josh & Rwanda Need I say more?? Rabbi Josh, the man I met on the first day of freshman year on College Green giving blessings. How could this ex-Catholic girl not get a blessing? This was the beginning of my interfaith exploration, thinking more about intersections rather than divergences. Fast forward a semester, I find myself amongst a cohort of amazing people called Moral Voices. An interfaith, interethnic group that spoke more languages all together than I had ever heard of, we met throughout the spring semester of my sophomore year to talk about the meaning of a voice, who gets heard, how we can use ours ethically to raise up the voices of others and if that’s even possible. At the end of the semester, we traveled to a youth village in Rwanda where we interacted with locals and learned more about the Rwandan genocide. This experience is one of my most special diamonds, giving me an opportunity to reflect and expand my perspective in ways I never imagined.
Riepe College House Freshman year, I decided to place Riepe as my first choice for housing because of two things: wood floors and weekly cookie nights. Little did I know, it would become so much more. I was given the chance to be an RA during my junior and senior years, and my residents became family. Getting the chance to foster a community of good vibes and donuts with my residents is one of my most treasured experiences at Penn. @myhalls, thanks for being your amazing selves. I also met three of my best friends who were also RAs at Riepe, and house faculty became like aunts and uncles. While we no longer have cookie nights, but this place is still special to me because of the people who came with it.
Urban Studies Program As an incoming psychology major, never did I ever think that I would have ended up studying URBS let alone that there would be a program this interdisciplinary and diverse. I’ve learned so much about policy and all things relating to cities, but the biggest thing that I will take away is the importance of asking and sitting with the hard questions. How does race and class impact how cities have and continue to operate? What voices are stifled and what populations are consistently pushed to the side? Where do I fit into all of this? As a white woman, I learned that there’s so much that I don’t know, and I am thankful for URBS for providing such informative, reflective courses. Shout-out to Vicki and Elaine for making the URBS office a little piece of home.
Summer Abroad in London I always dreamed of taking my Penn career abroad, but choosing to be an RA restricted by ability to do so during the school year. I somehow managed to finagle a way to study abroad during the summer before my senior year, and it could not have been more incredible. Living in Islington right outside the center of London, I got to explore the city as a student in the London Theatre Program. I got to see some of the strangest and most moving shows alongside one of the greatest groups of people. I am beyond thankful for this experience because it allowed me to take a deep breath from reality, my hometown of Philly, and life at a crucial moment. This is one special gem in my collection, a self-expanding, self-healing experience that I will hold close to my heart.
From the bottom of my heart, I hope your Penn journey is full of little moments and amazing people like mine. They certainly won’t be easy, but remember to keep your eye out for the good things. They will help pull you through the bad, I promise.
Before I leave you to do your own thing, here’s some words of wisdom about all things food and life I wish someone would have told me before I got to Penn:
-If you need to take space from home, do it. But give your parents a heads up. They still might not like it, and that’s okay. You know what you need to do for you.
-Chances are you’re going to lose friends, go through tough times with family, and feel lonelier than you ever thought possible. In those times, deepen your relationship with yourself; you won’t regret it.
-Terry’s Cheesesteaks on Spruce Street right outside of the Quad has the best avocado chicken wrap. Don’t wait until your senior year to discover this.
-Do less, and thank Ellen Rosen for the advice.
-Mental wellness is not a box to check once a month, it’s a daily habit.
-You might find your people during freshmen year, or it might take you until junior year like me. I promise it will be worth it.
-Beilers is close to my heart, but Federal Donuts wins hands down.
-One night, in a group of Penn students, someone asked “who is actually studying what you love?” I was the only person who raised their hand. If you can, try to raise your hand to that before you leave here.
-Find those friends who will go out dancing with you and be as adamant as you are about getting fries afterward. That’s how you know they’re real ones.
-The best bagel sandwich in the city is at United By Blue (radical statement but I’m willing to make it).
-I learned that you need to feel safe, physically and emotionally, in order to get good sleep. Think about what’s keeping you from taking care of you.
-Advocate for CAPS to have counseling services available to students on leave. We are still here and we still need your support.
-Thank those around you who have helped you get where you are. My moms, friends, and boyfriend are my biggest supporters, and I am so grateful.
-Be kind to yourself, always.
On that last note, be kinds to yourself and be kind to those around you. You have the opportunity to make this campus a place of love and acceptance, even in a tiny way. I hope you choose to do so every day. Enjoy the ride, and know I’m rooting you on wherever I am.
Love your senior,
Not A Badge of Honour | Gary L.
Dear Freshman Self,
It’s the same narrative that repeats itself for the next three years: It’s 1AM. You’re sitting on your laptop, M&M’s in one hand, phone in the other scrolling mindlessly through texts. You have a Word document open in front of you but it’s wordless. You have a paper to submit tomorrow morning that you’d planned to start four nights ago but was too preoccupied all week to write. There’s just too many club meetings, too many work shifts, and too many class assignments. You told your friend you needed to postpone the dinner that you had planned three nights ago because you simply had too many things to do.
You feel stressed – almost to the point of helplessness. You hate this feeling. And you know you could do less, but isn’t Penn about “making the most of your time here”? You could cut down on clubs, reduce your work hours, or take a lighter class schedule. But you know – and I know – that you won’t, because as much as you want to disentangle yourself from the web of stress, you’d go right back to it. Sometimes, you add that extra “thing” to your schedule just to get a whiff of that all-too-familiar “I’m busy but it’s okay because I’m being so productive with my time” feeling right before the stress kicks in like a buzzkill.
Stress is a status symbol. It’s a heuristic of the importance and value you derive from your work. Stress is like a drug. You know it’s bad for you, but you can’t help but believe that you need it to function. You think stress is an indicator of how productive you are, how accomplished you are, or how successful you are. But please, consider what it’s doing to you. Stop wearing stress like a badge of honour. There’s nothing sexy about it. Stress detracts from every aspect of your life. It’s not cool when you call your parents just to unload all of your qualms and doubts on them without even considering how they‘re doing, especially when they’ve looked forward to nothing more than hearing your voice all day. It’s not cool to deny yourself and your friends time together for two weeks straight because apparently you “have so many meetings [you] can’t make time”.
Relieve yourself of stress. Go on a jog. Go rock climbing with your friends. Hang out and walk around West Philly or Passyunk or Fishtown. You’d be amazed how cathartic it is to step away from the brick and stone paths of Locust every so often and scavenge for treasures in the city of Brotherly Love. Plug in your headphones and listen to some Little Big Town (and don’t mind the people who criticize you for your newfound love of country music – they just can’t appreciate the finer things in life). Be good to yourself. Be kind to yourself. And understand that “making the most of my time here” doesn’t mean being chained to your Google Calendar at all waking hours. It means optimizing your productivity and happiness.
Be kinder to yourself, and naturally you will be kinder to others.
All the best,
Nothing Sacred | Vivian D.
Dear Penn Freshman,
Welcome to Penn!! You’re gonna have a lot of fun here, and more importantly, you’re gonna grow a lot (that’s what college is for, after all). First, let’s acknowledge that Penn is not a perfect place--but it’s a good place. Perfect places don’t exist, and perfect colleges definitely don’t exist. Once you accept that, I think you’ll be able to mold your Penn experience into what you want it to be, what you need it to be.
It’s really hard to write this letter because you could be anyone; you could be a student-athlete, a FGLI student, a double legacy, an international student from across the world, and none of those are better, worse, more unique, more deserving than the other. But I suppose the great unifier is that we are all Penn students, and beyond that, students, and beyond that, humans. I think the first lesson I would bestow upon you (if you would allow) is to not get too caught up in your identity. This may sound controversial to you, but if you believe everything, yet nothing, is sacred, then you will understand what I’m about to say: in personal terms, college was transformational in helping me discover, affirm, explore, and refute several identities, among them Chinese-American, feminist, anti-capitalist, and existentialist. These identities are extremely important to me, especially at this stage of my life, and will probably define how I grow in the next several years. But, these identities are also labels that I have been given or have given myself, to help me understand my place in the world better. So in a way, they’re just words, and they don’t actually make up who I am, no matter how many of them I put together.
Identities are wonderful tools to help us make sense of things, but in the end, please just be a good human being. Please be compassionate and kind to one another. Even under stress, under personal pain, under disillusionment with Penn, America, the world. It is easy to be pessimistic and down-trodden; try to be brave enough to be optimistic and uplifting.
I’m trying really hard to think about what will be most useful to you, and I’m drawing a blank. I’m out of touch with the dining halls, so I can’t tell you which one is the best (KCECH was my dorm, so I’m partial to that one) and I don’t know the best hidden study spots (6th floor Van Pelt and the Penn Bookstore Starbucks are my personal go-to’s, but they’re not very interesting), so I will leave Penn-hacks to other senior letter-writers. I can, however, tell you my personal regrets about my time at Penn.
I wish I spent more time talking to cool people, and less time stressing out about school work. I wish I dropped some of my clubs and commitments earlier (if you’re doing more than two things by junior/senior year...you are an especially talented multi-tasker). I wish I meditated more, walked around different Philly neighborhoods more, tried more restaurants. Now, I used the word ‘regrets,’ but I don’t like that word. I don’t think I actually regret anything. Everything that I’ve experienced up until now, every mistake I’ve made, every success I’ve achieved, has led me to where I am today, and I’m happy with where I am today. So, what would I change? What do I have to regret?
Something that I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about over the years is community. It’s okay to not find one single community at Penn. It’s okay to not have a super close friend group you hang out with 24/7. It’s also okay to find that friend group and family culture and stick with them through thick and thin. It’s okay to wander between groups in search of family. It’s okay to just be alone sometimes (i.e. eating alone at a dining hall - or anywhere!). The point is, you do NOT need to put any type of social pressure on yourself; you have enough to handle without that. When you meet good people, hang on to them, but also understand that sometimes you have to let them go. And when you meet bad people - people who are toxic to your well-being and don’t contribute to your growth in any way - please ask yourself: Is this relationship worth it? And try your best to let them go.
Whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re involved in, remember it’s not that serious. Will you care about this roommate drama three years from now? Will you remember your poor test score five years from now? Please remember to take it easy. When you need to, go for a jog or a walk along the Schuylkill river and meditate under the second bridge (it’s a great, peaceful spot). Walk or take SEPTA to center city and admire the murals and quaint coffee shops. Treat yourself to an expensive latte. Take a nap. Call your mom or sibling or whoever you feel close to. It’s okay to miss the people you love.
When I was a freshman, I was breathless, wide-eyed, hopeful, and terrified. If you’re any combination of those things, I’d say you’re doing it right. But seriously, be breathless, be excited, be nervous, and be hopeful, most of all. You’ll enjoy Penn and enjoy Philly, sometimes in unexpected ways. And if you find yourself not enjoying any aspect of this experience, know that it’s okay to take a break. Take a leave, go abroad, go home for a semester or two.
