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Haley Brooks & Ali Kokot
Think Twice

Credit: , Hayley Brooks and Ali Kokot, ,

When we fly out of the nest and land in a Quad double (or glorified broom closet) freshman year, we feel liberated and eager to ditch our parents’ rituals and head to the nearest party. But as we kiss our parents goodbye and kiss college boys hello — metaphorically of course — we’ve found that we not only miss our families but also the range of traditions that colored our upbringings.

From keeping our rooms spotless (Mom’s orders!) to keeping an orange on our Seder plate every Passover (Mom’s orders!), in hindsight, we sort of like the structure of home. Nostalgically, we yearned for our familial familiar.

Freshman year, we meekly entered the seemingly institutionalized walls of Hillel to ring in Passover, reluctant to change our own quirky versions of the Seder.

“It takes a lot of courage to do Passover in a new way,” University Chaplain Chaz Howard said. “18-22 is an important season of identity formation.” It’s a time when we change our relationship to past traditions while forming new ones, he added.

We had to chuck our “it’s my way or the highway” attitude to understand that in trying to replicate our family traditions on campus, we’d be continually disappointed when things were off. So instead, we learned to build families here and start our own traditions. We conceded to make new memories.

College freshman Rob Golden furthered our point. “I come from a very strong supportive family, but the reality is, they’re not here,” he said. “You can’t survive these four years without establishing some sort of on-hand equivalent.”

In college, your friends become your family.

Back in high school, the bell rang and it was home to the family. Now, we go home to our friends. It’s the college continuum: the roles of friends and family blur and even reverse. Our friends begin to mimic a family unit that sleeps, runs errands, works, fights the flu and makes dinner together.

The adage goes, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” Well, at Penn, we’ve hand-selected our family from the pool of potential candidates that chance threw in our direction. The people we sat next to in class on the first day, froze off our toes with during rush and stood beside on that ridiculously long line for the stir-fry option at King’s Court — slowly but surely, we acquired our Penn clan.

Golden reminded us of the freshman experience. “I think over the four years of college, you work to establish your family,” he explained, “but freshman year it’s a more extreme, expedited version of that.”

For him, PennQuest, The Pennsylvania Punch Bowl Magazine, Pennchants and St. Elmo laid the groundwork. These micro-communities have grown to become his on-campus family.

When you laugh and cry over a shared experience or collaboratively create something like a magazine, a musical or a even a weekly column, bonds form that transgress standard friendship.

Humans crave connectedness. This weekend, we saw this at Passover seders, Easter dinner or the continuation of weekly Sunday Greek Lady brunch.

Howard added that whether it’s your sorority, friend circle or faith group — in a school as big as Penn it’s nice to be part of niches where you share a common belief. But at the same time, Penn introduces us to other religions, foods and traditions on a regular basis and it’s important to balance the comfort of the familiar with “the courage to branch out to different communities,” he added.

In understanding other world faiths we become “better neighbors.” It’s an opportunity to engage our peers in both a religious and cultural context.

So while her artwork circa Jewish pre-school didn’t adorn the tables and her Pop Pop wasn’t there to hide the afikoman, the Seder Hayley co-hosted at the Beta Theta Pi chapter house last Friday night made sense in the context of this new family.

A motley crew of Jewish and non-Jewish members of the Greek community, from all years and schools, joined together to sing, recount the Passover story and indulge in free food. No less valuable, no less significant — a new memory for a new family.

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