Darina Shtrakhman | An end to my Penn 'practical education'

Farewell Column | And the start of new adventures

· May 11, 2012, 3:47 am   ·  Updated May 11, 2012, 3:49 am

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Where did the time go? So many conversations these past few months have been about waxing nostalgic and laughing about our freshman-year naivete. Naturally, as we reminisce about college, I thought about how I came to Penn.

I wrote my application essay about achieving what Ben Franklin termed a “practical education.” Coming out of a fairly insulated high school, I’m not even sure I understood what this term meant.

Faced with the impending deadline, I turned to a Penn brochure for inspiration. It told me that our university’s patron saint emphasized combining arts and sciences, academic and real-world knowledge. (To my 17-year-old self, this seemed like an innovative way to frame an essay. Then I came to Penn and realized this same idea occurred to half of my college class.)

I described my college ambitions: taking a range of courses, studying abroad, working at the student newspaper and exploring Philadelphia. I wanted to strike the balance of college campus experiences and downtown adventures that so many students seek when they matriculate at Penn.

A practical education, of course, is a lifelong journey that extends well beyond our undergraduate years. With each new job or city, we face surprises and embrace countless possibilities. Still, this semester I realized — with alternating happiness and reluctance — that I’ve mastered the college edition of a practical education. My friends, even those who dread graduation, find that they agree.

As seniors, we’ve conquered the required courses and filled in all the bubbles on our Penn InTouch worksheets. We know the best study spaces in Huntsman and have mastered the art of cramming for the final. Pulling an all-nighter is no longer an insurmountable hurdle — it’s just another means to the end of another assignment.

Socially, most of us have exhausted the opportunities on campus. We’ve stayed past closing time at Copa, Blarney and Smoke’s. We’ve frequented enough frat parties to last a lifetime and filled entire Facebook albums with snapshots of NSO and Fling. Sure, each of us probably have a few items left unchecked on the Philadelphia bucket list, but by and large, we’ve come to know and love this city.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the comfort zone. I attended the same school from third through 12th grade and when I first arrived in Philadelphia, I wasn’t sure this place would ever feel as familiar as my corner of suburbia had. Now that the New Delhi employees ask about my thesis progress and professors email just to “check in” about graduate school plans, I know this isn’t the case. Penn has become home. Like so many of my classmates, I’m hesitant to let it go.

Looking back, there are a million pieces of advice that I wish someone had given me as a freshman. West Philadelphia isn’t scary. Research isn’t just for science students. There’s more to “the Social Ivy” than outrageous pledging tasks and red Solo cups. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed uncovering the unique aspects of Penn for myself.

First as a Daily Pennsylvanian reporter, then an editor and finally an ordinary member of the undergraduate community, I’ve been amazed by Penn people’s achievements. Students here ask some of the toughest, most innovative questions and travel to the far corners of the globe to answer them. They juggle midterms, OCR, four different group meetings and still make time to dance to Kweder on a Tuesday night.

I’ve been impressed, engaged and inspired by the Penn community. Now it’s time for a new crop of wide-eyed freshmen to have that same chance.

To the class of 2016, the cliches are true: college is amazing and Penn especially so. To the class of 2012, I can’t wait to see what you all achieve next. Our practical education’s just beginning.

Darina Shtrakhman, a former Campus News Editor, is a College senior from Warren, N.J. After graduation, Darina will be interning at the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels. She’ll be pursuing a master’s in history at the University of Cambridge in the fall. Her email address is dshtrak@gmail.com.

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