And finally, on passion and career: Don’t be discouraged or disappointed if you don’t find your life’s calling or some deep passion during these few years. Passion is cultivated; and when it’s related to career, oftentimes it’s artificial. Of course, nothing is wrong with that, and you could even argue that everything is cultivated and made up by you, the processor, the observer of this world. But, I just want to emphasize that it’s okay to be on a non-linear path. In fact, most people I know are not on linear paths - they’re not doing something directly related to their major post-grad; they’re not sure what their five-year plan looks like. (I am also one of those people.) And that’s completely fine. In fact, I’m of the mind that that’s more exciting...but I may be biased.
So, now that you’ve read through all of that (thank you for enduring it), disregard everything that I’ve said, because I don’t know what your experience in the world has been like thus far, and I don’t know what your experience at Penn will be like. What I do know is that every experience you have on this campus (and off) will mold you into who you will be on graduation day. Without every mistake, every triumph, every high, every low, and all the moments in-between, you will not be the person sitting in your graduation cap, yawning at the excessively long ceremony, four, five, six, years from now. So, you get to decide what that person will look like.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but more importantly, don’t be afraid to make memories.
All the best of luck,
Price, Product, Promotion, and Finding your Place | Rom V.
To myself, c. 2015...
On August 25, dressed in a blue jacket that’s slightly too small because you didn’t know blazers weren’t dryer-safe and with your PennCard still faithfully attached to the red lanyard that marks you as a freshman, you’ll set out with the rest of your class for Convocation. You’ll take your seat in one of the plastic lawn chairs arranged in neat little rows and tune out most of the ceremony, wondering if that fan you bought to mount in your window will fit properly (it won’t) and hoping you won’t have to stick out the next few months without an air conditioner (you will). As the speech draws to a close, though, you’ll snap back just in time to hear Amy G tell the class about how, as seniors, you will walk that same path on the way to Commencement. You won’t think much of it. Senior year will seem impossibly far away.
And yet - the next four years will slip through your fingers like water. You’ll wake up one day and realize that come next fall, you and all your friends are going off to different places to pursue your own adventures. You’ll start to cherish the late-night a cappella rehearsals, the 2am Wawa runs, the impromptu lunches with friends you haven’t seen since freshman year. You’ll wish you had just a little more time.
On valuation, internal and external.
Wharton will teach you that you can look at similar products to determine how you should value your own. Initially, you will unconsciously internalize this as a method for personal valuation, and it will shatter your sense of self-worth. But no matter how much Penn’s hyper-competitive culture might suggest otherwise, growth is a process, not a race. There’s no need to go with the flow if you feel like you’re in danger of getting lost in it. Value yourself for who you are as a person, not where you are in the process, and don’t worry - you’ll get there.
On change, identity, and knowing yourself.
Independence will be scary at first, but it will help you get to know yourself better than you ever thought you would. You will question your major all the time - usually between one and three AM, and usually when the code on your screen is beginning to blur into a single jumbled mess. You’ll wonder if you really deserved to go to Penn and contemplate transferring. You’ll cry. A lot. But you’ll push through anyway, and with every mountain you climb, you’ll find yourself better-prepared to summit the next.
You will be a different person with every passing year. You’ll still struggle with insecurity and impostor syndrome: they won’t magically go away with time. Instead, you’ll figure out how to cope better. You’ll learn what works for you (staying busy, reaching out to friends, eating regularly) and what doesn’t (all-nighters, locking yourself in your room, drinking as a coping mechanism). In the end, you will know yourself inside and out, and although this may not be exactly what you want, it will be precisely what you need.
On putting yourself out there, leaps of faith, and rejection.
Stepping outside your comfort zone will happen a lot throughout your four years. Sometimes taking that step will come easily and sometimes you’ll have to strain every fiber of your being to even contemplate attempting it, but you’ll push through. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end (you’ll have the dubious honor of holding a record for most rejections from the same group), you’ll be better for having tried in the first place.
And regarding rejection: it’s part of the process. It will happen. It will hurt. There will be rejections that you will brush off with barely a hitch in your stride and feel stronger for it. There will also be rejections that shake your entire world and leave you unbalanced and adrift for months. But they will teach you how to keep moving forward even when the entire world seems ranged against you. They will teach you how to walk the line between caring and caring too much. Most of all, they will teach you how to find peace in the things you cannot change, and that is something you will grow to be grateful for.
On moving countries, on finding your space, and everything in between.
Penn will not feel like home for a very long time. You’ll miss Manila with the first shock of frigid winter air, when you’re sitting alone in your dorm craving sinigang or adobo, when you’re lying in bed wondering why all your friends are thriving and you aren’t. You’ll chalk it up to the perpetuity of gray skies and early sunsets, and as such you’ll feel guilty when the first day of spring rolls around and nothing seems to have changed.
Yet, as you grow and grow more involved, you’ll begin to see home in the little things. You’ll see it in the way PPA comes together every year after Barrio, in the joy of performing onstage with the Pennchants, in the smile-and-wave routine as you pass friends on Locust. You’ll start to look forward to coming back after breaks and slowly come to the realization that it is possible to feel at home in two places simultaneously. Being comfortable at Penn will sneak up on you, but when it arrives, you’ll wonder why you were ever worried.
Throughout your four years, you will learn how to assess a firm’s position in a market and crunch the data to support your answer. You will learn the most-efficient way to track the median of an infinite stream of numbers and what to Google when your implementation of the former doesn’t perform as expected. But above all, you will learn how to keep your head above water. You will learn that vulnerability and resilience are not mutually exclusive. And, eventually, you will learn to be proud of who you are - whether that means binge-reading the newest YA trilogy instead of thoughtfully pacing through more-mature literature, taking naps instead of going to parties (and regrettably sometimes class), or using a marketing framework to guide self-reflection.
College will be over before you know it. Try to enjoy the ride.
-Rom, c. 2019
Sh*t Show | Mark G.
Dear Penn Freshman,
Buckle up b/c Penn can be a shi*t show. By the end of that ride though, you should hopefully walk away with two things: credibility in the eyes of the world and credibility in your own eyes.
That first one is easy. For some reason, if you pass all of your classes, the school gives you a piece of paper or two. For some even crazier reason, most of the world sees that piece of paper and takes it as a signal of reasonable credibility. Don’t beat yourself up trying to learn something super specialized along the way to getting that piece of paper (aka a diploma). Any job you ultimately land on will teach you everything you need to know. Instead focus on learning about things that interest you (I know that’s a cliche, but bear with me). If you don’t have that luxury (I didn’t unfortunately), then focus on trying to understand how what you learned fits into or abstracts out to the real world. That leads me to the second point.
Learn to feel comfortable with both yourself and how you start to fit into the world.
This is not easy. Nobody can give this to you, and it certainly doesn’t go hand in hand with receiving that esteemed piece of paper. Even if you think everyone around you thinks you’re great, if you don’t think you’re great, you will not feel great. Fun fact, not many people here genuinely think they are great and that’s really, really sad because so many people here are great.
Penn’s social scene (for better or worse) is dominated by the socioeconomic elite. The things they stereotypically enjoy will likely not bring you to a stronger sense of self. Seeing and being seen by others will not bring you to a sense of self you are comfortable with. Being in a “cooler” greek organization will not bring you to a sense of self you are comfortable with. Wearing a Canada Goose jacket will not bring you to a sense of self you are comfortable with. Getting that coveted internship or job in finance/consulting will likely pull you further away from feeling comfortable with your sense of self (I’ve been there and it didn’t help, only the below helps).
Getting a group of friends that genuinely has your back and that you feel like you can tell anything (I mean anything) will help though. Getting to know professors that start to value your intellectual determination and input will help as well. Learning to become vulnerable with anyone will help. So will getting out of the Penn bubble and seeing the rest of Philly/the real world. De-stigmatizing and working on your mental health will certainly help. More than anything, you need to form your own sense of values so that you can try to live by them. Only then can you feel comfortable with yourself and how you live your life. Unfortunately, nobody else can do this for you. Otherwise you wouldn’t see so many insecure people everywhere.
This requires looking at your faults. And there’s nothing like a sh*t show to help uncover your faults (it has the flip-side of uncovering what you truly value as well though). Fortunately, everyone has faults so you don’t need to worry about having them. The best you can do is to be self-aware enough to recognize when you’ve made a mistake. Be humble enough to admit and apologize for the mistake. Be courageous enough to restitute as reasonably as possible the damages of that mistake. But then recognize that we’re all human and that everyone makes mistakes. So all you can really do is learn from that mistake and try to do better next time. Only with this self-compassion and continuous improvement will you ever get to a sense of self that you feel comfortable with. Hiding those mistakes from yourself and from the rest of the world will do the exact opposite. Fortunately, like I said at the beginning, Penn can be the sh*t show that will help uncover your faults.
And Penn is a sh*t show for just about everyone. There’s no hiding that unfortunately. If it’s not a sh*t show, strangely enough you’re probably not doing it right. A sh*t show full of ups and downs (potentially more downs than ups). But everyone is going through a similar sh*t show, even if they’re hiding it with Penn Face. So have fun with it and learn from it. It’s the most difficult, but also the most fun thing you’ll have ever done. I can’t really sugar coat it much, but I can promise you it’s worth it. If you’re ever struggling or don’t believe me, feel free to shoot me a text or call.
So Stop Being So Afraid | Shreya G.
Dear Freshman Self,
Welcome to Penn. Little do you know, you’re about to embark on four years of incredible self-growth. The biggest mystery to you is what exactly you’ll end up learning, and in how many ways you’ll end up changing. Here I am, four years older, to tell you what I know now.
First of all, freshman year will be a blast. You’ll live in Hill, which is pretty grimey, but you will be surrounded by a dozen new friends in your hall with amazing stories to share and memories to make with you. You’ll be more social than you’ve ever been in your whole life, and you’ll realize a strength of yours- the ability to connect with people so different from you without judgement for their decisions and values. You’ll stay up until 2 AM laughing too much, revealing too much, and probably doing some things you shouldn’t, like BYOing Hill dining and drunkenly mistaking a Jack-O-Lantern behind Hill security for a real person. Luckily for you, freshman year is all about personal growth. You won’t do as well as you could have in school, and trust me, you will feel lonely sometimes. You’ll actively miss your best friend from home and resent her new life and friends. You’ll start to fall in love with your Junior year prom date while trying to navigate dating culture at Penn. I would tell you to enjoy this time, enjoy your new home and new city, and to be blissfully care-free in your ignorance about the future.
