Samantha Sharf | Stories a nutgraf can't tell

Farewell Column | True stories are more confusing but also more interesting

· May 11, 2012, 3:06 am   ·  Updated May 11, 2012, 3:50 am

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Samantha Sharf
Elements of Style

In my first weeks at Penn, I learned that ‘nutgraf’ is a term journalists use for the sentence that summarizes a story and explains why it matters. The nutgraf of an article about me might read: Samantha Sharf is graduating from college this week, next she plans to pursue a career in journalism.

Almost since my second week at Penn, I imagined writing my goodbye column as a giant metaphor comparing college to sleep away camp. It would be about traditions, friendships and how the most important lessons are learned outside of scheduled activities. Beyond the day to day, the comparison seemed emotionally fitting. I loved camp an irrational amount and leaving felt like the end of the world. My feelings about Penn are similar.

But when the time came to put words to computer screen the allegory fell apart. I am in many ways an entirely different person than I was freshman year, let alone when I finished camp seven years ago. Confining myself to terms that now sound foreign seemed beside the point of this dreaded (but much appreciated) Daily Pennsylvanian tradition.

If you were to present the basic facts of my life today to the people who knew me back then, they probably wouldn’t be too surprised.

At 15 years old, I already harbored fantasies of bylines containing my name. If that were the whole story it would, of course, be a very boring one. My path up till now must look nauseatingly straightforward from the outside. But like most students, my years at Penn have been anything but simple and very different from what I expected.

I expected to work for my college newspaper. I did not plan to use the words ‘condom’ and ‘banana’ in the first sentence of my first piece of published writing. Nor did I expect to feel so at home in the _DP_’s windowless office or with the people inside it.

I did not know that one year as News Design Editor would lead to another as the Managing Editor. I did not know that second year, although unbelievably rewarding would end with me debating whether journalism was really the right choice. It is funny how getting everything you ever wanted can make you question everything you ever wanted.

I even spent a year trying on different hats. I was a future professor, a future curator and a future lawyer (my parents really liked this one). But everything was measured against journalism. Teaching is like editing. A trial is a fancy interview. Words are art too. Right? Eventually I had to leave writing and ultimately come back to it as a columnist to realize it is what I really want.

But like any good college experience (and story for that matter), my career was not the only thing on my mind.

College, I assumed, would provide my first great romance. I expected to fall in love (a term I don’t take lightly). I fell in a lot of like but didn’t get that perfect romance. However, I did fall in love with a group of girls who fed me, challenged me and helped me check things off my Philly bucket list. This love I would not trade for all the roses and chocolate in the world.

To this day I spend too much time daydreaming about the future. Sometimes that future is schedule for the following day, other times it couldn’t possibly occur for many years. It turns out these unwritten fictions rarely end up much like the true story once the details are exposed. Finding my future required much more reporting and many more rough drafts than I could have imagined.

In the end the true story is often more confusing, but always more interesting.

Samantha Sharf, a former managing editor and columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian, is a College senior from Old Brookville, N.Y. Her email address is samsharf@sas.upenn.edu. Samantha is graduating from college this week, next she plans to pursue a career in journalism starting with an internship at Forbes.

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