Standing before a packed rooftop lounge, Wharton and Engineering senior Johnathan Chen recalled how he focused on prestige as a freshman, which led him to neglect his relationships.
"When you realize people aren't sticking, it was hard for me to realize that it wasn't them, it was me," Chen said. "There are some things I learned that I wish I hadn't learned because they were from mistakes that hurt so much.”
Chen is one of nine graduating seniors who spoke at "Failure at Penn," an event hosted by student group The Signal on Thursday in Harrison College House. The event was the culmination of the group’s Anti-Resume Project, an initiative which aims to normalize failure and promote vulnerability at Penn. As part of the project, the group published "anti-resumes" featuring recent Penn graduates' failures and unconventional successes.
At the event, panelists revealed failures, insecurities, and adversities they have faced at Penn, from normalizing habits like eating only a granola bar a day to internalizing their peers' prejudices towards them.
Anea Moore, a College senior and 2019 Rhodes Scholar, recounted instances where people challenged her identity and dedication to her neighborhood. The urban studies and sociology major recalled being mocked by a peer who saw her community service-heavy resume and said she was not well-rounded enough.
"All your resume is playing with little brown kids in West Philadelphia,” the student told her.
Moore said, however, that success to her meant serving her community. This commitment to service ultimately led Moore to win the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.
Several other seniors recalled experiencing failure and success in tandem. College senior Benjamin Oh, a nationally-ranked speed skater, said he was selected to represent the United States at the 27th Winter Universiade in Spain during his freshman fall. While this was a major accomplishment for him, the event coincided with his BIBB 109 midterm. Oh took a makeup exam after returning to campus and received a C+.
Mental health was another recurring theme throughout the discussions. Wharton senior Lea Chen said she was diagnosed with depression and withdrawn from school two weeks before high school graduation, which prompted her to redefine success and failure for herself.
“It’s really taught me to be grateful for things most people don’t think about, like being alive or being in college,” Chen said.
She added that one winter break, she returned home and realized her younger sister was struggling with similar mental health issues.
“To me that was a failure,” Chen said, as she had promised to herself that she would never let her sister go through what she once did.
Undergraduate Assembly President and College senior Michael Krone said that when his father died during his junior year of high school, he tried to be strong and self-sufficient for his mother’s sake and did not ask for help for fear of seeming weak. Over time, however, he realized the importance of accepting support.
“Asking for help doesn’t make you weak,” Krone said. "It makes you healthy.”
Moore said last semester, despite winning the Rhodes Scholarship, she fell behind in classes and was threatened with not being able to graduate. Moore realized she was overwhelmed and sought out help at Counseling and Psychological Services, where she was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.
“The biggest L [would be] winning a Rhodes Scholarship and not being able to take it because you can’t graduate,” Moore said, receiving laughs from the audience.
Reflecting on the event, co-organizer and Engineering senior Kasra Koushan said he hopes audience members will leave with a renewed sense of optimism and the realization that “seniors don’t have it all figured out either.”
“I thought it was really necessary for underclassmen to hear how seniors overcame what we’re going through right now," Engineering freshman Joey Zhao said of the event. "At Penn, people mask their failures and think that they will just pass without validating them.”
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