“Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Patrick Shanley in the play “Doubt.”
I’ve been asking myself: is my college experience what I had hoped for? Am I better off now than I was in high school? Do I have any doubts about where I am today?
And the answer is, I’m not entirely sure.
But if you asked me whether my Penn experience is better than I had planned, I would honestly say yes.
The satisfaction I feel, however, did not come from strategic planning and attempts to achieve perfection. Rather, it is the result of uncertain moves and learning from mistakes I made along the way.
With that in mind, my ultimate advice to the Class of 2016 is this: screw up.
Most of us enter Penn as trained perfectionists. And I remember meeting one guy in particular during my freshman year who took the label to the extreme.
During his first week at Penn, this freshman passed out 2,000 business cards with his name, contact information and what he believed would be his two majors for the next four years.
He had been the class president and valedictorian of his high school (just like half of your freshman hall) and had high hopes of becoming president of his class at Penn. He campaigned ruthlessly and often ostentatiously, making four different flyers and passing them out to every occupant in the Quad.
Unfortunately, his mad enthusiasm led to a questionable disqualification of his class board candidacy and a well-documented freshman year rivalry. Soon enough, many people he had never met had formed some kind of opinion about him. And this was just the first month of his Penn career.
Today, he is no longer a political science and international relations double major looking to become a lawyer. Instead he’s studying communication and public service and plans to create his own media empire.
(Yes, he had to make 2,000 new business cards.)
He is involved in the Undergraduate Assembly (a better branch of student government, to be fair), has a radio talk show, stars in a hit campus sitcom and does a thousand other things in his spare time.
Yes, I was that pretentious freshman.
Even though I have made more mistakes than I can count over the last two years, I have no regrets. After all, the splendor of a Penn experience comes from these missteps.
Almost everyone who moves into a freshman dorm each September brings a laundry list of goals. But not everyone achieves them. The students who really thrive in this environment are those who are not afraid to make mistakes.
To be honest, the real reason why I am giving you this advice is because I don’t want you to become like those bitter upperclassmen you probably saw at frat parties during New Student Orientation.
The ones who stared at you with resentment because they wish they had the chance to do it all over again.
I’m not recommending you replicate my crazy freshman year. Chances are, you wouldn’t survive. But I do encourage you to create experiences that are both challenging and exciting. Don’t just be a passerby on Locust Walk. That will only increase your chances of suffering a mid-college-life crisis.
So stop creating intricate maps detailing the next four years. Find beauty in trials and wisdom in error — this will allow you to put things in perspective.
And to all upperclassman, it’s not too late to fulfill your aspirations. It is easier to make memories than to make rules. So let go and let Penn.
Ernest Owens is a College junior from Chicago, Ill. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday. Toss him a tweet @MrErnestOwens.
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