Last Thursday outside Houston Hall, my friend and I were watching students swarm like little ants eating lunch, on the way to class, skin warmed by the sun. “I wonder where all these people come from,” she said, glancing first left, then right. She zeroed in on a small blonde who I assumed to be 15 years old, passing us by, flanked by a middle-aged couple. “I think that girl must have just been accepted to Penn.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Well, because she was carrying the decision packet with a cup.” Only then did I notice the plastic mug the size of her forearm, a blue and red “P” emboldened on the side.
It is that time of the year again. Students have finally seen Possibility — that flighty yet potent goddess — in the form of big “yes” packages, or cursed her absence with every meager “no.” Those blessed by her swirl around our campus, pulled by the gravitational force of a future in the Ivy League.
As a weathered, cynical senior, it is difficult for me to feel any joy for these kids. Nor, even, to feel anything for them at all. After four years of this place, seeing three waves of students enter, I often feel as if all Penn does is chew you up and churn you out.
I, like perhaps many upperclassmen, want to tell those kids to run. I want to tell them not to look so happy when they’re here because the happiness won’t last. I want to tell them not to give themselves so easily to others because they’ll disappoint you in the end. I want to say, prepare yourselves for the storm.
For those of us who have been through Penn, it is easy to forget what it was like when we first entered. And it is even easier to associate Penn with only the negative, to consider it only disillusionment.
Since I prefer blunt honesty, I will tell you newly admitted students the truth. This place is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Some of you may fit in perfectly here, while others will struggle. There is often no equality, no “shoulds” that correspond to our effort. There is randomness, and chance, and yes, hard work, but at times, hard work which doesn’t get appreciated without a small stroke of fortune or social savvy.
I won’t tell you to try to maintain that happiness you feel now throughout your college career. That is nearly impossible, and it puts a lot of pressure on you in moments when you want to, and should allow yourself, to feel down. But I also won’t tell you not to be as happy as you are now.
You should be as happy as you possibly can be in this moment. Dream all the big dreams you have of Penn, let them inflate and grow, and don’t worry about them possibly deflating later. Dreams aren’t inherently bad, only when they lead to uncontrolled disappointment. It is okay to have expectations, as long as you know how to protect yourself if they don’t come to fruition.
Do your best to take into account how to prepare for Penn, but remember that at a certain point, there is only so much you can do.
This time in your life won’t come again. New beginnings, whether they lead to happy endings or slightly more somber ones, are for the most part hopeful, and should be celebrated in and of themselves. Even currently, when I shut my eyes, and when I think of that first balmy May, four years ago, when I set foot on Locust Walk, I was truly happy. And happiness in any moment, whether because of a perceived or actual truth, is real happiness.
So revel in your achievement and nourish the hope you have for Penn — because if you don’t have hope now, you’re already unprepared. And contrary to what most people will tell you, don’t worry so much about the details, because life will happen and ultimately, it’s you who has to experience Penn and learn for yourself.
AMY CHAN is a College senior from Augusta, Ga., studying classics. Her email address is email@example.com.