I know what you’re thinking; there’s no way this column is about something besides sports. To be honest, I was pretty close to using this space for my own take on the “college athletes being paid” debate, but there have been enough Daily Pennsylvanian columnists to weigh in on that over the past few months. As the time until Commencement ticks down, it’s more appropriate to reflect on what Penn has taught me, both on — and yes, even off — the field.
And though there are countless lessons that have emerged over these past four years, there’s one that sticks out the most: grit. Even though that phrase is often ambiguously defined, there’s an essence of learning to “roll with the punches” that is inevitable across campus.
Make no mistake: There are certain days at Penn that have sucked. A lot. Like when you’re up past 4 a.m. chipping away at statistics homework assignments that you still don’t fully understand even after they’re turned in. Or you’re evicted from an off-campus house by a horrendous landlord and have to scramble to find new living arrangements three days before a semester starts. Or you’re dropped by your girlfriend of more than a year. Or your sprint football team gets eliminated from championship contention on Senior Night in a game you were one fluky deflected pick-six away from winning.
Though these are all specific to me, we’ve all had days that have put us in similar moods. But no matter how frustrating or saddening situations can be, there’s always one factor of salvation. When you think about why you’re upset about something, the bigger picture comes into play.
Grinding away at high-level homework is difficult, but you’re only in that spot because you were blessed enough to get into — and your family somehow scraped together a way to pay for — a school that can challenge you like that. Dealing with eviction isn’t easy, but you were only in that house at all because of the amazing group of fraternity brothers you’ve built at Penn. Being dumped stings, but if you loved a person enough for it to sting that badly, it’s really a net positive. Losing arguably the most important game of your life is hard to swallow, but you were only even in that game because you were granted the opportunity to walk on to a varsity sports team after you graduated high school thinking you’d never touch a pair of pads again.
Again, these aren’t the specific scenarios that anyone else is in. But the general principles can apply to us all. Even when an experience is overwhelming or disappointing in the moment, the opportunity we’ve been given to be in that position at all is often a blessing in disguise, one which is an incredible motivator to push through the hardest times.
And when it comes to opportunity, there are few, if any, places that can match Penn. I walked on to the club rugby team this semester, and as I was eating with two younger teammates after the Ivy League rugby tournament, they asked me how to make the most of their time in college. I told them they were doing the right things simply by being where they were: doing something they'd never get the chance to once their time in school is done.
In what other setting could one screw around and walk on to a club team in a sport he’s never played before, meet a new group of teammates, and get playing time in an Ivy League tournament in one semester? Of course, rugby won’t be the group that defines my time at Penn when I look back on it in 30-plus years. But the fact that those three months happened at all personified what this school does best: give its students a chance to jump into something they never viewed as possible.
To clarify, I’m not saying that students should unnaturally force themselves to enjoy Penn. There are countless people that have either transferred, or taken leaves of absences, or generally not loved their time here, and their reasonings are 100% valid. Like any other school, Penn has its legitimate flaws, and when a person finds themself seriously unhappy at the school, there’s no shame in making a change.
But for those of us who have decided we’re indeed in the right place for ourselves, take advantage of not just the good, but also the bad moments. Obstacles will appear throughout your time here, but the grit we learn from getting past them is invaluable. And no matter where we go, that’s a lesson that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.
COLE JACOBSON is a College senior from Los Angeles, studying mathematics. He served a Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian on the 133rd and 134th boards. Previously, he was a senior sports reporter, an associate sports editor, and a sports reporter.
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