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Photo: Idil Demirdag

A new club is celebrating how Penn staff overcome adversity. 

Unsung Heroes, a club founded to bridge the rift between students and campus workers, hosted its first event, "Grit at Penn," on Nov. 30 to honor workers on Penn's campus. Penn's chapter of Unsung Heroes joins a network of other universities around the country in pursuit of a similar mission.

The event, co-hosted by the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, also featured a discussion with Angela Duckworth, a Penn psychology professor who is known for TED talks and research on grit and other character traits.

Members of Unsung Heroes opened the event by showing video interviews with three Penn employees and by presenting them with gifts. Duckworth then spoke about her research on character traits such as grit and self-control and discussed what greatness means to her.

College sophomore Ton Nguyen, founder of the Penn chapter of Unsung Heroes, said she organized the event to help students see how positive character traits appear in people they might otherwise overlook.

“Grit is not just doing well on an exam or sleeping very little or whatever people’s definitions of grit is," Nguyen said. "Grit is also present in the workers of Penn."

Duckworth said character traits such as grit, self-control, and a mindset of growth can allow people to succeed. She argued that these traits are not innate and that it is possible to develop them to achieve greatness.

Duckworth urged audience members to think about their role models and to emulate their character traits. She emphasized the importance of reflection and risk-taking, urging students not to get stuck in perfectionism as they pursue conventional measures of success.

“The danger of going to an Ivy League school like Penn is that you become more risk-averse because you’ve done so well," Duckworth said. "What is the worst thing that will happen to you if you make a bad career decision?"

Duckworth talked about how she took risks in her own life, discussing how she left her consulting career to become a teacher and later a psychologist. She also talked about mental health and the ways in which her Asian-American background informs her work.

Many students who attended expressed interest in Duckworth’s Asian-American background and in the balance between pursuing success and pursuing passions that she advocated.

Engineering and Wharton sophomore Weizhen Sheng said that she had found Duckworth’s TED talks “inspirational” and wanted to hear her in person. “As a fellow Asian-American, I was interested in hearing her perspective,” she added.

Sheng also said that Duckworth’s comments about the dangers of risk aversion formed an “interesting contrast" to the discussion of the pursuit of success. Nursing sophomore Ruth Lee echoed this sentiment

“It kind of seemed like [Duckworth] encouraged the pre-professional culture at Penn,” when she talked about choosing role models and pursuing opportunities, Lee said, adding that it “kind of seems antithetical to staying true to yourself and following what you want to do."

Nguyen said she hoped the event helped students see campus in another way. 

“I think that Penn is so fast paced that people don’t really take the time to slow down and see the world around them,” Nguyen said. “[Penn students] kind of forget that there’s a lot of other people who value a lot of other things [and have] adversities that are just as difficult."

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