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I never thought I’d graduate from Penn.

Wait, I should probably rephrase that. What I mean, of course, is that when I arrived here in 2006, I assumed college would take just as long as high school did, or in other words, forever. Nobody told me that once you reach 18, life hits the gas pedal (the brakes don’t work, I’ve tried).

So here I am now, trying to find some meaning out of my college experience without using too many “Life is a Highway” metaphors. Writing one of these senior goodbyes is like navigating a minefield of clichés, so my apologies in advance. The best I can come up with is that college has helped me figure out a little bit more about life. And Penn — or more precisely — the people I’ve met at Penn, have played a huge role in that process of discovery.

A few conversations stand out in my memory. One happened during sophomore year, right after an evening of playing Halo. Maybe it was because we were all feeling a little restless, but instead of going to sleep, my friends and I started to chat. Standing in the dimly lit hall of our apartment, we talked about artificial intelligence, then the universe, then religion and finally about death itself. None of us were philosophy majors, yet somehow the conversation flowed easily from one aspect to another because we all were equally in the dark about the subjects we were discussing. Five hours later, at 4 a.m., pure exhaustion put an end to our ruminating.

Another conversation — or should I say argument — began freshman year with a friend of mine about Civil War history and the South’s goals in that conflict (yes, I discuss Civil War history because I’m cool like that). After hours of discussion and frequent back-and-forth e-mails, I have to admit that he’s forced me to reconsider my basic beliefs about American history.

Countless others have happened in the pink dungeon that is The Daily Pennsylvanian (windowless offices lend themselves to philosophizing). Listening to friends and colleagues discuss issues like individual liberties, trans-fat taxes, President Barack Obama, economics and God have given me some amazing insights on the way the world works.

In short, it’s the people that have made Penn an experience of a lifetime. Here, you’ll meet students who dedicate themselves to community service, the College Houses, Model Congress debate sessions or student-run newspapers. There are others who will amaze you with their intellect or extracurricular talents, and some who can make you laugh and have a good time — even when you’re slaving over a finance case at 3 a.m. in Huntsman Hall. And then there are the professors, who can fire up your interest in subjects you never considered, like city planning, law, macroeconomics or urban studies.

Commencement is another step in this process of discovery. After Monday, the first major phase of our lives will be over — and there are only a finite number of phases left. Graduation is one of the most effective ways of teaching us that life does not last forever. I knew that before coming here of course, but the prospect of entering the real world after 17 years of schooling drives the point home very effectively.

A great professor once told me that success is getting what you want, but happiness is wanting what you get. I came to Penn looking for the former; now, I understand that life is really about the latter. I’m not saying I’ve found any definitive answers about life (I’ll let you know if I do). But after four years at Penn, I think I’m finally starting to ask the right questions. Ashwin Shandilya is a Wharton senior orginally from New Market, Md. He is the former editorial page editor and marketing manager of the DP. His e-mail address is Ashwin is going to work in finance in New York.

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