Then, I would tell you that the next three years will be drastically different. First of all, you’re family is about to go through a difficult time. You may have thought you would finally occupy your parents’ attention as you navigate your first few years of adult life. As it turns out, they will still constantly prioritize your older brother’s well-being over yours. He’ll make some poor personal choices, change his career path twice, experience anxiety and depression, and frequently turn to you for help. The little sister role you embraced for so long will completely flip, but this will mature you immensely. You’ll learn that it's hard to be happy when the people closest to you aren’t, and that you can be a role model for anyone, even those older than you.
You’re about to get a major wake-up call sophomore year fall. You’ll fail you’re first Gen Chem midterm miserably while you’re parents are in India, you’re brother’s depressed, you’re freshman year friends have spread off-campus and into different high rises, you’ve got some tough roomie drama, and you’re now completely in love with the boy from home who doesn’t go here. You’ll feel socially isolated and lonely in your confusion about the future. But making it through this semester is critical for your self-growth. You’ll realize that you have to look after your own mental well-being to survive here.
More importantly, you’ll finally question why you’ve been working so hard all of this time. It turns out you weren’t doing it for yourself, but for your parent’s approval and validation from other people. You’ll stop doing this. You’ll feel empowered to make your own decisions about your academic and professional future. You’re mother says you shouldn’t major in science because you don’t have the capacity to do well in it. Well, Penn gifts you with a mentor in the form of a post-doc at your lab over the summer. He’ll tell you about the challenges women face
in science and he’ll believe in your ability to fight back against that stigma. He’ll tell you to major in a science because you can well in it. HSOC is interesting, but not intellectually challenging, and you came to an Ivy League school to learn a lot about things you’ll never learn otherwise. So you take BBB109, crush it, and become that confident student you thought were only among the people around you. The same girl who gets a 47 on Gen Chem midterm 1 will fall in love with subjects like Neurobio, Psychopharmacology, and Orgo in the next years.
But you won’t be so strong all of the time. College puts every trait you have under a magnifying glass. You’re insecurities about how you look, the type of family that you’re from, and the way you present yourself to people will all multiply at Penn. Junior year, you’ll actively wonder whether you’ve made the most of your time here. It’s hard when you’re constantly surrounded by accomplished, busy, and colorful people. I hope you realize that you’re at Penn because you’re one of those people too.
So stop being so afraid. Audition for that a capella group that’s so perfect for you, because singing with those lovely ladies will comprise your most joyful moments at Penn. Be proud of yourself, because you’re going to go across the world to Hong Kong one day and live there on your own for a whole summer. And learn how to be emotionally independent, because you’re going to date that boy who’s not at Penn, and he can’t provide the support that a boyfriend at Penn could. This turns out to be great for you, because it will challenge you to love yourself as you are, without seeking external fulfillment or validation.
Some final notes: Stop eating out so much. Please go to Pottruck. Go to lunch with anyone who asks. Laugh harder at your friends’ jokes. Love them harder too. And never stop appreciating those long walks on Locust.
Stop Aspiring to Be Busy | George C.
At Penn, you will find that everyone wants to tell you how busy they are. At first, it may seem remarkable and, admittedly, attractive. Penn students who choose internships in investment banking highlight their 80 hours work weeks during the summer. From sophomore year to senior fall, nursing students can spend up to 12 hours in one day at their clinical rotations, which totals over 730 hours over their academic careers. With up to 30% of students pursuing a dual degree — for which the total course units a student may need could be 46 — several upperclassmen find themselves enrolling in six, seven or even eight courses. While it is natural to talk about your schedule, constantly harping about your busy-ness actually has adverse consequences.
First, it might may come across boastful. When you tell people about the millions of things on your to-do list — or worse, when you send them a GCal invite for a 10-minute coffee break — you convey that nonverbal sub-tweet “See all responsibilities I have and all the roles I hold. I am productive, industrious, accomplished and successful.” When you constantly talk about your busy-ness, you focus on yourself and demand recognition of others, which pushes people away. Instead of brushing that conversation off with the barista at Saxby’s with how hardworking you are, take the time to ask them questions. You can always make time to get to know people, create friendships and deepen relationships. Fun fact: By getting to know the staff at Sweetgreen, which will become a frequent staple once you are done with those swipes, led me to get multiple free dinners — and we are talking with unlimited toppings, people. I will also take this opportunity to give some high-quality advice — the spicy cashew dressing is the sh*t!
Second, busy-ness does not make you special and, frankly, should not be a state you desire. Everyone at Penn is busy — attending classes, studying, participating in club meetings, dancing (never underage drinking) at formals, recruiting for jobs, applying to graduate school, and, oh, sleeping. Heck, even my dog is busy! She eats and goes on walks twice a day, works as a guard by barking at strangers, comforts me after that midterm score gets unmuted (facts), attends appointments at the vet, and even gets her hair cut. Success is not defined by having the most items on your calendar. Instead, busy-ness may lead your peers to believe that you are not managing your time well. busy-ness closes doors you did not even know existed. If you tell people you are always busy, they will not present you with opportunities — professionally or socially. You want people thinking of you when an amazing opportunity emerges, but you also need them to know you will produce a notable final product, which requires time. While I recognize that busy-ness may seem better than boredom, take confidence in knowing that is not necessarily the only alternative.
If you were not so busy on campus, perhaps you could splurge at Zahav (just be sure to reserve 60 days in advance), imbibe at the Philadelphia Zoo, walk through the human heart at the Franklin Institute, attend a free concert at World Café Live, kayak down the Schuylkill, get spooked at Eastern State Penitentiary, dance at Art After 5 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, marvel at Zagar’s mastery in the Magic Gardens, watch a Phillies game or find a hammock at Spruce Street Harbor Park — with Franklin Fountain in hand, of course. You also do not have to spend your newfound free time as a member of the Bourgeoisie. On campus and for free, you can also meet a new friend on Locust, laugh at the new season of Shameless (bye Emmy Rossum!) on Netflix by using your high school ex-boyfriend’s password, or catch up on sleep. Jason Fried writes in “Rework”: “Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way.”
Last and, perhaps most importantly, sharing your busy-ness inevitably affects the mental health of you and that of those around you. By packing your schedule with an extra class for an easy A — a class in which you will always wonder how you ended up with a B+ — you neglect time for self-care, such as a regular sleep routine, healthy lunch breaks, an enjoyable exercise regime, or relaxing social activities with friends. Moreover, by talking about the three clubs for which you serve as president, you inevitably make people feel worse about themselves for not doing enough. By delaying your friend’s request for lunch — because you are working on a Saturday in a “sexy” internship �� you could be ignoring someone who was reaching out for help after struggling with depression, anxiety or loneliness. While we all understandably want to succeed academically and present a strong resume for whichever industry we are seeking employment from, we should also value friendships by supporting others or asking classmates how they are doing and not by perpetuating a culture of competition. I was fortunate enough to take a leave from Penn to address a medical issue and I was amazed to see that life is more than your resume, GPA, or hours spent in the cold basement Van Pelt library (Note: head to the law library for better views). By slowing down and removing clutter from my calendar, I developed new friendships, reached Buddha-level mindfulness, added yoga to my list of hobbies (Namaste!), and put a stop to the stress that my busy-ness placed on myself and on others.
Penn is life-changing, challenging, and rewarding. However, Penn is also college and should be a fun experience. I encourage you to take time to care for yourself and for your classmates. Schedule a weekly lunch with your friend instead of another course. Say no. Take things off your schedule. And most importantly, do not be afraid to ask for help. Please familiarize yourself with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Student Intervention Services (SIS), Student Health Service (SHS), Division of Public Safety, Penn Benjamins Peer Counseling and so many other great University resources. You may not think you need them now, but perhaps you will next week or in three years as a senior.
Please take care and accept my best wishes for a great time at Penn.
Stop Searching for A Happy Ending | Shirley Y.
Dear freshman self, who’s not quite sure where you’re going right now,
Honestly, same. In fact, I’m probably even more lost now than I was when I was standing in your shoes one year ago.
By now, you’ve experienced a lot of firsts. Your first frat party, your first vodka soda, your first failed exam, your first new friend group, your first flight alone, your first break from college, your first rejection letter, your first hook up, your first info session, and everything in between the blurred lines of freshmen year.
Firsts are exciting. It means you’re experiencing new things, meeting new people, exploring new sides of yourself and the world around you. But not all firsts were as beautiful as you expected them to be. As classes picked up, clubs started sending out rejections, and people began talking about recruiting as if it was their only way to breathe, you began to feel more and more pressure. You began to feel inadequate, even though you went to one of the top colleges in the world. You began to feel alone, even though you were surrounded by thousands of people every day. You began to grow old, even though you were only 18.
You began to worry about tomorrow, even though today was right in front of you.
In a place that forced you to grow up too fast, that bogged you down with too much shit to do, you began to look forward to future, rather than live in the present. Everything was always pushed until “later”, “after midterms”, or “sometime”.
Like every fairytale story, you were searching for a happy ending. As long as you could get through this week, this round of midterms, this recruiting season, this semester, things would get better.
But they didn’t.
The more you searched, the less happy you became. You were always looking far into the future, dreaming of how great life would eventually be. You so badly wanted to be in this club, to be friends with those people, to be an upperclassman, to be abroad, to be employed.
Stop searching for a happy ending. Stop looking so far into the future that you lose sight of where you are right now. Life will throw so many curveballs in your way from now on, that every plan or expectation you had will be literally be thrown out the window. Just deal with what’s in front of you now – it’ll help relieve that heaviness you feel on your chest right now.
That being said, it’s really fucking difficult to practice what you preach. It’s only been a year since I was in your shoes, so I’m still struggling to focus on the present as much as you are. But just as you’ll grow to be okay with not joining Greek life and learning that it’s okay to be alone sometimes, you’ll slowly get better at embracing and loving what’s going on in front of you, rather that fantasizing about a potential life ahead of you.
We don’t live in a fairytale that’s already been written and planned out. So much of your story is still unwritten. So, stop trying to find your happy ending, and find your happy now.
From a girl with a few more pages written,
Take Your Time | Henry M.
Dear Penn Freshman,
I hope you’re excited for the next four years. There will be ups and downs, but as you get to know Penn, you’ll get to know yourself. Navigating Penn isn’t always easy. It takes trial and error, and more than anything: time. So don’t feel rushed to feel completely comfortable. It didn’t happen for me until senior year, but that’s a good thing. The path you explore at Penn is valuable because it is your own. You get to choose how you spend your time, the people you spend time with, and which passions you pursue. That is all very individual. For that reason, I’m just going to lay out a couple things I’ve learned that helped me find my way here.
