A few weeks ago, my 12-year old cousin asked me an important question.
“Isabella, what’s the point of just writing bad stuff about your school all the time? Don’t people get mad at you?”
When I came to Penn, there wasn’t much I had control over. Who my hallmates would be, what clubs I’d get into, the centipedes in the Quad (luckily no mold), the food at 1920 Commons, whether I’d catch the freshman flu. But I did have a very specific idea of what I wanted my social life to look like. And none of it ended up panning out. One thing did stick, though.
I’ve been a columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian for a year and a half. I can say with confidence that I was fearless in that role. I took it seriously. I relentlessly pursued stories I cared about. I spent Friday nights on the phone with sources, fell asleep transcribing interviews, and sent rambling text messages to my dad, telling him about my next big piece.
I quickly became known as the “lonely girl,” and later the “sorority rush girl.” On the weekends, people would stop me at parties to give half-hearted compliments about my DP columns, assuring me that their freshman years were hard too. Then they’d walk away and take shots of Bankers.
At Penn, we’re so obsessed with dwelling on the negative — the Psychology midterm, a friendship gone awry, finding a summer internship — that we forget to appreciate what we have. People have strong opinions about me, often ones that aren’t very nice, but I’m lucky that they even know who I am. So many people go through Penn anonymous. I had a platform to voice my concerns, and I was heard.
Now, I’m growing up. I have a new job. Starting next semester, I’m going to be the Opinion Editor of the DP. Instead of developing my own takes every week, I will give other people the opportunity I needed so desperately when I was a freshman.
I responded to my cousin with one word that my editor Harry reminded me of on countless occasions when I doubted myself: accountability.
Journalism is all about accountability. I held a lot of people and organizations accountable and stimulated change and conversation that made this campus a better place. As an editor, I am going to give that gift to other people.
Without the DP, I wouldn’t be a student at Penn. I became disillusioned with the culture here very quickly: the gross displays of wealth, the binge drinking, the cries for improved mental health resources left unanswered. I almost transferred schools. My column, my editor, and the friendships I made along the way were my lifelines. They kept me here.
I love the DP, but this message transcends one student organization. Take the time to do what excites you. In a school that’s filled with competition and negativity, it is rare to have something or someone that reminds you why you’re here. Take advantage of it, and don’t let it pass you by.
As I retire my weekly column, I think about the stories I didn’t get to tell, the people I pissed off, and the way I'm going to do the best job I can in my new role.
On one of my first nights at Penn, right after Convocation, I went to the DP office at 4015 Walnut St. for my first edit. I didn’t know anyone. Still, I watched people linger over desktops, tirelessly editing photos, laying out the paper, fact-checking articles — all in service of a product we care about. That’s when I knew I had a place here, and that I would be sticking around.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College sophomore from New York studying English. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @thesimonetti.
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