When I arrived at college four years ago, I was an idealistic freshman set on having the full liberal arts experience. I pored over each department’s course catalog, from sociology to linguistics to literature, imagining all the paths my life could take now that I was one of the few, lucky students admitted to Penn. I assumed that I would take some amazing classes, meet some amazing people, and — as all the brochures and packets seemed to implicitly promise — around the age of 21, I would wake up one day with a powerful sense of purpose and direction.
Now, about 35 classes, a hundred or so essays, and infinite moments of laughter and sorrow later, I’d like to say that I have a better understanding of myself, what’s worth doing in this world, and my place in it. In some ways, these statements are true. But what they don’t tell you in the brochure is that understanding and knowledge more often lead to more complexity rather than clarity. Every time my college experience has answered a question of mine, it has left me with at least two more in its place. As I’ve moved through Penn, it seems like the list of things I don’t have the answer to has grown exponentially, while many of the things I thought I was sure about shifted under me.
As an English major, I’ve become comfortable with the idea of digging into a text, not to find an answer, but more questions. Analyzing a poem, I am trained to notice patterns and connections, changes in form, rhyme and meter, alliteration, and allusion. I can postulate what it probably means — or what the poet might have meant — but the likelihood of arriving at a transcendent Truth is low. More likely, there are multiple, fragmentary truths, often mutually exclusive or incompatible, none necessarily more valid than the others.
It’s really this comfort with ambiguity and indeterminacy, the ability to simultaneously entertain multiple, equally valid possibilities — more than the resume skills of “critical analysis” and “effective communication” — that I hold dear at this wonderful, terrifying moment of transition.
Like many students, I spent too much of my time at Penn worrying that I didn’t have “it” figured out yet instead of embracing the wonderful opportunities and people around me. I loved my English seminars, but seriously considered majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). I worried too much about internships instead of remembering the inspiring professors with whom I got to interact everyday. When I was sad or lonely, I kept to myself instead of turning to my friends because I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t nearly as put together as I seemed.
Yet as graduation looms closer I’m starting to realize that, just as I’ll never find the single interpretation of a poem or novel, I’ll never have “it” quite figured out. I’ll always be making decisions, taking them back, meeting new people, and being shaped by relationships with others.
I am still not sure how, exactly, my years at The Daily Pennsylvanian fit into “it” all. But I do know that this organization has provided me with a wonderful community, lifetime friendships, and a passion for writing and telling stories. My time here has been a complicated ride, full of late-night laughs and tears, far more stress and anxiety than a school club should ever cause, and more joy than I can fully explain when I tell people I spent 40 hours a week in a windowless office on Walnut Street.
As news editor of the DP, I always told my reporters to end their articles with a quote from someone who can say what they want to say, but better. So, I’ll end with a quote from philosopher Gabriel Marcel, the subject of my final college assignment, which I hope can sum up — in words more eloquent than my own — the sentiment of my reflection:
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be experienced.”
It’s a thought that, I hope, is a fitting end to my college career and to this column, my last-ever article for the DP.
ELLIE SCHROEDER is a College senior from Fairfield, Conn., studying English. She served as assignments editor of the 132nd Board. Previously she was a beat reporter.
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