Places have always held a strong fascination for me. They offer the elusive promise of permanence where much else feels temporary.

Not surprisingly, when I reflect on my far too temporary time here at Penn, my memory is flooded by the places that have grounded the past four chaotic and change-ridden years of my life. The faded upholstered couches of my sorority house’s living room, Room 180 of the Platt Student Performing Arts House, the secluded carrels of the 3rd and 4th floors of Van Pelt, the kitchen counter of the Christian Association, the 3rd floor conference room at OFSL, and the shaded stones of Locust Walk – all these anchor me and my memories of life as a college undergraduate.

In May of 2009, I walked along Locust as a prospective student, awed by the grandeur of the institution surrounding me. I tried to internalize every wonderful word my tour guide shared about the diversity of student interests and the camaraderie and support evidenced by classmates eagerly reading the flyers and banners that littered the thoroughfare.

In September of 2011, I arrived on campus as a freshman, and slowly that vision of Locust Walk began to alter. After the hustle of activity fairs subsided and the initial excitement of inaugural GBMs died down, I began to see that the Walk I’d idealized as representing incredible opportunities for engagement, connection, and sharing of passions had turned into a crowded path from point A to point B. I mimicked the other fast-paced students I saw, headphones in ears to limit conversation, hands in pockets or on the phone to limit flyers taken, head bent slightly downward focused on tackling the next seventeen things on my ever-growing to-do list. No time to engage, no time to connect.

What took me a few too many semesters to realize was that without engagement and connection with my fellow classmates, those things on my to-do list were meaningless. I’d allowed my need to assimilate and “succeed,” in a way that the University could quantify, to transform one of the most inspiring places on our campus into a hassle – something that would make me two minutes late to my Friday morning recitation. What I was sacrificing to feel as externally accomplished as the incredible students by whom I was surrounded was exactly what would bring me fulfillment and joy. When we allow ourselves the time to invest in relationships and feel wholly connected to each other, we can fill ourselves with a renewed energy built of the passions of our peers.

The places I list as the most critical to my time here at Penn were not places of immense accomplishment or personal triumph. They were places of community and places of connection. Places where I laughed, debated, discussed, struggled, learned, cried, collaborated, shared, and lived with some of the most passionate, driven, broken, and beautiful people I know.

In May of 2015, my fellow seniors and I will leave this place. We’ll put down new roots all over the world and find new places to call home. But before we do, we’ll be treated to one more walk down Locust. We’ll walk together, faces lit up and heads high, soaking up the joy of our community and our shared passion for learning. What I would wish for underclassmen is not to wait until your graduation day to walk down Locust with that passion for community driving your footsteps. Commit to prioritizing relationships and connection today. Your to-do list can wait. 

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