You should not and do not need to believe that Penn is perfect. You should not love it unconditionally. You only need to love it enough to believe that it is worth saving.
That, I believe, is the “thesis” for this column. In fact, it has essentially been the thesis of most columns I have written for the last two years. My editor has pretty much given up on trying to get me to state my point before the last paragraph, but here it is, Alessandro — the first line. And Robin shall restore amends.
It’s good that I finally addressed this hole in my prose, because this will be the last column I write for The Daily Pennsylvanian. I have a semester left until my obnoxiously long tenure at the school is over, but I know too well what senior spring will do to my level of motivation. Besides, I’ll be too busy finally taking a writing seminar. I’m looking forward to learning how to write after finishing up my English major and three semesters as a columnist. Cheers.
One does not realize just how short of a time two weeks is until one is forced to write biweekly columns. I can say with some confidence that coming up with things to write about was almost always the hardest part. Interesting things just don’t happen that often in college settings, and even when they do, it’s hard to present a novel perspective. One may, as I did in many frustrated moments, even come to the conclusion that there really just isn’t anything important enough to write about.
But of course, this is never really true, is it? Any number of issues, some pressing and others chronic, are worth considering during our time here. Not all of them may be relevant to our everyday lives, and some may seem too big or complex for us to try to address. Besides, all of our academic, professional, and social engagements keep us busy, and we rarely face the need or desire to consider Penn as a whole — what it is and what it could be. So I’m extremely grateful that the DP forced me to think about this school on such a regular basis.
One thing that I have noticed over my tenure is that there seems to be an increasing sense among the student body that Penn is ultimately not a good place, that it is not a place that keeps us safe or happy, that it does not care about its students or their needs. It seems that if there is anything that brings the Penn community together, it’s antipathy of the Penn administration. And some of it is fair. Penn’s shortcomings are well documented in this publication and others, and my fellow columnists and I have called out the University on various issues throughout the year.
Yet, I find this phenomenon disturbing. We live in a place where essentially every part is dedicated to enriching our lives in one way or another, whether that be in the classroom or otherwise. It is a dream. Sure, we face various pressures and sources of stress, but surely our lives here are nearly as free as they can be. We are responsible only for ourselves and our future, both of which we have more control over than most other people in the world.
This is not to say that we should just shut up and enjoy the ride. As I said, there exist problems that are very much real, and we have an obligation to be aware of them and address them when possible. Yet, I hope that people make such criticism with the premise that Penn is worthwhile; that it is a place that has positive potential for not just its students, but the world. Don’t give up on the idea that Penn is not only a place where you can be happy, but also, a place that can make you more resilient, worldly, and understanding of those around you. And we should further believe in it as an institution capable of advancing the world as well as molding individuals. Even when we feel unhappy here, we ought to remember that unhappiness is meaningful in its ability to shape us for the better.
It is worth remembering at times that Penn is a place with a mission. This idea may be so ubiquitous that we automatically roll our eyes and zone out whenever Amy Gutmann or others representing the school talk about it. But I sincerely hope that on some level, even secretly, we still believe in the idea of Penn as an inherently meaningful place with a commitment to worthwhile values, as I do. Thank you for reading.
JAMES LEE is a College senior from Seoul, South Korea, studying English and philosophy, politics and economics. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Conversation” usually appears every other Monday.
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