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I’ve learned so many things from people at The Daily Pennsylvanian over the past three and a half years. One is that I have a bad habit of repeating myself. 

I’d like to think part of this was in an effort to pass down stories from my first semesters at the DP to friends on later boards, turning over memories with the hope that a few of them would make it into the brief histories we tell each other during board transitions. But most of it was just self-indulgent, and my fondest memories from the DP are the ones I always knew made the least sense retold. (Did you know there’s another Copa on South Street?) So, with the qualification that I’ve all but completely kicked that bad habit, I’m going to take this column as an opportunity to indulge in telling a few stories about my time at the DP. Some were repeated more than others. 

I never wanted to go into journalism. I came to 4015 Walnut for the first time in January of my freshman year, after four months of what felt like constant rejection — extracurricular, academic, social. I applied to the copy editing department. I was rejected. The assignments editor at the time told me the news department didn’t have a competitive application process. I joined. A dozen or so rejections led me to the best decision I made freshman year — one that made this campus feel a bit more like the home I’d expected it to be when I first arrived. 

Toward the end of my freshman year, a perfunctory email from Penn administrators announced the death by suicide of an upperclassman as an “accident,” in a manner that was disturbingly similar to the way a student suicide in my community had been handled just over a year earlier. I didn’t know how to talk about how disillusioned I felt with Penn and how wrong it seemed to be disappointed in an institution I wanted so badly to love. Three semesters later, I would struggle to articulate how cathartic it was to play a role in publishing a special issue devoted to campus mental health — the culmination of countless hours spent learning the value of criticizing an institution you care about in the service of making it better.

Over the past few years, I’ve often found myself having conversations about how easy it is to stay in the DP office unreasonably late into the night. Of course, it’s because the people make it hard to leave. But it’s also because there are (somewhat infamously) no windows, and the harsh fluorescent lighting makes it difficult to distinguish between 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and 3 a.m. on Monday morning. The DP inevitably added more stress to my life than I’d anticipated it would when I ran for the 133; still, at the end of an already-too-long production night, some combination of genuine friendship and artificial lighting made holing up in the office for an extra hour or two feel like a respite from the daily grind of life at Penn. 

To the people who stuck around with me on those nights: Thank you. You taught me how deeply fulfilling it can be to devote yourself to something important, even without the dangling carrot of external validation from grades and other “objective” measures of success we obsess over on this campus. You helped me figure out how to stay angry about the things that matter and brush off the things that don’t. 

And you gave me plenty of stories worth retelling — if only once or twice. 

ALLY JOHNSON is a College senior from Reston, Va., studying Political Science. She served as the Assignments Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian on the 133rd board and the Podcast Editor on the 134th board. Previously, she was a beat reporter. She most recently served as the Editorial Board Chair. 

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