dearpennfreshmen

Dear Penn Freshmen was started by Wharton senior Lauren McCann.

Photo: Lizzy Machielse / The Daily Pennsylvanian

You may persistently ask yourself if you’ve found the “right” people, if Penn is the place for you or if you’re the only one on this entire campus who feels isolated, alone and afraid. Well, you aren’t.

"Dear Penn Freshmen" is a project created by Wharton senior Lauren McCann, inspired by Penn professor Adam Grant’s organizational behavior class. The website holds a collection of letters written by Penn upperclassmen to their freshmen-selves. One of its main goals is to break the known stigma of "Penn Face," the tendency of Penn students to build up their lives to seem perfect when in reality, they aren’t.

“Everyone tries to make it seem like they’re having the time of their lives, and some people are, but most people are sad all the time, lonely all the time and desperately trying to find the right people,” McCann said.

The letters are written by a diverse group of upperclassmen, encompassing all corners of Penn’s intricate campus. The letters reveal the vulnerability that many felt during their first year at Penn. There are stories of students who considered transferring, who battled anxiety and who stated that they constantly felt loss and were unsure of what they were doing.

“Because we’re always analyzing different cultures, there’s obviously a lot of talking about problems we had with Penn culture or Wharton culture, because it’s so cut throat or very linear looking,” McCann said. “All of us had gained this wisdom over the years of what we had done and wish we hadn’t done, and yet we were all going to graduate and all that information was going to graduate with us.”

The project has grown greatly, with more than 10,000 unique visitors within the first 24 hours of the site’s release, which is more than the total undergraduate population. People from other schools such as Columbia, Georgetown and Duke have reached out to McCann in the hopes of establishing their own versions of Dear Penn Freshmen, she said.

As a way to build marketing for the project, McCann has created a viral video that compiled together short snippets of people reading one line from their letter.

“It organically transformed itself. I’m the only one logistically putting everything out, but so many people were helpful in sharing it, so it really has been a group effort,” McCann said.

The response has been positive, with many students finding that they can relate to the students who have written the letters.

“Dear Penn Freshmen offers new students reassurance, guidance, and even hope,” College freshman Mena Shanab said. "I think in an atmosphere that can become extremely toxic at times, these letters can help make things easier.”

“Freshman year can be a very challenging and confusing period for many at Penn, so reading upperclassmen accounts on their experiences is incredibly valuable and reassuring,” College sophomore Lisa Shmulyan said. “Also, I think that Lauren does a really great job of including a large diversity of people in the project, highlighting that there are many different but equally fulfilling Penn experiences.”

Dear Penn Freshmen brings together students from all years to identify the difficulties that many students face in a prestigious, academically competitive environment such as Penn. It is a tool used to break down the stigma of "Penn Face," to take a step toward creating a healthier and more open campus.

“At this high pressure school, people are really stressed from their work and competing with their classmates for the best grades and internships and this was a way for people to take their masks off. By having the letters be a vehicle, people could really be honest with what they’re sharing in it,” McCann said.

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