The Daily Pennsylvanian senior column is one fussy beast. The tradition calls on graduating editors to write a final column in the paper they toiled for at Penn in a way that is concise but conclusive, personal yet argumentative, and intimate but in a public way. Like I said: fussy.
In writing my own, I thought a lot about the editors who came before me. I wondered whether I should follow in the footsteps of those who stressed the importance of an independent college paper (read: sexual misconduct, mental health, Trump) or do what this sports writer did in 1999 and just list every friend I made at Penn before adding in all-caps: “THANK YOU.” I considered going for a snappy listicle in the style of editors in the early '10s, and at some point, thought maybe I should share what it was like to be the company’s first international executive editor (I mispronounced Americanisms a lot and had to be persuaded that the Super Bowl is like, a thing).
Mostly though, as I trawled through the DP archives, a reporter attempting to research a personal essay into existence, I vexed over whether I had something — anything — valuable to say.
In the last four years, I stressed out over grades and summer gigs until I didn’t. I was lonely until I found the right friends and I had to lose bits of myself to a relationship to get a meaningful sense of who I am. It was bad in the winter, and better in the spring, but never particularly remarkable. In other words, my time here hasn’t been so different from any of the other 2,000 graduating seniors. I’m not in any unique position to dispense advice, so as much as possible, I’ll avoid that.
Instead, I’ll share something weird about myself I realized this semester, namely, that I’m about to graduate college with no regrets. Zero. Nada. This isn’t because I’m not the sort of person to have regrets. Those people are either 1) liars or 2) insufferably well-adjusted, and I’m neither. Until this point, I’ve approached almost every turn in life apprehensively. I have a bad habit of lingering in airport departure gates, waiting at the back of the line to board because I never feel quite prepared to leave. Now though, for what feels like the first time, I’m not dragging my feet. I’m ready, heck, I’m excited to move on because I feel like I took a mighty swing at this college thing.
As executive editor last year, I made it a point never to cry in front of those who worked for me. I broke that rule just once, after too many editors had skipped out on an important meeting and I found myself sobbing in the office, using a Mac screen to block my face from staffers laying out the paper. David, the DP’s president, and the only unfortunate person I let myself cry to, sat across from me. I remember telling him that I was tired of caring so much more than other people did; that it felt unfair to have to keep trying.
He replied, “I get it. But this is who you are.”
For a while, I wore what he said like a condemnation — like I was destined to care too much about the things that other people care too little about. This was the part of the job I struggled with. I didn’t mind working 50 hours a week or having to slip out of class to edit breaking stories in the Williams stairwell. I knew, going in, that being woken up at 4 a.m. by phone calls and surviving on stale pizza was part of the gig. What tested my resolve were those moments, rare but palpable, when I felt like I was doing this alone.
Don’t get me wrong — the 134 was an exceptional board filled with the most hard-working people on campus. The 134 was and is my family. All I mean is that when you care a lot about something, it’s not the caring that grinds you down, it’s the loneliness. This can be particularly potent at a place like Penn, where students preach the 80-20 rule like it’s dogma and wear their “chill” with the smug carelessness of a day-old party wristband. Under the pervasive pressure to plump up our resumes, the general philosophy is to only ever do enough to get by.
Investing too much of myself in the DP, in the person I was seeing and in this long, cursed list of things beyond my control was what brought on the toughest nights in my college career. And yet, in a way that seems too trite to print, it was precisely this caring, this caring too much, that helped me sink my feet into this campus. It gave me a repository of problems to spend my days on and let me feel like I genuinely earned the chances I got to rest and relax. It allowed me to skid by sophomore slump and sail into senior year with a full belly and no regrets.
The DP taught me most of what I know about journalism and leadership, but above all, it gave me something worth caring enough about to feel frustration, shame, and joy in equal turn. It gave me something to love.
So, at risk of breaking my own rule, here’s a suggestion for underclassmen still finding their way: if you work obsessively on a project, it becomes a home for you that no one can take away. It’s hard to be genuinely self-assured in college, but an easy way to tune out any useless anxieties is to pour yourself into something. Take a big, embarrassing swing. In my experience, the elusive stuff like confidence, community and fulfillment — all that will follow.
To Julia, Sarah, Annabelle, and the rest of the 135: I know it’s hard, but I promise the work will add up to something. The long hours in this windowless office won’t just disappear once they’re over; bit by bit, they’ll pull you deeper into the history of this newsroom. 4015 Walnut has and will always belong to those who lock up at the end of the night. So for as long as you can, keep caring way too much. The DP and Penn will be better for it — but so will you.
REBECCA TAN is a College senior from Singapore, studying English and History. She served as the Executive Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian on the 134th board. Previously, she was the Senior News Editor on the 133rd board, a senior reporter and a beat reporter.