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It began with a mistake, as is the way with some beginnings. I was searching the offices of The Daily Pennsylvanian, looking for an introductory writers’ meeting for 34th Street magazine. I’d tagged along at a friend’s request, trying my hand at the whole “get involved” mantra that so many wide-eyed freshmen are fed upon their arrival at Penn. Instead of the writers’ meeting, however, we stumbled into the photography department’s info session.

Since then, according to my Flickr account, I’ve taken 6,121 photos across 145 assignments. Well, I’ve taken 6,121 decent photos. There’s no estimating how many I’ve left in various computer recycle bins or failed to put online.

In preparing to write this column, I pored over those photographs from my four years here, looking for some sort of wisdom to be gleaned from the hodge-podge of basketball and blizzards, shootings and Spring Flings. Thumbing through each album, memories came rushing back of the strange circumstances I always seemed to find myself in.

I remember being terrified sitting in the back of a speeding police car, my bulletproof vest pulled tight, with only a month of photography experience under my belt. We had been working on a profile of Philadelphia’s 12th District and were now racing to the scene of a shooting in progress. Only a few days later, I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with photographers from Getty Images and the Associated Press, snapping shots of Sen. Barack Obama as he debated with other presidential hopefuls.

It makes for an amusing juxtaposition, comparing those photos with some of the stranger assignments I’ve been on. The Philly Naked Bike Ride, International Pillow Fight Day, Spring Fling and a look at the Pleasure Chest sex toy store for a 34th Street article.

These days, it’s not uncommon for a photo assignment to leave me speechless. Not speechless in a sense of disapproval or shock but rather awed appreciation.

Greeks and athletes, activists and the apathetic, researchers and average Joes — they all have a poetry about them that, from behind the lens, is acutely apparent. Photography has given me the rare opportunity to freeze those tiny vignettes of my time here and helped me be more aware of when they are happening.

If there is any advice I can impress upon my fellow seniors, anything to be learned from those 6,121 photos, it is to appreciate those moments of self-awareness and to step back from the daily hustle to see what is often right in front of us.

Over the next few days, as your experiences at Penn come to their close, I implore you to walk around campus and take a moment to recall the snapshots from your time here. Stop by a favorite study spot not to study but to hang out and people watch. Go to a friend’s house to take in that air of reminiscence and nostalgia.

Take care not to dwell too long on the old, familiar places, but rather keep those snapshots close to your heart as you move forward to your next adventure, your next beginning. They’ll serve as a reminder that the unfamiliar, strange situations in which you find yourself are only memories waiting to be made. The new acquaintances you make are only old friends you don’t know yet. Walk confidently into foreign territory and don’t be quick to write off happy mistakes as failures.

After all, who knows when you might stumble into the wrong room?


Photographing my peers at Penn has been a privilege that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’d like to express my gratitude to all the people who made my time here memorable. Pete Lodato, a former Sports Photo Editor and 34th Street Photo Editor, is a College senior from Barnegat, N.J. He will be living in Philadelphia after graduation.

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