Penn is a bubble sometimes. It’s easy to lose track of the values and perspective you brought to this school on move-in day once your day-to-day schedule becomes full of other things. It can be difficult to remember what is important to you when you feel pressure to study until 4 am, recruit for internships, go to networking events, etc. My first piece of advice is this: find a grounding influence in your life and rely on it. For me, it was my family. Taking time each week to talk to my mom and dad was a consistent way to remind myself what is important to me. Also, coming from a family of non-Ivy Leaguers, it was a reassuring reminder that there is more than one way to happiness and success in life. Turns out, you don’t have to be a 4.0 student and get the most prestigious job out of school to live a satisfying and happy life. Who knew!?
College is your last and best chance to grow and develop yourself before you start your career. You’ll never again be surrounded by so many different opportunities and passionate people. Everyone falls into a routine at some point. You have your habits, your social circles, and your daily or weekly regimen and you stick to them because they are comfortable. I recommend you seek out things that make you uncomfortable. Things that challenge you help you learn about yourself—use Penn and all of its opportunities to challenge yourself to grow and improve.
Most importantly, make sure you always maintain a belief in yourself. For lots of reasons, it can be easy at Penn to get down on yourself and feel as though you’re failing or somehow not making the most of your experience. In those moments, take solace in your friends and family, and try to find that valuable perspective to remind yourself that you’re doing just fine.
That’s enough, though, because the beauty of your time at Penn will be you figuring this stuff out for yourself. Best of luck in all your endeavors.
Henry Munson ‘19
That's Okay | Elena Z.
Dear freshmen year me,
How is it already senior year? How is it that in 50 days, I will be standing with my cap and gown, surrounded by everyone I know and share an incredible bond with, and walk down the length of Franklin Field on a (hopefully) sunny day? To say that the past four years have been a rollercoaster is an oversimplification. Rather, as I look back on the moments – big and little – that defined my personality and life at Penn, I can’t help but feel that it all seems like it was both a short movie played on 16x speed and one that stretched out over 1000 years, at the same time. I’m shook, really. Penn is a time warp.
All this is to say is, I hope you slow down and smell the flowers. Or smell that 8oz vanilla brew from the red Keurig you swore you’d use every day but only used once. You’ll be tempted to apply for every club you’re interested in, and you’ll end up doing so even if that means putting yourself through a crazy month of learning the hardest way what “no experience necessary” and “highly selective” means. But that’s okay, because after it’s all over, you’ll have learned how important it is to just live in the present. So, when you’re asked to plan a memorable prank on a friend, to steal a squirrel from McClelland and celebrate over Allegro’s, or to blow the afternoon off and have a snowball fight in the Quad, say yes. Because there’ll always be the next application, assignment, midterm, or interview. But there won’t always be these perfect, small moments, that you’ll remember so much more after four years.
Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, and just think about what’s best for you. You won’t be able to sleep 9 hours every day, get an A on every exam, go to every party and hang out with your friends whenever you want to, and be incredibly fit, all at the same time. And that’s okay. Because you’ll learn to understand what and who means the most to you. Some days, it’ll seem like nothing works out. But call your parents, vent to your friends, take a breath, make yourself some muffins, and before you know it, the obstacle that seemed impossible will be a distant memory. If there’s anything I can take away from Penn, it’s that mentality makes or breaks everything. This means staying optimistic and hopeful, and knowing that your positive energy can brighten the days of those around you.
So slow down, focus on being the most positive and compassionate version of yourself, and cherish the ones around you who make you laugh. You are loved by so many people and will continue to make them proud. I can’t wait for you to tell me how the next four years go.
Your future self,
The Best Four Years | Anisha Y.
Dear Freshman Self,
We have a silly habit that we maybe should’ve left behind in kindergarten - a tendency to get our head lost up in the clouds, in colorful imaginations and make-believe. So, on December 15th, 2014, when you opened that Early Decision portal and were greeted with the sound of “The Red and Blue”, your mind ran wild with the possibility of what was to come.
You did your research. As soon as your mom told you that you weren’t allowed to apply to Oxford (how could you have possibly thought we could go that far away from home, for God’s sake?!), attending the esteemed University of Pennsylvania became the new dream. One college tour was all it took for you to fall in love and envision yourself throwing toast on Franklin Field during every football game (you only did this once) and taking big detours every day to avoid walking through the center of the infamous Compass (you still do this because you’re lame). You knew you would join the art club, do groundbreaking research, join a bunch of clubs for women empowerment, spend your afternoons sipping coffee and reading novels at the bookstore, and have a bajillion friends (and you were pretty sure you knew who they would be because of social media). And you would probably invent an app because it’s Penn and doesn’t everyone?
Soon came the desperate need to gain admission and the refusal to apply to any other school. “I can’t go anywhere else – I feel like I belong there,” you said. December 15th was overwhelmed with screams, cries, happy dances, and compulsive refreshing of the University of Pennsylvania Class of 2019 Facebook page. You knew these would be the best four years of your life.
The best four years...
You definitely didn’t dream about spending most of your freshman year nights lonely, binge-watching The Flash in The Nipple, and yearning to be back at home (or really just anywhere other than Penn). Your wildest imaginations didn’t see you downloading transfer applications in a moment of sheer panic after failing your first Math 114 midterm. You didn’t expect to not do much of anything but study (where was the incredible discovery or invention that you were supposed to change the world with?). You didn’t expect the beautiful, shiny image you had of Penn to be tarnished.
In the midst of this pain, you’ll also experience great happiness. You will learn to manage your anxiety and to be comfortable being alone. You’ll learn to appreciate the gems in your life and to eliminate toxicity. You’ll go to concerts that change your life a little bit, belly laugh with your friends ‘til it hurts, dance like a crazy person, find love, eat really good food, and develop the perfect combination of ingredients for an unbelievable Wawa sub (which stops mattering when they stop offering sundried tomato pesto spread, but it had a good run). You will keep fighting for happiness.
I’m proud of you for never giving up trying to make Penn the place of your dreams. But here’s some advice to make things a little easier for you:
1. You never found a “friend group”, per say, but you found friends that will last you a lifetime. Your first friend at Penn, who reminds you of home and cares for you like you thought only family could. A friend who lets you sleep in her bed when you call her crying about the mouse named Parmesan you found in your dorm room. A friend that will hold your hand during Take Back the Night. Friends that will sled down the steps of the Quad in a storage bin with you during the first big blizzard. Friends that will eat brownies and Half Baked while watching Camp Rock with you (also, don’t worry, the Jonas Brothers will get back together soon). Don’t take them for granted and stop looking for something more.
2. Stop letting the fear of being uncomfortable or alone prevent you from doing things that could give you greater perspective and change your entire college experience. AKA, your friend dropping out of a club that you love doesn’t mean you need to, as well!
3. You’re going to have imposter syndrome, big time. Where you once thought you belonged, you will soon find it hard to fit in amongst thousands of higher achieving individuals. Stop overanalyzing things! Just enjoy the privilege you were given.
4. You’re going to endure trauma. The emotional struggle in its aftermath won’t get any easier. But you need to learn to breathe, stop self-pitying, and start asking for help. I promise it will be okay.
5. Don’t waste your precious moments of life sulking alone at home. Go paint outside, walk to the Schuylkill, or read a book on the grass (but bring something to sit on because grass stains aren’t cute). These will be some of your favorite memories.
6. DO NOT take Math 114 with a professor rated less than 0.60 on Penn Course Review. Just don’t.
These won’t be the best years of your life. And that’s okay, because they will be the most transformative. Penn doesn’t give you what you imagined, but it does give you the experiences and knowledge needed for a lifetime full of happiness. And, some fond memories and wonderful friends you can bring along for the ride. ☺
Love you lots,
The Illusion of Objectivity | Robert Z.
Why there is no one right answer, and how to stop fighting with yourself.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
Up to this point in your life, you’ve been on a path that has been grounded in what seem like objective sources of truth. These might have been your parents and siblings guiding you on what kind of behavior is acceptable, or the teachers in your education system teaching you how to think. Your peers might have gravitated towards specific clubs or classes, and you might have felt pressure to do the same. Because surely, what the majority of people are doing can’t be wrong, right?
Objectivity? These “objective” sources of truth in your early life weren’t necessarily a bad thing. We take time to emotionally mature, and until you reach that point, having a path laid out for you that usually leads to success is a good thing. After all, it’s gotten you to Penn. But now that you’re here, you’ll suddenly find yourself with more intellectual and emotional freedom than you’ve ever had before in your life. And if you search for the objectivity that you’ve been so familiar with to this point as a way of navigating that freedom, you might be disappointed.
What you’ll learn is that this objectivity in your personal motivations doesn’t really exist. You’re a unique person, and how you should spend your time depends wholly on what you want. Once you let go of those outside sources of “truth” and find your own path, you’ll find that you feel more liberated than ever before.
Searching for objectivity at Penn. Unfortunately, Penn is not the kind of place that’s always conducive to letting go. You’ll be surrounded by some of the most accomplished people in the world who are jumping onto every opportunity they find. It will seem like everyone has it figured out; as if they have found that objective grounding for their decisions that’s driving them forward. You crave the same thing, so you chase membership in clubs and social groups on campus, challenge yourself in the hardest classes, and frantically make your LinkedIn profile for the first time.
All your new commitments start to feel validating. There’s some certainty around feeling that you must be doing the “right” thing since that’s what your peers are doing. Validation is a perfectly natural feeling to crave – without it, we wouldn’t have any understanding of whether we’re making the right decisions.
Identity crisis. But this validation is external; it’s coming from your peers, and not from you. That makes it seem objective, which feels so good because it’s familiar. The reality is that your peers at Penn don’t form a source of objective information, but instead a subjective one carefully curated to the world based on their collective experiences. This means the choices of your peers are no more “correct” than your own.
Remember that point where you reach some emotional maturity? You might be approaching it now, and this is a point where you naturally want to understand your identity. Unfortunately, the combination of following a guided path in your early life, and now again in college during such a formative time, have put you into deep doubt:
Why have I been doing the things that I’ve been doing?
What you’re searching for is a connection between some inner sense of purpose and the outer actions you’ve taken. This is another perfectly natural feeling to crave – you feel that you’re a conscious being and you should have some agency over your decisions. When that’s not the case, you might feel incredibly upset and even depressed; after all, time in college is limited, and everyone says you should make the most of it. But you’ve just lost so much time being someone other than yourself. How do you build yourself out of deep doubt?
Identity formation. First, you realize that you’ve already made what is arguably the most difficult step in overcoming your grounding in “objectivity”: acknowledging that there has been a problem. You come to understand that you’re the only person in the world with the exact combination of subjective experiences that you’ve had, meaning there’s no one else who will quite see the world or think the way you do. That also means there’s no one who can decide what’s best for you except yourself. This can be an incredibly scary thought to grapple with, but it’s also a beautiful one, because there’s nothing in the world that’s more liberating.
