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Rower Reina Kern is not a traditional senior, but she has still been able to make a positive impact as a leader on her team. (Photo from Reina Kern)

Being a senior comes with expectations. It’s Year Four, our time at Penn is coming to an end, and it is time for us to step into the shoes of those who graduated before us.

It’s a common saying that age brings responsibility. As you gain more wisdom, you’re supposed to become better at different aspects of life, intellectually, athletically, or socially. With age also comes the expectation to lead and to set an example for those around you.

Regina Salmons, who graduated last year, was my senior captain on the women’s rowing team and was the true embodiment of a conventional senior leader. She was someone I looked up to, and I continue to do so. Regina knew the answer to just about everything I ever asked her (she is now training to row in the Olympic Games in 2020).

I’m not that senior. I walked on to the team halfway through my college career completely blind. I went from knowing the ins and outs of field hockey to knowing absolutely nothing about my new sport: rowing. Over my two seasons on the rowing team I have gained quite a bit of knowledge, but I am still just learning the ropes each and every day.

Because of this lack of experience, I have had to consciously think about how I could personally contribute to my team and to the women’s rowing program in general. I am not the senior that other rowers may go to for technical advice, or the senior that freshmen seek out to discuss the hard transition between high school and collegiate rowing, but I’ve had to make an impact in other ways. Who I am as a person and how I attack each day has defined my leadership style. My past experiences and hardships have allowed me to support my team in a way that many seniors can’t.

Through my experience, I have learned that there is not one right way to lead. Even if you are still learning and are less experienced than others, you can lead by setting an example of how to respond to constructive criticism. 

My story shows that it is possible to give up something you love and to find something new to channel your life into; that age should never hold you back or determine how you go through life, but instead it should be a driving force to better yourself. Yes, it is difficult to embark on a journey where you don’t know the direction or how to reach your destination, but it takes trusting yourself to walk down that path. With rowing, I had to have the humility to know that I would not be the best, but the resilience to know I could get there.

Credit: Chase Sutton

If you want to know exactly how this experience can feel, it’s like every single day I am a freshman again.

There are so many aspects of rowing that I am just coming to learn now with only seven months left in my college career, and some parts of the sport that I have yet to perfect. People look at me and see “senior” because of how old I am, but they do not know my past or how it feels to be in the shoes of someone who is still learning the basics even as they are about to graduate. My age has become something so minor for me that I almost forget that I am a senior.

During my first few weeks on the team, different girls would come sit next to me on the erg or walk up to me at the boathouse and either instruct me on what to do better or offer their help. Even today, I could sit on an erg next to a freshman and learn something from them.

I’ve come to understand that learning does not stop with age, but rather is a chance to learn from those around you — even if they are younger — and to accept that this process never truly ends. “Senior” can be a restrictive category, but does it really define us?

We must remember that the “senior” title is just a title; that it is a mere word that describes how long we’ve been at Penn, not necessarily how old we are or how knowledgeable we are about something. The word senior tells me I am supposed to act a certain way and be a certain person, but this title does not define me. I almost can’t relate to the archetypal senior. But I’ve realized that I no longer need to try to fit into this category. That is not my purpose. 

My purpose is to set an example of how to attack life when it sends you on an alternative route; one that you were extremely unprepared for and are unable to control. I want my teammates and others to look at me as a leader who looked adversity straight in the face and chose to press on regardless.

There will always be a time in your life when you don’t know something, and either you humbly accept that you do not know it and do your best to learn, or you will fall behind. It is a decision everyone will have to make at one point in time. I want my teammates to remember me as someone who did just that.

When the next hurdle in my life comes and I do not know how to get through it, I will look back at my senior year and remember exactly what it felt like.

I did not know how to erg, but I learned.

I did not know how to row, but I learned.

I did not know where to turn when my life turned upside down, but I found my way.

REINA KERN is a College senior from Freehold, N.J. She is a member of the women's rowing team and a sports columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at