I came to Penn with questions. Many of them were vacuous: Where is David Rittenhouse Laboratory? What do I do if I leave my PennCard in my single on the way to the bathroom? If I drop a class does it show up on my transcript?
The first one was solved by Google Maps, the second one actually happened to me (I had to walk across the Quad in my robe to get a temporary PennCard), and the answer to the third is no (thank god).
But I had other, more important questions to ask, ones that have framed my Penn experience. I was curious about Penn as an institution: The mental health epidemic on campus that I had read about, the University’s controversial alumni, and socioeconomic diversity here, or lack thereof. During my first semester at Penn, a student died by suicide, the implementation of the task force was under intense criticism, and a Campus Conversation was launched to determine what the University could do to address the issues facing the Penn community.
These events are not all connected or of equal weight, but to experience them as a first year was jarring. It was a dark, confusing introduction to Penn that challenged me to ask smart questions about the University, and I grew hungry for answers. The Daily Pennsylvanian provided me with the tools to ask those questions by giving me a platform to write columns that simulated conversation, and become a strong reporter.
Now, as I take the helm of the organization that gave me a purpose at Penn, I have one request for my team, and for the Penn community at-large: Ask the right questions.
If we, at the DP, Under the Button, and 34th Street Magazine, ask the right questions of students, administrators, and professors, we will continue to deliver journalism that matters.
In turn, if our audience asks the right questions of us, and continues to hold us accountable for telling the stories that need to be heard, we will serve you better. By giving us critical feedback and paying attention to what we do, you push us to be the best that we can be.
As the DP enters its 136th year, our mission and goals remain largely unchanged. We aim to deliver high-quality journalism that is fair and honest, to educate students, and to uphold the integrity and sustainability of our media organization at a time when the free press is under intense scrutiny.
I cannot provide all the answers to the questions of the Penn community, or even to those of my team of editors and managers at the DP. But I can and will help us ask the right questions.
Two and a half years ago, I left the DP’s office at 4015 Walnut Street after my first edit. I walked into CVS and called my best friend from home, standing in the middle of the candy aisle. I asked him something along the lines of: “What am I going to do here?”
Like many other college freshmen, I had a long list of reasons why I wanted to go to Penn. I also had one of those lousy four-year plans laid out. But as a 17-year-old, I did not know much, and that plan quickly fell apart.
Writing this now, halfway through my junior year at Penn and as the president of the DP, is surreal, and frankly, almost as terrifying as starting college was.
I spoke to my best friend again recently, and posed a different question: How did I get here? This time, however, I had an answer. I did not get here by pretending like I knew things when I did not, or blindly following a four-year plan. It was admitting that I actually did not know anything that gave me strength, and the ability to start to figure out what I wanted to do with my finite time at Penn.
As my close friends and coworkers know, I do not like to give unsolicited advice. But I will break that rule to say one thing: Asking thoughtful questions is what got me here. If you do the same, things may very well work out in your favor. Regardless, you will learn a lot along the way.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College junior from New York, N.Y. studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the president of the 136th Board of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc.