I thought I knew what I wanted when I got to Penn. I had already planned out which frats I would rush, what kind of friends I would make, what classes I would take, and even what clothes I would wear. To this day, I don’t think the intentions behind those decisions were misguided, but I ultimately got stuck in a tunnel vision that prevented me from making the most of Penn if it didn’t align with my neatly outlined plan.
Because of that, I ruined my freshman year for myself. I couldn’t fathom that my college reality didn’t line up exactly with what I thought I wanted, and I took it out on myself. By May of 2015, my only thoughts were, “Get me out of here and let me be an adult already.” The real world couldn’t come soon enough.
I had decided not to join The Daily Pennsylvanian as a freshman because I thought that college would be an excellent place to rebrand myself from my days as a high school Opinion Editor. I lied to myself constantly by thinking that journalism wouldn’t (and, more importantly, shouldn’t) have a place in my life.
Yet I decided at the beginning of sophomore year to apply as a columnist. Writing commentary had always been a nice hobby for me, and I came to the conclusion that even if I didn’t mesh in the DP as an organization, it would at least serve as a solid outlet for my work. While I almost quit in the middle of my first meeting (due to a particularly feisty argument), the DP ended up completely defining my four years at Penn in the best possible way.
But it wasn’t the journalism of The Daily Pennsylvanian that saved my college experience; it was the people.
I loved my work as a columnist and eventually an editor. Every day since the fall of 2015 until my last day as a student, I couldn’t stop thinking about how to argue about making Penn better. This school deserves the best because its students are the best, and opinionated journalism can be crucial in opening up campus to ideas that serve the community and, conversely, sometimes fail spectacularly.
Yet, in 20 years from now, I may not be able to recite a single column I worked on, both as a writer and as an editor. I will, however, always remember the impact those people at the DP left on my life.
The friends and colleagues I found at the DP are brilliant, and I don’t use that word lightly. They dedicate so much time and effort toward incredible work that impresses me constantly. Their attention to detail is remarkable and their commitment to the organization is sensational. I’ve never read an issue of the paper and not felt immense pride that I associated myself with this tremendous publication.
But more so than that, the people of the DP care for their own. The organization makes its members become personally invested in each other and because of that they find friends for life here. DP members don’t just work hard because they feel an obligation, but because their peers make their work so enjoyable.
There are so many awful parts of the college experience that won’t go away, but the one thing that college brochures don’t lie about is that there is a community for everyone. The part they don’t tell you is that it’s not always easy to find. That being said, the only advice I can give is to never give up looking for your niche. It’s easy to see everyone seemingly discover friend groups with ease and feel discouraged or that you’re doing college wrong, but if you really try, you will find others that prove why this school is so great.
A fellow columnist at the DP once argued that one of Penn’s major failings is the large inability to recreate the classic late-night academic debates between students that you’d see in A Beautiful Mind or The Theory of Everything. And maybe he was right (to an extent) that today’s students aren’t intent on spending their all-nighters discussing Schopenhauer and Rousseau. But nevertheless, Penn students lean on each other in a way that brings out the best in each other and our impact on our lives can never be understated.
So, let me conclude this piece with several messages.
To all the columnists I worked with and managed: Never stop writing. Your voices are so lively and wonderful to read. Your work drives this campus more than you will ever know and can cause real change at Penn. I consider myself immensely lucky to have worked with each and every one of you.
To the people I met at the DP: You made Penn great for me, and you might not even know it. Thank you for showing me what a great community can be and for making me want to come into the office just about every day. I’ll miss you all so much, even though I know this isn’t a goodbye.
To everyone else: Keep doing you. The rest is just noise.
ALESSANDRO VAN DEN BRINK is a College senior studying economics, from New York. He served as opinion editor on the 133rd board. Previously, he was an opinion columnist.
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