My high school campus visit to Penn was my least favorite college tour. The weather was awful, and the only spurts of energy disrupting the otherwise damp and chilly atmosphere were the way-too-enthusiastic flyerers shoving papers in my face. Nothing about my first day on Penn’s campus made me hope for a second one.
And yet, the day I opened my acceptance email, I knew I was going to be a Quaker. This caught my parents a bit off-guard — after we calmed down about my acceptance to an Ivy League school, my mom remarked, “I didn’t even know you wanted to go there. Do you actually want to?”
Judging by my 2014 Excel spreadsheet of school preferences, she was right to ask. Of the colleges I thought I’d like most, Penn ranked No. 7. I also was accepted to No. 5 – a high-quality school with renowned political science programs and significantly better weather. However, two spreadsheet columns to the right lay what was, at the time, the more important number: Penn was ranked No. 7 nationally, and the other was ranked No. 20. Hurrah for the Red and Blue, for the worst reason.
The worst reason, but a reason consistent with the basis of many of the decisions I made in college. Every position for which I ran, every high-ranking student whose ass I kissed, and even every bombastic bravado-filled insult I slung at my friends (I’ve probably said “You’re small” more often than I’ve said “hello” over the last few years) was part of an attempt to craft a persona of confident ultra-competence and excellence. I think there’s a fine line between ambition and vanity, and I’ve lived a lot of life on the wrong side.
It’s amazing how somebody can simultaneously care only about themselves, yet not care about themselves at all. My family and close friends know that I spent much of my college career deeply sad, yet they also saw me opt often for misery in the pursuit of success and reputation. And to what end, future job prospects? Personal renown? Some way to actually feel at peace with myself?
Here are some things I wish I’d learned sooner. Regarding the future, we at Penn have the privilege of going to one of the most respected and genuinely enlightening universities in the world. Life may not work out the exact way we dreamed it, but there are amazing trails ahead of all of us if we’re willing to explore the woods a bit.
Regarding personal renown, very few people will remember the presidents of clubs or the biggest social figures in the Class of 2018. We will be forgotten by most of the people who waved at us on Locust Walk, and our accomplishments at Penn will mean nothing to those we sought to impress or influence. We will instead be remembered by the people for whom we genuinely cared, the ones we sat with crying or the ones with whom we could be vulnerable. To take one of Kanye’s iconic lines in a slightly different direction, one great friend is more valuable than a thousand people who merely know your name.
And, regarding my sense of self-worth, the most important lesson Penn taught me is that nothing external can matter if we don’t first matter to ourselves. This is not a new idea – every self-help guide is backboned by this same thesis – but this cannot be reiterated to Penn students, who too often sacrifice self-love for some concocted notion of “success.” Referencing "Hamilton" may be cliche, but the character puts it better than I can: The Founding Father literally shaped our nation, yet he was tortured and ultimately disgraced by his insecurities. As he himself remarks, “I’m never satisfied.”
Yet we must seek satisfaction first and foremost. Life is short, and little is important. I’m still far from the best version of myself – I feel guilty every day about the people I’ve hurt, I am hesitant to trust others, and I still battle my own vanity and insecurity – but no matter what, whether my days are productive or failure-ridden, when my head hits the pillow I know that I matter.
To my parents and the rest of my family, thank you showing me how important it is to care about myself and love the work I do. To the DP, thank you for challenging me, empowering me and teaching me the tough lesson that leadership necessitates both strength and compassion. To my brothers, thank you for pulling me up when I fell and cheering the loudest when I succeeded. To the College Office, thank you for giving me a place to escape the madness. And to my closest friends – especially Huge Eug, who made sure my eye-opening, emotional journey was a fun one too – thank you for leading the hard conversations that have gotten me to where I am today.
And, to dear old Penn, thank you for introducing me to the people and resources I needed to turn this college-rankings-driven school choice into an experience more profound than I ever imagined. Because of you, I am deeply, truly happy to be here.
CARTER COUDRIET is a College senior from Franklin Park, N.J., studying political science. He served as the president of the 133rd board. Previously, he was digital director, creative director, ΔΠ chair, pizza editor, and an associate sports editor.