I can’t remember my first day of college classes. Not really anyways. Awkwardly knocking on doors in my freshman hall with my roommate? Taking a first day of school picture with the people on my floor? Uncomfortable encounters in the freshman hall bathroom? Sure. But my first day of classes? First thing I learned? First homework assignment that I (probably over-enthusiastically) completed? Honestly, I can’t remember a thing. There are images, snapshots, in my mind of what happened during that first week. But not much more than that. Maybe this is because my mind works like a camera — in a series of snapshots that are pieced together into a story later on. But it is also an indication of how college as a whole has been.
Like many other students, I entered Penn with a combination of high expectations for myself mixed with the apprehension of the four years to come. While I didn’t think it would be the same as high school, I was also convinced that I would succeed if I did the same things: studied hard and stayed the course. When I stumbled into The Daily Pennsylvanian’s office four years ago, I was a naive, awkward freshman hoping to find my place on campus and do the things that college advertises and promises: “find yourself”, “discover new hobbies,” “figure out who you really are.” I’m not really sure I figured out my sole purpose in life, but I discovered a new passion of mine.
There have been a lot of people who have asked me why I chose to devote a large portion of my time at Penn to photography and the newspaper. “You know you want to go to medical school — why deviate from that path?” The job required 30 or more hours a week in the office — time that other pre-meds were spending at the library, furthering their research, starting new clubs, and ultimately becoming better applicants to medical school. I was constantly struggling with the uncomfortable idea that what I was doing wouldn’t help me in the future — that I was wasting my time. Furthermore, I had just started photography at the time and barely knew what I was doing. During my first sports photo assignment for the DP, I got lost trying to find the soccer stadium (it’s past the University City train stop by the hospital, for those of you who don’t know), and by the time I got there, Penn had scored five goals, taken their best players out of the game, and I was still trying to figure out what shutter speed was. I was clueless. With the help of my good friend Google and the upperclassman photo editors, I eventually learned how to use a camera without the automatic setting and eventually became an editor myself.
Even though it seemed spontaneous at the time, I came to photo because I wanted to find a new way to be creative. I stayed because of the community I found and the skills I gained. Working as a photo editor was not necessarily what was traditionally best for my resumé (as I was told many times), but I think it was best for me as an individual. I learned to work with a group of phenomenally talented editors, lead photo staff meetings, and discovered how to be creative under the pressure of looming deadlines. All of these are skills that I will be able to apply to my future profession. The people I met were one of my biggest support systems (outside of my family) through the daily hurdles that college placed in my way.
Being a photographer is full of awkward situations that are (at least partially) diffused by the fact you have a camera in your hand. Being in the newspaper community, where most people don’t understand the struggles of pre-med life and wonder what you’re doing there, created more awkwardness. But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past four years, it’s that college is full of these uncomfortable encounters. And putting yourself in those situations and allowing them to occur only helps you grow.
Replaying the images from the last four years in my mind, there are many moments at Penn I don’t think I’ll ever forget (and many that are already forgotten). And for the most part, these moments aren’t the planned ones. They aren’t the ones that I came into college expecting to have because I thought I knew the path I would take when I got here. Spending a majority of my time at Penn developing my photography skills or working towards my computer science minor (“that’s too much time away from your pre-med classes, Ananya!”) were some of the most fruitful parts of my college experience. These were the what-ifs. And that is the biggest lesson Penn has taught me. Shoot your shot. Break from what is “traditional” or expected. Embrace the awkwardness. Because those are the memories I am most thankful for.
ANANYA CHANDRA is a College senior from Pennsylvania, studying Biological Basis of Behavior with a minor in Computer Science. She served as the Senior Photo Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian on the 133rd board and the Sports Photo Editor on the 132nd board.
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