Descending from the bridge on Locust Walk one cloudy morning, I saw the familiar sea of students hurriedly milling between classes. On my peers’ faces were expressions of stress. The rush of Monday morning classes was juxtaposed sharply with the chill, feel-good vibes flowing out of my earphones.
That’s when I started thinking about the forgotten happiness of being at Penn. It’s too easy to fixate on our frustrations about this institution; week after week we opinion columnists criticize or lament an aspect of Penn’s culture or administration.
But we were all once high school seniors, excitedly scrolling through Penn’s website and dreaming of walking through Locust, sitting on College Green and taking classes at the Penn Museum. Now that we’re here, we should pull ourselves out of our bubbles and re-embrace the magic of what drew us to Penn in the first place.
So, what exactly is it that makes us lucky to call this place home? I pitched this question to the most critical students of our University — my fellow columnists — and here is why we are thankful that we chose the University of Pennsylvania.
A giant, inescapable part of our lives is Philadelphia. Penn’s location makes getting off campus incredibly accessible and meaningful. A 30-minute walk east allows you to be subsumed in a historical city brimming with parks, festivals and food. Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Penn’s Landing, Fourth Street, Boathouse Row, City Hall — the list of reasons to love Philadelphia is endless.
Penn is nestled in the cozy neighborhood of University City, thereby allowing for an urban campus with a college-town feel. Although the Penn Bubble exists, the University’s location makes it easy for us to regularly transcend our roles of college students and become “real citizens” who engage with city life outside of the University.
Take Princeton’s Orange Bubble, for example. The relative seclusion of the campus demotivates students from leaving. And what about that college in Ithaca, N.Y.? Here, we are residents of the fifth largest city in the United States; it is so easy to forget to take advantage of that.
What else do Penn’s harshest critics love about being here? A common response was the quality of intellectual conversations that occur every day. At the beginning of freshman year, I was taken aback by, but immediately loved, how conversations about world politics could emerge over dinner at 1920 Commons. Procrastination at 3 a.m. could manifest in debates about gun control. Topics of dialogue with one person could range from the theory of evolution to 1930s cinema.
The diversity of the student body is also stunning. I am still astonished everyday that I have friends from six continents, dozens of countries and countless cities. Prior to coming to Penn, most of us were not accustomed to being surrounded by intellectual curiosity and incredible geographic diversity. But we have all come to realize that one of the best parts of being here is being able to connect deeply with our friends, who are all so different from, yet similar to, ourselves.
And what about Penn’s pre-professional culture? Often criticized for being too intense, this atmosphere is precisely what draws some students — including some of our columnists — to Penn. Benjamin Franklin’s educational aim was to found an institution that trained students to be leaders in business, government and public service. At its core, Penn is more geared towards preparing us for the professional world than comparable universities. We are allowed to simultaneously hate the pernicious effects of this atmosphere and love the opportunities it brings us.
The list of reasons to love Penn is boundless and flexible. Different facets speak to different students, but it should not be difficult to find at least one reason to appreciate our University.
It is important to critique Penn and try to hold it accountable. But it is equally important to remember to love it before we lose it. Sometimes, students need a reminder of how lucky they are to be able to spend a tiny fraction of life calling Penn home. For the Class of 2018, there are just over six months left. For everyone else, hopefully next time you’re on Locust at 9:56 a.m. running to your 10 a.m. at Fisher-Bennett Hall, you’ll slow down, plug in some good tunes and realize you can’t afford to wait until senior spring to fall in love with Penn.
LUCY HU is a College sophomore from Auckland, New Zealand, studying political science. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Fresh Take” usually appears every other Wednesday.
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