Luckily, for as difficult as Penn is, it’s also an environment that does help you explore this freedom. You might never again be in a place with so many bright people and opportunities – take advantage of it, and try to find those spaces that are most purposeful to you. Maybe you drop that club you were never a good fit for and continue developing your reading habit from high school. Or you give up studying for a quiz to stay up late talking to a close friend. These things will feel right because you made the choice to pursue them.
Forming your own path will feel a lot different from your early life. It’s more uncertain just by virtue of being unique to you, and that can be unsettling. It also will not always get you the external validation you’re used to – your peers, friends, and even family members might struggle to understand why you pursue what you do. While that may change eventually, having a strong sense of internal validation will give you much more confidence that you’re staying true to yourself. When the outside world gets rough, that internal drive will be your anchor.
The future. You’ve started on potentially one of the longest and most difficult, but also most rewarding, journeys of your life: understanding yourself. Answering the question of how to find what you want to work on could fit into its own letter, or book, or multiple books. There are lots of resources out there on navigating this journey, but too often we start at that point without first acknowledging the forces that led us to need these resources in the first place. Too often, those forces can continue to lurk in the back of our minds and distract us from this journey. Overcoming them is a huge first step; you will do it, and you should feel proud.
All this said, you shouldn’t abandon objectivity, but rather learn to balance it with subjectivity, keeping this perspective in mind when you’re evaluating decisions close to your personal values. This is the best you can hope to do; humans are emotional creatures, and we can’t fully detach ourselves from our past experiences. We’re better off for it.
There is no one right answer. But there is an answer that’s right for you.
There's No Bear | Savi J.
Ah my baby Sav.
I could write forever because each day brings a new letter. Even after living with yourself for 22 years, each day remains a surprise.
You’ve always wanted to know what the future looks like. While you probably never imagined you’d be organizing the letters you were reading three years ago in the TP lounge at 2 am, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
Everything you’re feeling right now? It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get worse. It doesn’t get better. It just gets different.
Originally, I wrote a letter reminding you that you were enough because maybe, just maybe, for a moment, I thought just your insecurities drove you to be the workaholic you are today.
But in this past week, I finally get it. Yeah yeah yeah. Your insecurities drive some of your decisions, but you are a little adrenaline junkie in an unconventional way.
You constantly take on roles and projects where you only know 10% of what you need to know because learning the other 90% gives you a high like no other. You know social situations and meeting new people gives you the pits in your tummy, yet you take Olympic level dives into them even at the risk of a major bellyflop. You decided to write a cookbook, run a letters-based initiative, and teach English across the world when you love to break the rules of grammar. Why do you eat off knives and not use oven mitts?? Unnecessary danger.
But Sav, there is no bear chasing you.
You aren’t fighting for your life. So why do you constantly feel like it? That’s the pressure you put on yourself. The weight you choose to bear.
And I want to say that needs to go but the truth is I don’t know!
Your bear chase will provide you some of the craziest opportunities in your life and introduce you to people you would have never befriended otherwise. But at times, when you’re running too fast and need to slow down, you’ll find it hard and crushing. You’ll misstep, and it’ll crush you. Sometimes, literally (please protect your ankles). You’ll feel very lonely. A lot of people will be there when you’re up, but, even when you have friends that’ll be there for you when you’re down, you won’t know how to ask for their help. You will get better at asking for it though, baby steps in a space you’ve never ran before.
I wish I could tell you that four years of this crazy rollercoaster has transformed you from a caterpillar into a butterfly as some claim it has.
The truth is that everyday you wake up feeling like the girl who is about to swipe into the Quad.
You still love pizza, pancakes, and potatoes. You love to hug. You are so loud. You don’t have rock-hard abs. You still can’t tell the difference between left and right. You cry and laugh so hard they’re indistinguishable. You’re a selective tryhard. You want to feel welcomed and make others feel the same but also feel as if you never truly fit in.
I’m not going to give you advice because the other letters are eloquent, comprehensive, and intentional. I’m going to give you answers.
- You were enough the moment you came out of the womb crying 22 years ago, but you became more when you became a part of your community and embraced your identity.
- You were enough when you got into Penn regardless of your insecurities, but you became more when you recognized your privilege to attend.
- You were enough when you would take care of your body, but you became more when your intentions changed.
- You were enough when you got rejected by that boy you like, but so much more when you realized you’re still developing a healthy relationship with yourself.
- You were enough when you struggled to find your professional and personal comfort zone, but you became more when you realized that those zones constantly change and other people can only influence your definitions if you allow them.
- You were enough even when you felt like you weren’t, but you were more when you asked for help because you didn’t feel enough by your own standards.
But enough is for yesterday. The same person who could tell you that you were enough is the only voice that can tell you you’re more.
So let that voice scream the same way you shout across Huntsman to say hi to people, the same way you cheer when your friends succeed, the same way you shout about a topic you’re passionate about, the same way you enunciate on speaker when you call home.
When you do, you’ll meet people that’ll change your views: professors, classmates, strangers. You will recognize the world is unfair, making you fall in love with what is good more. You’ll become better at a different type of show & tell- the one where you show your friends you love them and tell them you appreciate them.
As for the bear, it’s a matter of how much you can bear.
Unlike before, learn to say enough, even if you still have space for more.
Things Will Work Out | Ryan L.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
Congratulations! You’re in for a whirlwind of experiences these next four years. An unbelievable mixture of laughs, smiles, a few tears, is ahead as you face the successes and failures that college provides. Don’t worry, the successes will outweigh any failures, but they will all be learning experiences.
Over my time at Penn, I’ve come to love so much about Philadelphia, this campus, these people, and the University as a whole. It truly has the perfect balance of characteristics and the interdisciplinary set of resources that can make Penn become home for anyone. With that said, there are several things you should know to guide you along the exciting journey that awaits you:
1.) Keep an open mind. Go to concerts for artists you’ve never heard of, check out that improv comedy group, and listen to that obscure physics lecture by a renowned visiting professor. You never know what you’ll take away from the experience. In some cases, they could be life changing! In most cases, they won’t be, but the least you’ll get is an interesting story to tell in the future or an opportunity to say, “I did that.” Step outside of your comfort zone as often as you can- you won’t regret it!
2.) Be patient. Don’t convince yourself of your path. It’s easy to feel like you need to have things figure out early since you might assume other people do, but they typically don’t, and forcing yourself into a label will make you unhappy. Instead, embrace change and accept the uncertainty of not knowing what is best for you right now. The future will unravel slowly before you and you will find the right path for you if you wait for it. No two pathways in life are the same, so you can’t look at when others find their direction and assume you must find yours then too.
3.) Value every relationship. You will undoubtedly learn more from others than you will in class. You’ll come to understand new cultures, different ways of thinking, and unique lifestyles if you genuinely get to know people. That means asking them questions and doing more LISTENING. People generally enjoy speaking about themselves, so being sincerely curious will help you to learn a ton while making a new friend. You’ll hear a lot about the importance of networking and it can’t be overstated in its potential to help you, but it also shouldn’t be something that stresses you out. When you seek to organically meet new people rather than forcing it, you will be much better off. It’s important to note that even the little things count too. Only connecting with or being nice to people who can potentially help you will backfire. Instead, be kind to everybody and be willing to have a conversation, whether that be a billionaire alum or a cashier at FroGro.
4.) You’re not alone. Whatever you might be feeling, it is almost guaranteed that there are dozens of other students feeling the exact same way. During NSO, you might think that everyone else is making more friends than you, that all of them are more impressive than you, or that you’re missing out on fun college experiences in your first week alone. I can tell you from experience as someone who thought all of those things that I was not alone and you won’t be either. In reality, nearly everyone else felt the same way and similarly judged their peers as doing better. You won’t believe how many people I talk to now who are incredibly sad to leave Penn, but thought about transferring their freshman year. It’s a thought that hits many people hard and if you feel it come into mind, reflect on it deeply before making any decisions and talk to some trusted upperclassmen about it. Even beyond NSO, it’s comforting to consider that the problems you face are ones you can talk to others about. When you fail an exam, or go through a break-up, or disappoint your friends, you will do so with an incredible array of campus resources and friends to support you. Your RA, CAPS, professors, tutors, and advisors are all here because they want to see you succeed, so don’t hesitate to use them! You won’t be the first to ask for help and you certainly won’t be the last.
5.) Things will work out. This quote, with a picture of fingers crossed, has been my computer background for the majority of my time in college. I certainly hit a ton of low points during my four years, but somehow, seeing those words kept me grounded. I know that you’re reading this and thinking, Sure, that’s what they all say. I certainly heard people tell me not to worry during my freshman year and I could never buy into what they said. I thought every failed exam meant I wouldn’t get into med school, every club rejection meant I’d never meet new friends, and every late-night breakdown meant that every night would be the same way. Of course, none of bad these thoughts panned out, but the vicious cycle of negativity can make them feel inevitable. Convincing yourself that it will be okay, that tomorrow will be better, and that you will overcome whatever challenge is in your way will allow those things to become true. When you put your best foot forward and give it all you’ve got, you should work to let yourself be proud of the outcome, even if it wasn’t what you had hoped for.
There is plenty more I could say, but it’d be far too long to put into words. Please keep the insights from all of these letters in mind and know that each author is truly rooting for you. You’re going to thrive. You’re going to be successful. You’re going to love it here.
Do your best, don’t be afraid to ask your help, and reach out if you ever need anything. Wishing you a fantastic four years and a wonderful life beyond!
Toto, I've A Feeling We Aren't In High School Anymore... | Ahalya R.
Dear Freshman Ahalya,
You made it to Penn! Looks like kissing all that butt in high school really paid off, huh? And the hard work, of course. Obviously. Get ready for a rollercoaster because college really will be the absolute best years of your life, but it’s also going to strain you and challenge you in ways you’ve never, ever experienced. It’s an arduous, continuous learning process for everybody. Here’s what I wish I knew as a freshman:
1. Wash your hands. Don’t be gross.
Listen. If you think you can come back from 6 hours of class and eat a snack without washing your hands, THINK AGAIN, because that’s just DISGUSTING and you know you do that when you’re exhausted. Penn is a petri dish with bacteria festering in every place imaginable. Throughout your time in college, you will get strep throat twice in three months, a viral disease that SHS will not be able to diagnose, and multiple fevers, among several other nasty ailments. You will methodically pop your antibiotic pills in anguish, twice daily for 10 days, and before you know it, you will have to take another course of them. You will ask the nurse what you can do to prevent your surrender to every bacterium and/or virus in your path, and she will tell you to wash your hands more.
Then you’ll realize you really don’t wash them often enough, like after you finish studying in a Huntsman GSR, or when you pick up a package from Amazon @ Penn. Stop convincing yourself that your pathetic immune system is strong enough to handle a skipped hand-wash here and there. Heads up: in sophomore year, you will get so sick that you’ll have to go to HUP and your roommate will Snapchat ugly pictures of you while you’re on the hospital stretcher. Is that really something you want for yourself? Is it?
