My surroundings, both on and offline, tell me that I should be having a good time at Penn.
I’m constantly confronted by the Facebook albums of friends from home, filled with photos from New Student Orientation, fraternity parties, and football games. Social media has always been a way for people to broadcast their happiness, but for college freshmen, it’s more than that. Our Instagram accounts are our social GPAs — tools to prove to family and friends that we’re thriving in our new environments.
In person, it’s no different. On Friday nights, I pass by clusters of girls, dressed in all black, giggling in the Quad, and I feel ashamed. Should I be going out too? How do they have that many friends? Is there something wrong with me? Although I know it’s untrue, it often seems like I’m the only one who isn’t enjoying myself in college. And at Penn, even happiness feels like a competition.
Maybe it’s socially unacceptable, but I’ll admit it: My first semester here has been tough.
At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about the loneliness that comes with being a freshman. Yet, these feelings aren’t just specific to underclassmen; whether or not we are vocal about it, many of us are lonely at times. But it’s not just being alone that’s made me unhappy, it’s feeling hopeless in the face of Penn’s issues.
I’ve seen and read and written about them: sexual assault, binge drinking, hypercompetition — the list is extensive. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of tackling these problems. Still, I’ve hidden behind and used them as excuses to isolate myself. Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with anxiety, and in college, I’ve dealt with depression too. While some of these hardships are personal, some are a result of stress and melancholy brought on by the problems that scourge Penn’s campus.
Perhaps these sentiments are more intense than what others might experience; maybe they’re less. Regardless of their magnitude, feeling discouraged in light of Penn’s issues is normal. Recently, I convinced myself that coming here was a huge mistake and gave serious thought to transferring. But I’ve started to find space to be happy here, to love the good parts of Penn in spite of the negative ones, and prioritize self-care.
Although Penn’s issues make positivity a challenge, we should try to remember why we are students here so that we can truly value all that the University has to offer. What is more, we shouldn’t let ourselves be dispirited by its flaws.
For me, that’s taken the form of registering for classes I enjoy, joining organizations not to build my resume, but to learn, and making time to exercise and get dinner with friends, even when it feels like there is none.
We forget how lucky we are to go to school here. There are friendly, compassionate people at Penn, as well as a variety of incredible opportunities.
We should all make sure to carve out a place for ourselves to enjoy those people and resources and take a break from dwelling on Penn’s shortcomings. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate this school: Two undergraduates were recently awarded the Rhodes Scholarship just last week, Chelsea Manning visited Penn to speak about her experience in the United States government, and a Penn professor just became the first woman to translate "The Odyssey.” We aren’t all going to find reassurance in those particular things, but they are encouraging and demonstrate that this is a place rich with intellectual discourse.
We all get overwhelmed when forced to encounter Penn’s issues, and often, right when we’ve reached our tipping points, something else happens — a classmate won’t share their notes in fear of compromising the curve, or we get rejected from a club with an acceptance rate lower than the University’s.
These are all problems that demand attention from both students and the administration. But it’s important that we find our niche within Penn. Our objective should be to reach a space where we can acknowledge the pertinent issues on campus while also leading healthy, full lives.
Staying positive is easier for some than others. We all have our own personal obstacles to overcome — I’m sharing mine in hopes that they provide comfort to others. Unfortunately, I can’t concretely state how to make this school work for all its students. However, I can say that we should be willing to give Penn more than one chance, because, sometimes, it will fail us. But it will also make us proud.
This school can feel like an unkind, lonely place. A lot of the time, it is. Still, that doesn’t mean that we can’t make ways to be happy here. We can and we should.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Simonetti Says So” usually appears every Tuesday.
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