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Laura Petro
Petro on Paper

Over the past few weeks I have noticed a younger crowd on campus: bright-eyed high schoolers partaking in summer programs at Penn. I have also recently been talking to some pre-frosh about Penn as their freshman years approach.

As any student or prospective student would, these people have asked me for some guidance. Once I exhaust the generic advice — whose class not to take, what dining halls are best, where to go during NSO — the best wisdom I can really give to these young hopefuls is to do your freshman year Leslie Knope style.

For those of you who have more important things to do than watch TV, Leslie Knope is the main character of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” Although Leslie Knope may not be “real” to those of you who have more important things to do than watch TV, she is to the rest of us normal folk passing our free time with a Netflix account.

Leslie Knope, deputy parks director of parks and recreation in the city of Pawnee, Ind., can help us all be the best version of ourselves.

Leslie defines the word “optimism.” When it comes to her job, Leslie doesn’t know the word “can’t.” She works endlessly to accomplish projects and goes hours, even days without sleep — seriously, she runs on double espressos with eight packs of sugar — just to work to make the city of Pawnee a better place.

Leslie is driven by passion — every little job, whether it’s an insignificant town meeting or rowdy public forum, she sees as having a greater purpose. She knows that each of these menial tasks brings her one step closer to her goals.

It is impossible for me to watch Leslie, goofy as she may be as she piles whipped cream onto her waffles and blurts out often inappropriate remarks, and not think to myself that there is a lesson here. If we all could see what the tasks of our daily routines are building to, what their purpose is, those tasks wouldn’t be so menial — they would be meaningful.

With the help of a Leslie approach, we could have less stress about our 25 page papers, less frustration in the search for our dream jobs and less anger at the tedious tasks that often occupy our days.

If we did things the Leslie way, we would sit down and power through that paper — no complaining, only positivity and a huge frappuccino-style beverage to get us through. We would march into our job interview, confident and clear about what we want, instead of feeling nervous and doubtful.

In addition to our professional endeavors, Leslie can teach us a lesson in the department of friendship.

Leslie brings the same tireless, energetic approach she brings to her work to her personal life. The dynamic in the Parks Department is a hilarious one — the motley crew is full of comical characters who rarely agree on anything.

No matter how different each of these people are from her, Leslie finds a way to connect and work with each of them. Leslie pays attention to the people in her life and understands their unique points of view, and manages to build a friendship with each and every one of them — a technique we could all utilize in the relationship department.

It is this nuanced, attentive approach to relationships that makes Leslie a good friend and a lovable character. She would go to the ends of the earth for her friends, and in the end they’d do the same for her.

If we think about freshman year at Penn, we were all in a similar situation as Leslie. We arrived on our halls, meeting people from different corners of the globe, with different backgrounds, political views and upbringings. Her strong self center blended with an ability to understand others would make Leslie thrive in this environment — and incoming freshmen, if you took a page from her playbook, you could do the same.

I think there is a little Leslie in all of us — a tireless enthusiasm for something, or a sense of friendship like no other — we just have to find it or know how to bring it to light.

So to all of those pre-frosh out there, here is my advice: ditch your summer reading project and switch to Netflix. You may think you have more important things to do than watch TV, but Leslie Knope will teach you more than whatever they have you reading would (also, don’t be silly, of course the summer reading project doesn’t count for a grade).

Start your first year at Penn like Leslie would — with a conviction for what you care about, a readiness to learn and an attitude that will allow you to create new and lasting friendships.

Laura Petro is a rising College sophomore from Galloway, NJ. Her email address is You can follow her @LauraVPetro. “Petro on Paper” runs biweekly during the summer.

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