2. You suck at things, sometimes.
Yeah, we get it, you were the best at your high school, and now you go to an Ivy League college, and you’re under all this pressure to continue being the best. That’s kind of a trope, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’ll be the hardest mental obstacle to overcome. It’ll wear you down like you couldn’t have ever imagined.
For example, you aren’t going to be very good at your concentration. Sorry that I had to hit you with this, but I have to be honest, right? You love accounting so much that your cover photo is a meme YOU CREATED about accounting. You own t-shirts with accounting puns on them. Sadly, you just don’t get the hang of it when you’re being tested on it. You’re going to contemplate dropping it at the beginning of every semester. If that wasn’t bad enough, you’re not going to be so hot at your second concentration either. Hmm. Yikes. You’re going to understand finance when you read about it in newspapers, but if someone puts a finance midterm paper in front of you, you’re going to blank. Not to harsh your mellow more than I already have, but you’re also going to BOMB sophomore year recruiting.
But you know what? That’s okay. It’s OKAY for you to not be the best. I’d go so far to say that it’s okay for you to be average or below average at almost everything if you can translate your passion for ONE thing into success, whether that happens now or even five to ten years down the line. It’s okay to get a B+ here and there. It’s okay to love what you study if you don’t test very well on it. What I want to emphasize the most out of all of this is that it’s okay that almost every other person here seems to be able to do it all. People here are here for a reason, right? They’re smart, strong, and capable. You need to remember that you’re here for a reason too, and that success is measured in countless different ways. It all turns out just fine in the end as long as you work hard enough to keep making progress.
Also, you rock at so many things. You’re great at your Management classes, Raas, choosing exactly the right filter, making horrible puns…the list just goes on and on. Go find more things to be bad at, you superstar you.
3. Stop studying so much, you nerd.
Spoiler alert: you’re actually going to shed tears over your BEPP250 midterm result because you “only did 1 standard above the mean”. Yeah…you’re one of THOSE people. In freshman year, you’re going to spend 80% of your time studying and 20% of your time anguishing over the fact that everybody in college is so much smarter than you.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t work hard – it’s totally fine if you weren’t naturally gifted with a powerful memory or the sharpest intelligence. Solid work will put you at the same level as everybody else, if not higher, but you should also work smart. Use what you can to your advantage, and never, ever doubt that your friends at Penn will always make your life easier if you ask them for help. You’re not bothering anybody. When you’re an upperclassman, you’ll pay it forward.
If you’ve already read the slides three times, grab dinner with a friend. Go out to a party. Stay up until 3 AM talking to someone about life. Do something that���ll help you build the relationships you came to this school for. You’re very fortunate that you can attend this amazing school, and you should never neglect your grades, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of your relationships or your health.
4. Don’t follow the herd.
Everybody you know will, at some point, drag Penn for breeding a “toxic culture” of competitiveness. Yet, they’ll all be members of the same clubs, recruit for the same jobs, and stress over the same things. You’ll buy into it, too – you’ll interview for the “high profile” clubs on campus (and receive multiple rejection emails), join the few that you are accepted into, and will recruit for investment banking jobs eleven months in advance because that’s what everybody else is doing.
Stop that. You know perfectly well your dumb consulting club isn’t adding any joy to your life. It’s going to be hard to convince yourself that writing “I did my own thing” on my resume will suffice instead of listing all your club commitments, but the art is in the spin, my friend. You can make anything make sense if you try hard enough. Just ask an upperclassman. They’ve had to wade through enough BS to be able to flawlessly produce their own. If you want to spend all your time choreographing for your South-Asian dance team, then just do that. If anybody asks, tell them it has developed your “people management skills, leadership skills, and time-management skills, so I would be a great fit for this position”. See what I did there? Classic.
5. Save all of your pictures, and I mean all of them. Even the ugly ones.
I’ve given you a lot of vague advice, like “taking it easy” and “doing your own thing”. I’m going to give you some straight-forward advice here: take lots of pictures, and back them up. Screenshot and save all the Snapchats, too; even the ones where your friend caught you with your mouth full, mid-laugh, and added an inappropriate caption. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of those.
I say this because the most valuable things you will gain from going to Penn are your relationships. The people you meet here will become your family. If you can capture a moment, do it. You’ll thank yourself later. Also, let’s be real: on a “good” day, you wake up 15 minutes before class instead of 5 and wear jeans instead of sweats. If you miraculously put in effort and look nice one day, some documentation is deserved.
That’s pretty much all. To be perfectly honest, me writing this letter to you is, to put it bluntly, completely pointless. I would’ve never taken future-me’s advice because, as a freshman, I thought I had myself figured out. I knew I was diligent and prudent, and I thought that my preferences would never change.
Although I stand by everything I said, and you better wash your damn hands, the one piece of advice you should take from future-me is this: do whatever you think is right (even though you’re probably wrong. Like, 90% of the time you’re wrong.). I say this because celebrating good decisions and regretting bad decisions is, without a doubt, the only way to carve the right path for yourself. You have to be a freshman to become a sophomore, and then a junior, and then a senior, and you learn something new each step of the way. No matter how accurate you think your intuition is, you will make so many mistakes. Make them wholeheartedly.
I’m so happy I have a year of college left. Had I written you a letter at the end of senior year, I expect that it would have been wildly different – which just goes to show how much each year teaches you. Hold on to all the amazing memories your brain can contain, because they’re far more important than the formulae for your finance midterm.
Trust Yourself | Vedika G.
Dear Freshman Self,
When you meet your roommate for the first time and she gives you a hug and you want to cry out of relief, trust yourself, because she will become your best friend. And when you audition for an a cappella group even though you swore you wouldn’t, trust yourself because that group will become your family.
When you feel like you’re doing too many things because you don’t want to miss out on anything, trust yourself, because yes, you are doing too many things and the burnout will hit you hard. Learn how to say no early, and know that it is okay to want to be alone.
When you walk into Bio 101, realize that you hate the lecture and don’t care about what you’re learning, and wish you could be in your criminology class instead - trust yourself. It will take you two years to realize that you aren’t supposed to go to med school and it’s okay that you keep putting it off because you don’t want to feel like you’ve failed or given up or that you just weren’t smart enough. Just trust yourself when all you want to do is volunteer on a campaign or talk about politics and current events.
When you feel like you’re not doing enough, that you’re doing the wrong things, trust in yourself and in the groups that make you the most happy, even if they aren’t as “high profile” on campus. There will be times when you feel like your friends aren’t the friends you thought you would make or the friends you would keep from freshman year, but you’ll make some of your closest friends in your junior and senior years, so don’t rush it.
In four years, you’ll end up somewhere you never thought you’d be and you’ll be happier than you can ever remember being. Don’t stop pushing yourself to be better, but know your limits - you can’t fix everything, and that’s okay (I’m still learning that now). Here’s to two years of chasing the wrong dream, one year of figuring out what you’re even here for, and one year of feeling like you’ve completely found your place (even without knowing what you want to do after you leave). And even though it may not always seem like it, in four years, you’re going to love it here.
You’ve got this.
Learn From Me | Madeline F.
Dear Penn Freshmen,
You are about to embark upon one of the biggest adventures of your life. When I was your age, I thought I was ready, and I can only hope that you think you are ready as well. Nevertheless, ready or not, freshman year will be here before you know it. No matter whether you think you are ready or not, know that you are okay, and if you get to move-in day thinking you were ready and you now find yourself in a different position, know that you are still okay. I found that the latter applied to me almost four years ago and was scared out of my mind. I didn’t think I deserved to be here. I didn’t think I could stand to be so far away from home. I didn’t think I could survive living with my freshman year roommate. But I was enough. I deserved to be here, I have been able to live so far away from home, and I survived living with my freshman year roommate. Maybe you will share experiences similar to mine, maybe you won’t. Either way, I hope you can learn from some of the experiences I’ve had, because this is what I wish I could tell my freshman year self.
1.) Your first semester friendships don’t have to define your collegiate experience. I know there’s a lot of pressure to find new friends right away, but remember that you will meet new people each semester. And if your first semester relationships last, that’s great and wonderful! If they don’t, that’s more than okay. It takes time to get to know people, and everyone is nervous that first semester! I chose my freshman year roommate and thought she would be my best friend throughout my 4 years at Penn, but our friendship quickly fell apart the October of our freshman year. In the moment, I felt incredibly hurt and blindsided. Looking back, that relationship falling apart was only leading up to me meeting friends who will be by my side for life. The new friends I made were the reason why I decided to stay at Penn, and I will be forever grateful that they helped me stay. On a related note...
2.) It’s ok if things with your freshman year roommate(s) don’t work out. Sure, it might make the rest of the year a little awkward, but this is completely normal. Both of you are going through a huge life adjustment, and conflicts will probably arise as both of you navigate this new experience. This is okay, and this is normal. Honestly, the number of people I know who still have good relationships with their freshman year roommates are few and far between. Unfortunately for me, my freshman year roommate ended up being my worst nightmare, but I survived the year and honestly believe I am a stronger person because I lived with her through two semesters. Obviously my situation was not ideal, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Note: I don’t say this to scare you about living with someone your freshman year, but rather as encouragement if your roommate situation is not perfect.
3.) Believe in yourself and trust your gut because you know what’s true and real.
Thinking my roommate was my friend, I went to her with something extremely personal because I felt something was wrong, and she told me to “so what, get over it” because it’s “not a big deal.” Those words hurt me more than the original incident itself, but I am
thankful that I had friends in my hall who were willing to help me navigate the situation. I wish I didn’t let those words get to my head so much because they haunted me for the rest of my freshman year. Know your truth and don’t let anyone make you think otherwise.
4.) Make the most of you four years in Philadelphia. I know what I thought, and it might
be what you’re already thinking: “of course I will, why is this even a suggestion, it’s so cliche.” Over the past four years, I fell in love with this city. Despite my mixed feelings about Penn itself, I absolutely love Philadelphia, and it breaks my heart knowing that I will not be living here next year, or possibly ever again. I can’t imagine spending my undergraduate years anywhere other than this city. Please, make the most of every opportunity, because before you know it, it will all be over. I personally recommend spending at least one summer in Philadelphia, if at all possible, because there is so much to do around the city that you can experience without the stress of classwork. I spent two summers here and had an absolute blast.
5.) STUDY ABROAD! This by far is my biggest regret as I approach graduation. I got so
caught up in having a double major and submatriculating that I lost sight of this objective for my undergraduate career. I wish I could have told myself that submatriculation was not worth giving up the opportunity to live abroad. I thought submatriculating would make my job search easier, which is how I justified giving up the experience of studying abroad. Plot twist- my job search has been just as hard despite my graduate degree because I do not have full-time professional experience outside of my education and summer internships. I know studying abroad is not for everyone, but don’t get to senior year with the same regrets about your experiences as me.
