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T he re are a lot of stupid questions that people ask around graduation time — stressful questions that make me feel like I’m in a post-graduation war zone. But there’s one question that I haven’t been asked yet, so I’m going to ask myself.

What has Penn meant to me?

And I don’t mean this in terms of trying to summarize my education or my undergraduate experience into a little sound bite. I don’t mean to begin a little speech I could give if I were a tour guide, whilst waving towards the Button and Van Pelt.

I mean: How has Penn changed me?

To answer this question, I imagine going in a time capsule and trying to ask myself how much I’ve changed, using the hands-on tactics I learned in Psychology 001.

To be honest, freshman year me would probably not have a conversation with senior year me. She would probably just sort of stare, deer-in-the-headlights style. Freshman year me wasn’t particularly skilled at intrapersonal relationships, especially meeting new people.

It was during my freshman year that I remember having the lowest of low moments: eating alone in the Hill dining hall.

Everyone had warned me that it would happen. They told me it was unavoidable that I would end up eating alone. But they didn’t tell me how I would feel, like everyone was staring at me, like everyone was whispering about me. That I would feel so out of place and alone and hopelessly awkward.

I’m not claiming that over my four years at Penn any of this has gone away. I trip over stones in Locust Walk and pretend that no one saw it. I stutter at introductions and make way too many puns to be considered normal.

That isn’t what’s changed over my time at Penn.

Instead, I’ve learned to embrace awkward.

And when I say I’m awkward, I’m not fishing for compliments. I’m not insulting myself. I’m merely stating a fact. I am an awkward person. Literally, my day is a catalogue of me struggling.

College has taught me to look at it this way: Really, who isn’t struggling? Maybe that perfect person you see, the one that has abs carved out of marble and those spirals of TV show hair like a Pantene Pro-V commercial. But let’s ignore those people. They get enough attention.

Embracing awkward is my way to being unapologetic about the person I am. I don’t allow other people to make me feel bad about myself on principle, so why would I give myself that power?

Freshman year of high school, freshman year at Penn, every new beginning I’ve always thought that I could stop being so awkward. That one day I’d wake up and just be a normal part of society.

But that day I sat alone in the cafeteria, picking at my Fruit Loops and trying not to make eye contact, I began to realize that everyone feels awkward and out of place sometimes.

I’ve accepted awkward. I’ve embraced it.

I’ve embraced that when I walk at graduation in my cap and gown, I’m not going to look like Elle Woods in the end sequence of “Legally Blonde.” I’m going to look like myself, in a creased and cheap cap and gown I bought at the bookstore that’s about five inches too long and fraying at the edges.

Maybe that’s what it’s all about: accepting things the way they are.

A few weeks ago, I went for an informational interview in New York City at my dream job. After slogging to SoHo in my interview heels — and after I earned my first interview blisters — I decided to treat myself to a lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant. I went up to the hostess, looked her in the eye and said, “Table for one, please.”

And then I sat by myself and enjoyed the best plate of sesame chicken I’ve ever had. Even though I was eating alone, I took my time. I relished every bite. The music was great, the food was excellent and the company wasn’t so bad either.

Sara Schonfeld is a College senior studying English from Philadelphia. Email her at or follow her @SaraSchon.

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