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Robert Hsu
The Casual Observer

Credit: Robert Hsu

Vote Robert Hsu for Class of 2015 president! I am organized, responsible and passionate, and I want to make our experience at Penn the best ever!

I’m kidding.

The dust has settled now from freshman elections. Life has returned to normal for the candidates who ran — as well as for with those who didn’t. The incessant Facebook friending has ceased, and everyone’s news feeds have returned to a delicate equilibrium. I won’t miss the countless event invitations on Facebook to vote for someone, the ridiculous flyers that blanketed campus like snow or the random solicitations to sign a petition as I hurried to class.

Even though it was easy to become annoyed by the freshman candidates, there is something we can learn from them. Perhaps the candidates ran with the goal of representing the freshman class, but little did they know that by entering into the race, they became hidden representatives of what every freshman is going through right now.

I thought that I had my life figured out when I arrived at Penn. I thought I knew which classes I wanted to take, which clubs I wanted to join and what I wanted to do with my time. I was wrong. Instead, I felt lost for the first time — and overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

And when I looked around at everyone else who seemed to be figuring out his or her life, I felt that I had to do the same with mine. I felt empowered knowing that I had been given a fresh ball of clay from which to mold my future, but at the same time, my lack of identity, fulfillment and sense of belonging made me feel inadequate and empty.

In a way, the freshman candidates represented this vulnerable, unknown, yet promising stage that every freshman is going though right now, but on a more visible level. We are all searching for something to believe in, something to love, something that ignites our passion, something to devote ourselves to, something that makes us feel fulfilled and something that gives our seemingly insignificant lives meaning in this gigantic world. Perhaps we all had that one activity that consumed our time in high school.

But on such a large stage like Penn, it only makes the heart doubt whether it has chosen to believe in the right thing. From the classes we take to the extracurricular activities we choose to commit to, we are constantly searching. The freshman candidates may have annoyed you, but if you really think about it, they too were searching for what you are searching for — an identity, fulfillment and a sense of belonging.

The freshman candidates also showed characteristics from which we can learn. I admire them for being willing to go up to complete strangers in dining halls to ask for signatures, writing their names hundreds of times on the Quad’s walkways even as the rain continually washed them off and talking to random people with the hope of convincing even just one more person to vote for them. This takes a fervent commitment — and, more importantly, guts. It takes guts and a brave heart to pour all of one’s energy into a cause that could very likely fail.

To figure out what we love, we have to act like the freshman candidates did. We need to put ourselves outside of our comfort zones, vulnerable to failure and sudden change, which only makes us open to learning something new about ourselves. Perhaps a club you apply for may reject you, but the door that leads you to open may become something you absolutely love.

Anubhav Maheshwari, an Engineering and Wharton freshman, vividly recalls his experience being rejected from some of the clubs he applied for. “It’s okay to make mistakes,” he said. “We all have a plan, but sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. I’ve realized that’s what makes you grow — you learn to adapt to the situation, and you may learn something new about yourself.”

We need to find something that we love so much that we would be willing to approach random strangers and tell them about it, something we are so proud of that we would run around campus putting flyers up for it. We need to find our own election, our own passion.

We may come to Penn from different backgrounds, different schools, different countries and different aspirations, but just remember that you are never alone on any journey. That’s why we are all here — to make the journey together.

Robert Hsu is a College and Wharton freshman from Novi, Mich. His email address is The Casual Observer appears every other Friday.

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