6.) Find a way to save and cherish all of the good memories. Something I realized in my
four years at Penn is that my memory sucks. I wish I used my phone to take more pictures over the years. Not for instagram or vanity purposes, but rather for my own memory. At the time, I thought I was just living in the moment, but it’s unbelievable how much happens in four years, and I’m sad my memory is not good enough to remember all of those moments. Recognizing this, I downloaded an app called “1SE,” which stands for “1 second everyday,” and have been documenting all of the best moments of 2019. I would highly recommend doing this, no matter how good your memory is. Trust me on this one.
7.) Rejection will happen, and rejection is okay. I still struggle with this one, largely
because I was accepted to Penn ED and never truly faced rejection until I stepped foot on campus. I had the hardest time getting involved my first semester because Penn’s extracurricular clubs, organizations, groups, etc, are very competitive. Everyone around me was doing something exciting, and I literally was involved in nothing first semester. This was hard, but it pushed me outside of my comfort zone and lead me to a home in a Greek organization during my freshman spring. It was in this organization that I found my place on campus, and I quickly became involved in my sorority’s leadership, ultimately serving two years on our executive council. If I hadn’t been rejected first semester, I probably would not have joined my sorority, and I can’t imagine Penn without my sisters. Speaking of Greek life...
8.) If you are even remotely interested in Greek life, go through recruitment. This does
NOT mean one should necessarily join an organization. While Greek life is not for everyone, I know a lot of people who never imagined joining a Greek organization and now can’t imagine not being in theirs. I know this is the case for me, and I came to Penn thinking Greek life was stupid and not for me without giving it a fair shot. I wanted to transfer after my freshman fall, and I went through recruitment as a last effort to get involved in an organization at Penn. Choosing to give the recruitment process a fair chance was by far the best decision I have made at Penn because my sorority gave me the home on campus I had longed for the prior fall. If you decide midway through that Greek life isn’t for you, you can drop the process and be done with it! Just don’t be left wondering “what if” with any opportunity at Penn, Greek- related or not.
9.) Treasure the good friends you make. I mentioned previously that I wanted to transfer after my freshman fall. I’m incredibly grateful that I didn’t, and at the end of the day, I have some of my closest friends to thank. I didn’t even know them all that well, or for very long, because I met them during my spring semester, but I knew there was something about these individuals. I knew I didn’t want to risk losing these new friendships by transferring, and these individuals remained some of my closest friends in college. I’ve met the best of the best and the worst of the worst here at Penn. Not everyone is perfect, and everyone, myself included, gets wrapped up in their own personal bubble of stress and pressure as a result of attending such a prestigious university. Amongst all of the self-absorbed individuals, I found friends who would drop everything they were doing to come to my aid. Whether it was comforting me after a traumatic final, or rushing to the emergency room to be with my before I had last-minute surgery, I found some really incredible friends who I will cherish for the rest of my life. People who act selflessly are the people you want to keep around in your life, and it’s truly special to find them in such a high-stress environment.
10.) Don’t wish these four years away. No matter how bad it may seem at times, don’t
wish these years away. For three years, I was INCREDIBLY unhappy here. If I had to do it again, knowing what I know now, I’m not convinced this school would still be the right fit for me. But these four years have given me incredible opportunities for growth, discovery, and change. It wasn’t until the start of my senior year that it really kicked in that this experience was almost over, despite all of the hard times I had over the years. For the first time, I regretted counting down the semesters until graduation. I’m now two months away and am incredibly sad this time is almost over. There’s part of me that’s ready for a new chapter, but I wish I didn’t wish away the time. I know you haven’t even
started yet, but trust me, in the blink of an eye, you will be a senior. It’s absolutely crazy how quickly four years has gone by.
I know that was a long list of advice, but I stand by each point and wish I could have told and believed in these pieces of advice myself prior to arriving on campus. Change is hard, but it’s part of life and is ultimately a good thing. Enjoy the next few years- they won’t be easy, but they will be full of memories that will last a lifetime. Good luck as you start your freshman year, and if you find yourself with any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out :)
Madeline F. C’19 G’19
What Makes Us Human | Victoria Y.
Dear Freshman Victoria,
As you embark on the most incredible and formative four years of your life in college, I want to start by reminding you of your favorite book from elementary school: Mistakes that Worked, the picture book detailing a collection of f*ck-ups that changed society for the better. From the mix-up of sparkling and regular water in a pharmacy that brought us Coca Cola to the miscalculation that led to the wondrous leaning tower of Pisa, the stories of Mistakes that Worked teach an important lesson that life isn’t meant to be perfect. And, that often life can be even more precious when it isn’t.
Penn is a special place. It will be your loving home for the next 4 years. You will be welcomed into a community filled with brilliant minds that will change the world and dedicated professors who will help you discover your interests. You will find caring friends who will go to the end of the world to make you smile, and are the most adherent believers of “work-hard, play-hard” that will fill college with memories that we will laugh about for years.
Even though it comes close, Penn won’t always be perfect. There will rejections from jobs, from clubs, and from parties that you probably should avoid anyways lol. I don’t bring these up to scare you before the fun begins, but rather to encourage you to appreciate how adversity shapes us, makes us feel loved, and makes us human.
There is nothing that makes you feel more at home than the love of friends and family. Mom & Dad, Theo, Doey, Ottis, and your loyal and kind-hearted friends will be there for you. On the busy exam days that you don’t have time to grab lunch, Theo will be waiting in the food court with a hot sausage pizza. On the days you need a hug, Doey and Ottis (with a little bribery) will be there to be your snuggle buddy. On the days when you are (as always) wildly unprepared for upcoming interviews or presentations, Allison, Kaylyn, Lydia, and Shirley will be there to coach and support you in whatever way you need, and on the nights when your heart is broken, they will be there to FaceTime you from halfway around the world and pick up the pieces. On the stressful evenings when you regret waiting until the last day to do your CIS homework, Ethan will surprise you with a chocolate milkshake from Abner’s as you guys buckle down for a long night. These tough but loving moments will be your most precious memories from Penn. It is these moments that allow you to learn and grow into the stronger person you will be four years from now. It is these moments that I know we will look back on and smile.
Cheers to the next four years - I believe in you!!
Sending my love,
Wish on A Star | Haley B.
Congratulations on this new chapter of your life! I wish I could give you the exact roadmap for your time at Penn, what to do and not do, all clearly laid out. But not only is that impossible, it wouldn’t serve your best interests. There are some things you need to learn by making your own mistakes and nothing I can say or do will prevent you from learning some of those lessons the hard way. Instead, I’ll offer you a single piece of advice that will hopefully give you comfort when you need it most and keep you focused when everything is going as planned.
You’re about to enter Penn with stars in your eyes and not a single doubt that you’ll achieve each and every one of your dreams. Somewhere along the way though, you’ll start to downsize those dreams. Each little failure and misstep will chip away at not only who you are, but who you want to be. Your dreams will become smaller, bite-sized and eventually not even dreams, but rather “achievable” goals. That’s okay—it hurts and will make you question your identity in ways you cannot even begin to fathom right now. But what’s not okay is for you to leave those dreams by the wayside and instead develop of a sense of complacency and a belief that “this is enough.” That’s not who you are, even if there are days when dreaming of a brighter future seems impossible. You’re going to fall to lows that seem never-ending, experience failures that are unimaginable and one day you will wake up not knowing who you are or how to have a relationship with the person that you’ve become. That’s okay. It is, however, unacceptable for you to stop striving and daydreaming. It is not okay for you to stop trying to create miracles in your life because you’ve lost faith in yourself. Your dreams have always been your faithful companions and for you to abandon them now is a betrayal to not only yourself, but to the world you’ve spent so long creating in your mind.
I promise you it will get better. You won’t notice it right away and it won’t be overnight, but one day it’ll all be okay. Remember to be endlessly grateful to those that were with you when you couldn’t be there for yourself and for those that played pivotal roles in your life, even if only for a few moments. Allow them to inspire you, push you, and most importantly, help you—especially in those moments where you think you can go at it alone. Accept their help and once you’re able, make sure you lift others as you rise.
Just keep on looking up and remember that the stars you’ve wished upon for 18 years aren’t going anywhere. Dream bigger love.
Lots of love,
You Will Succeed. | Santosh N.
Dear Freshman Self,
Congrats on getting into one of the best schools in the world! The next four years of your life are going totally change the way you view yourself and life. The lessons you learn and friendships you make will likely stay with you for your entire life. Contrary to what you might be thinking right now though, Penn is not going to be all fun and games like the pictures on their brochures suggested when you got your acceptance letter in the mail. Believe me when I tell you that you are about to experience the four hardest years of your life so far. You will mentally, physically, and emotionally be pushed to the extreme. But hold out, because the challenges you face are going to make you a better person, and you will graduate from Penn with a much better philosophy about relationships, ambitions, values, and what to seek in life. Here are a few words of advice to help you make the most of your hard earned four years here:
Take life seriously. But don’t take yourself too seriously.
Right now, you have an image of yourself as a “perfect person” who is preparing to achieve great things. After all, you were one of only a handful of kids from your town to attend an Ivy league school. You are careful about what you say and how you act around your classmates. You are a little scared about making a bad impression. You want to become a mature, put-together adult who is on track to do big things. Stop. As soon as possible. Do not take yourself too seriously. You’re an 18 year old kid. Enjoy your time in college as much as you can. Let loose, live in the moment, and just have a good time, because you will never get these four years of your life back again.
Be nice. Unless people aren’t nice back.
The core values you’ve grown up with compel you to be a nice person. You will, as a result, feel like you need to sacrifice your time and energy to help those in need around you. This is a great quality—don’t lose it. But realize that there are people who will try to take advantage of you. There are people, who, for whatever reason, will try to put you down. Keep your distance from these people. They are not worth your time and effort because they will drain you emotionally for their own self interest. Be nice to people that are truly in need and those that truly matter to you. Find people that genuinely care about you and will reciprocate the love you show them. Don’t be hesitant to find these people through religious groups at Penn. You will realize (quite late) that this community will feel a lot like home.
You define Penn. Penn doesn’t define you.
You were selected from roughly 40,000 applicants to be at this school. Sometimes, you might feel overwhelmed looking at the awesome things that people are doing around you. But remember you were selected to be one among those students, because you were and are, just as awesome. Being at a world class institution with the some of the best academic and professional resources among the smartest people in the world may sometimes make you feel small. But remember that you, in part, define Penn. You are part of what makes this university one of the best universities in the world. You belong here, and your personality, presence, and achievements are part of what makes this environment intellectually and culturally rich.
Don’t be too focused. But don’t lose focus of what you want.
