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I ’v e spent the last four months, two weeks, and five days avoiding the impending g-word. I physically covered my ears whenever relatives or friends would mention it, and I would avoid using it in conversation as much as possible.

Reading the g-word was just as bad, especially when it came in the form of an email requesting feedback on a survey that encompassed my entire undergraduate experience. And sometimes it was slipped in as an unexpected abbreviation in mailings, invitations and advertisements, and it made my stomach flip over.

I’ve always been able to convince myself that if I don’t verbally acknowledge an idea or an opinion or an emotion, I don’t have to deal with it. While this delusion always got me into trouble in discussion-based seminars and interpersonal relationships, it helped to secure the ship of denial that I successfully navigated for the majority of senior spring, which quickly became yet another semester of “firsts,” rather than a semester of “lasts.”

For the first time, I ate vine leaves from Magic Carpet. They quickly became a Thursday lunch tradition.

I enjoyed multiple snow days for the first time since high school and finally went to Atlantic City (but forgot to gamble, oops).

I took classes about contemporary art, race in literature, fictionalized photography and food, and for once, I learned something substantive from every single one of them.

I sang along in the car to ‘90s pop punk for eight straight hours, losing my voice and gaining five new friends in the process. I don’t really remember the four hours that I was behind the wheel, but we made it back anyway.

And after four years, I finally spent some time outside the city itself. I went down the shore in a party bus (disco ball included) and stared down some geese in Morris Arboretum.

I’ve been reluctant to use the g-word because for a long time, I felt it was a signal of the end of the firsts. I thought the g-word was ultimately unavoidable: a looming reality that I could not escape.

Then I finally made myself think about it. Really think about it. Sound it out, one syllable at a time, considering all its iterations and implications.

First, I panicked. Then I cried. I basically went through an abbreviated grieving process for Penn and all the wonderful people I met and experiences I had here.

Finally, the calm set in. And the reality.

There isn’t an end to the firsts yet. We’re all so young and have so much time ahead of us to do all these other new things and meet all new people.

Today is just the beginning of a whole lot of firsts I haven’t even thought of yet, and while that thought previously drove me to consume an entire pint of Half Baked in a single sitting, it’s also pretty liberating. It’s exhilarating.

So instead of the g-word, which still makes me shudder under all its implications of finality and departure, I’ll use the c-word that makes Penn sound every bit as pretentious as it can be: Commencement. Because even though it might be the last time we’re all together as a class in polyester robes and square hats, it’ll also be the first.


But of course, I can’t just leave without saying thanks, because everyone likes to see references to themselves in print, and I have a lot of gratitude to share.

To all my professors and advisors — particularly those who knew about my three- year engagement to the DP — thank you for all your guidance, advice and additional deadline slack.

To my Chi O and the GSD lin, y’all are some of the most wonderful women I know, and you is kind, smart and important too.

To Friars of 2014, seeing y’all every week in various states of sobriety made my year. To Friars 2015, please make #FHMF a thing.

To Radian 513, thanks for listening to my nighttime rants and constant dishwasher running (my b).

To High Point crew, thanks for taking all my crazy and giving it back with even more enthusiasm, even in the alternate reality that was the crawlspace.

To my DP co-editors, managers and beats who are also headed out: Thanks for fighting the good fight to hold Penn accountable for things it messes up (which is a lot). For those staying here: Keep going. It’s worth it.

Most importantly, to my parents: Thank you for paying for my liberal arts degree, for coming to visit a lot and for supporting me in even my most impulsive decisions. Thanks for talking to me on the phone in between classes so I could avoid petition-pushers on Locust and not being mad those times I cut the calls short because I ran into people I actually did want to talk to. And here’s a thanks in advance for helping me move to Mississippi and reminding me that I won’t ever be totally alone. Y’all’s support and love matters more than I can ever say.

Ellen Frierson is a College senior from Charlotesville, Va. and a previous photo manager, sports photo editor and managing editor of the DP. Her email is

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