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Graduating seniors Robert Hsu (left) and Katlyn Grasso (right) reflected on their past our years at Penn.

As they walk up to receive their diplomas at Commencement, seniors are immeasurably different than they were the first time they set foot in the quad. Now, graduating seniors have the chance to reflect on their transformations over their four years at Penn.

Robert Hsu

Upon arriving to Penn, College and Wharton graduate and former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist Robert Hsu was set on attending medical school after finishing his undergraduate studies.

“It was a lot of trial and error,” said Hsu. “You’re given this clean slate. It was a lot of figuring out who you want to be and how you want to do it, without going crazy.”

Hsu recalls being meticulous about planning every single step of his Penn career and how it would help him get into medical school: conducting research, volunteering at a local clinic and taking pre-med required classes.

This trial and error not only helped Hsu realize his interest in health research, but also led him to join Social Impact Consulting at Penn, which offer pro-bono consulting services for local non-profit organizations.

“I never really thought about helping non-profits in an indirect way, it really challenged how I thought about community service,” Hsu said of his experience.

Hsu came from a high school environment where students’ main concerns were getting into college: taking SATs, ACTs, joining every club with a leadership position — but he found that letting go of that hyper-planning mantra at Penn proved to be more valuable.

“At Penn you learn that life isn’t this straight path, it’s this meandering thing to unfold, and I think that it is so much more fun when you just let it unfold.”

Hsu recently completed his capstone project for the Civic Scholars program at Penn, where he studied the short-term use of e-cigarettes in smokers who were not looking to quit and how it affected their attitudes towards smoking e-cigarettes.

After graduation, Hsu will move to Washington D.C. to work for a consulting firm, combining his interests in healthcare and the public sector. “I don’t really think of life as what is next anymore,” said Hsu.

Looking back on his Penn journey, Hsu would have told himself to indulge more in the natural curiosity that he felt as a freshman, as the years go by quickly and it’s easy to become jaded.

“It’s cliche, but stay hungry and stay foolish,” he said.

Katlyn Grasso

Katlyn Grasso, founder and CEO of GenHERation, a female empowerment network for high school girls, and winner of the 2015 President’s Engagement Prize reflects on her journey through Penn.

A native of Hamburg, New York, the Wharton senior also began her Penn career on a pre-med track and lived in the pre-med hall at Hill in case her “businesses didn’t work out,” she said.

“For me freshmen year I was just trying to figure out what college was, and what I wanted to get out of it.”

After spring break, she decided to speak to the entrepreneurship department at Wharton.

Grasso wanted to pursue entrepreneurship more seriously, so when she went home for the summer after her freshman year with no internship plans, she decided that she would use the time to work on a business. “I thought, ‘Why not give it a try,’” she said.

Walking along a street in her hometown, Grasso passed by a daycare center that had a “help wanted” sign in the window. Something clicked in my head,” said Grasso.

When she walked inside to inquire about the sign, she mentioned her business that teaches toddlers to tap dance.

The Wharton senior had been dancing her whole life and is in Soundworks Tap Factory at Penn.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher, but I knew that I could tap dance,” she said.

With the help of her sister, she developed Tap for Tots, which spread throughout dozens of daycare centers across the Western New York area over that summer.

Grasso was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, and continued to pursue her passion for business by working at the Small Business Development Center. She then entered the Wharton Venture Initiation Program.

Though she didn’t get through the pitch round, Grasso was motivated to refine her ideas. That’s where she began to develop what would become GenHERation.

After receiving funding from the Wharton Innovation Fund and Wharton Social Impact Initiative to study leadership development in high school girls, she interviewed over 700 girls, 40 female professionals and 30 educators in all 50 states and in nine countries and four continents.

To test out what she learned, she started a leadership camp in Buffalo, New York for girls. She saw that she needed to not only connect girls to other female professionals, but also to companies and nonprofit organizations so that girls could launch their own advocacy campaigns.

Now, GenHERation is a media company that connects high school girls to female leaders and professionals, as well as nonprofits.

With her President’s Engagement Prize, Grasso will kick off a 10-city North American tour with GenHERation’s Summer Leadership Series, in conjunction with Ernst and Young and Adobe, where $20,000 in scholarships and prizes will be awarded. Fifty female executives will be present, with the hopes of inspiring girls to start their own social impact projects, in what Grasso calls “GenHERation domination.”

Grasso believes what was best about Penn for her was that it taught her how to embrace uncertainty.

“Now I love spontaneity,” said Grasso. “I used to be very OCD, and had to have every second of my day planned, but now I don’t even know what I’m going to do an hour from now. That has transformed my life in so many ways.”

Grasso attended a Catholic, all-girls high school, where she said everyone looked like her. “My freshman year I had such an awesome and diverse hall,” she said of her arrival at Penn. “I realized that I have to talk to everyone and anyone, I can learn something from everyone.”

She recalls sitting with her MGMT 100 team the day before classes began, where they played “two truths and a lie.” While discussing how they had spent their summers, her teammates spoke of their study-abroad experiences in Brazil and independent film festival submissions.

“Everyone was so incredible,” Grasso said. ”[And I thought] ‘Wow here I am: Katlyn from a small town in Buffalo, and I’m at Wharton.’ So if I’m given the opportunity to be with all of these amazing people then I have to make the most of it.”

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