Don’t lose sight of what you want from this school. Stay steadfast in your ambition to change the world for the better, to revolutionize healthcare, and to ultimately do good in society. You will be extremely tempted to transfer to Wharton during the course of your freshman year. Those GSRs, the cohort communities, and the business school rankings are going to be really damn tempting. But don’t fall into this “Wharton vortex.” You came to Penn passionate about studying something, so stay true to that passion, and don’t let others tell you that there are better options out there.
That being said, don’t be afraid to learn new things. Part of college is about exploring. Don’t be afraid to try things that you’ve never, ever thought you would do before. You never know what you will like. Join those salsa and bachata classes a lot earlier. You will love them. Run for student government. It’s very different from the middle school election you lost that made you swear you would never run for election again. In the end, you will realize that you will have a lot of fun doing these seemingly irrelevant things and they will ultimately help you become a better person.
You will succeed. Provided you know what success means (to you).
You will feel at times like your future looks bleak. You want to be able to do great things. You want to gain recognition for the work you do. In short, you want to succeed. But all of that seems so hard and distant, especially when you can’t seem to understand how to do well on your CHEM 053 lab reports. You will slowly come to realize that success is not about getting into a good medical school, publishing papers in major journals, or getting a 4.0 GPA. At the end of the day, success is about whether you are content with life. You will realize that true learning comes from learning about things that get you excited, as opposed to memorizing a few facts and spitting them back on tests. You will realize that the friendships you form will mean so much more than another line on your resume. No matter what, as long as your heart and perspectives are in the right place, you will succeed.
You'll Get There | Anonymous
Dear Freshman Self,
I wish so hard that I could say that you have got your life together a year or two down the line, but to be honest you don’t really. But that’s fine. You’ll get there.
Firstly, you will make friends and they will be super cool and awesome people. Just because someone told you that you wouldn’t fit in before you got there, doesn’t mean you should completely freak out. Just let things happen and keep an open mind and heart. That being said, slow down. It’s so easy to dive into new friendships and/or relationships without thinking about the consequences. Guess you don’t learn until you’ve gone through it, but please take time to slow down and think things through. Either way, you’ll get there.
You think you’re used to living away from home, but to be honest you struggle with living away from your friends. You’ll end up calling them at odd hours and leaving way too many sappy messages, but don’t worry, they feel the same way. Despite all the time zone differences, you lot will make it work. Typical “homesickness” may not apply to you, but it’s still valid. Your friends are family. It’ll be ok. You’ll get there.
Don’t forget to take time for yourself. You’re important too. That being said, don’t forego academics for it. Well, not always anyways. Get off campus, go explore Philly, by yourself or with friends. By the way, SEPTA may seem scary sometimes, but it’s totally fine and it gets you where you need to go. Campus is gorgeous at night, and walks are wonderful. If you’re lost, don’t worry, you’ll get there.
Dining hall food may not seem that great, and some people might judge you and your friends for eating there, but treasure it while you can. Once you get older and people get busier and live apart, it’s really hard to get the same vibe. Also, when you finally get to eat in a dining hall as an upperclassman, you treasure it a lot more. Guess distance makes the heart grow fonder? Another thing, go try out food around Philly! Go to centre city, old city, wherever and go explore and try new cuisine - it’ll do you well later on, I promise. I’d say snack less and eat healthier, but you’ll get there.
In college you’re constantly surrounded by unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar places, but don’t be scared of trying new things out and meeting people! They don’t bite...I think? Some things might not work out the way you want it to, but make the most out of the clubs that you are in. Also, please don’t force yourself to stay in something just because someone told you to or you feel obligated to, you’re not. Get to know people from all around the world, and find your home away from home (even if that ends up being your workplace, or a group of people). Your mum will still phone you every day to check up on you(and tell you off), BUT she cares, and so does your dad, so please call him more. Keep doing your thing, you’ll get there.
All I can say is, you’ll find a balance between everything (hopefully? I mean you still haven’t found it yet), and you’ll learn as life happens. You’ll get there!
Best wishes and all the love *insert giant hug*,
Your sophomore self
P.S. College is the time to try new things, and I mean, you miss all the shots that you don’t shoot (or so they say).
P.P.S. Take time to breath, but also stop mucking about.
Letter to Frugal Freshmen | Andrew L.
At some point between now and September, you will open your mail to find the next tuition bill from Penn. I hope you have the courage not to pay it. Instead, return notice of your de- enrollment. Take your money elsewhere: invest in new world-changing technologies like Bitcoin, rigorous training in software programming, or acquire seed capital for a start-up, to give some examples. Exit this place before it saddles you with debt and harnesses you with the blinders of mainstream institutional conformity. To boot, all of these alternatives and substitutes are currently on sale!
Penn can scarcely facilitate intellectual growth, let alone claim status as an epigone of the classical academy. Yes, there are still debates on campus over what racist thing should be dismantled first, however, the institution has locked its cannon, and is set on an accelerating spiral of instrumental progressivism. Men, white people, fraternities, conservatives, heterosexuals, and meritocratic admissions will never be less reviled than they are now on campus. “Submit or get cancelled” clicks the ratchet, spun by the coalition of the margins at the command of tenured “Marxist” professors. (Marxist goes in quotes cause, y’know, Marx stood for liberation.) Know that this phase, like a driverless car, does not require your cognition, participation or even presence.
If you stay, you may, for example, get a job in consulting, work hard your whole life for uncaring global bureaucrats and enjoy the hollow pleasure of using Alexa to order the latest plastic corporate products that chain you to a life of cramped consumerist comfort in your designated urban cube. If you leave, you will maintain as an individual. Live outside the system, breathe the fresh air, and return in strength to stage a revolt when the ruins of this system are beached like a whale on the shore of debt. (Keynes truly was a traitor to your social justice.)
You may wonder, as a Senior, why I and many stay, despite saying all this? Like every other sleep-deprived student, I hit the snooze button on waking up to the voids and excesses of this “education”. It’s easier to know the condition of a house after you’ve lived in it. This school and her peers are in the flood plain of post-politics and there’s no insurance.
If you thirst for social justice street cred, please, stay and fight. Alternatively, if you’d like a family, house, security, privacy and dignity, exit stage right.
Defining Your Own Happiness | April H.
Dear little April,
That’s what your hostel friends from Australia are going to call you when you take a leave of absence from Penn in your senior year, but you don’t know that yet (spoiler alert!). I know you may not be able to fully comprehend this right now, but these next four years are going to contain some of both the best and hardest experiences of your life. There will be moments that will leave you in awe, completely humbled by what the human experience is capable of. Others will give you excruciating pain, and you will face challenges that make getting into Penn feel like a warm bath. Every second will be worth it, and by your senior year, you’ll have finally become a woman who can not only belt as high as D5 on the piano but can also deliver business presentations without having to memorize a script.
But you don’t know any of that yet. As of now, you’re just excited for your first real taste of freedom away from home.
You may think that Penn is going to be like that spring break scene in 22 Jump Street. You wouldn't be entirely wrong, but you have to let that image drop. Those girls you showed up to SAE with on the second day of NSO won't help you find your phone the day after, and they'll have left you by the end of the month. Those feelings of isolation and loneliness you’ll feel for the first few months of college will never completely disappear, but I promise that you will learn to cherish your own company. And in time, you will even meet some of the most incredible people on the very same campus, as soon as you see past Penn’s carefully constructed social hierarchy. These will be friends who will not only help you look for the phones you lose at frat parties, but will also talk you through your junior year depressive episodes and scream your name at all of your Chinese a cappella shows, despite not understanding a single word.
You’re at once extremely intrigued and a little frightened by the college hookup culture you hear so many stories about from your classmates. Don’t worry, you’ll get your fair share of experience, despite thinking you know better. In fact, at 19 years old, you’re going to fall for the worst of the drug-abusing senior fraternity brothers, who will patiently cajole you for three months to gain your trust, and then promptly ghost you one week after taking your virginity. It’s going to take 9.5 months for the pain to go away, and you’ll never see love the same way again. But it will also allow you to build your self confidence, and you’ll finally begin the tedious process of defining your own self worth. It really was him, not you. You can trust me on that.
Having just graduated from a mostly white, Anglo Saxon high school in suburban Pennsylvania, I know you’re still little insecure about your Asian heritage. But please don’t be too skeptical when some guy persuades you to try out for his Chinese a cappella group as “practice for your other auditions.” You’ll never believe it now, but this group of slightly nerdy yet endearing Asian singers will soon become your home away from home, and Pennyo will turn out to be the only extracurricular activity you stay a part of for all four years of college. Eventually, you’ll also realize that your identity is yours alone to define, and your cross-cultural background is what made you special all along anyways.
You had never heard of Goldman Sachs or Canada Goose before coming to Penn, and back home the knee-length North Face coat had been the accepted winter fashion standard. For the next few years you will go to class with some of the most financially privileged kids in the entire world, and you will struggle to navigate a status and power seeking social culture unlike anything you’ve seen. When junior year rolls around and everyone you know vies for the most prestigious and lucrative internships, you’ll be tempted by an unbearable pressure to conform, despite your obvious lack of interest in the financial sector. I want you to know that you will not ever need a job to justify your Ivy League education, not even for the tuition your parents work tirelessly to afford, and you should never use a resume line as a form of self validation. But, as you inevitably sign your full time offer at a bulge bracket investment bank in New York City, please don’t be too disappointed in yourself. I also want you to remember that everything in life is temporary, and one day you too will find your passion.
These next four years are going to change you, a lot. You’re going to do things you never even imagined possible, like intern at a venture capital firm in Singapore, backpack across Europe during your study abroad in Scotland, and even take a semester off Penn to bartend in Australia. You’ll learn to identify which budget airline attendants are most likely to forgive your oversized carry-on, how strict Australians are about minor speeding infractions, and that gouda is actually pronounced “howda” in Dutch. You’ll realize just how big this world can be, and that all the things which seemed so important at one point in your life—the formals you had wanted invitations to, the GPA you didn't get, the sorority that rejected you—are only as important as you make them.
One day in the spring of 2019, you’re going to wake up a second semester senior, and you’ll hear a freshman girl you know refer to you as her senior mentor. You’re going to run home to frantically look at yourself in the mirror, only to discover that sometime over the last four years, that cute, naive,18-year-old girl who once let herself be ruled by the opinions of others, finally grew up. As you sit down to write this letter to your freshman self, you’ll finally realize that the most important thing you learned in college was not how to walk through a DCF analysis, but rather that no one, anywhere in this world—not at Penn, not at home, not in some exotic country halfway across the world—can tell you how to live your life. You haven’t learned this yet, little April, but I want you to know that happiness is and will always be yours to define.
College is going to be one of the most exciting journeys of your life—you’ll find out soon enough. Work hard, have fun, and enjoy everything that these four years have to offer. I’ll see you at graduation.