Beyond the initial shock of adjusting to college, my first year at Penn was particularly heartbreaking.
I came to Penn, overwhelmed by the reality of being a college student, a responsibility that I thought I was prepared for. This was something that I frequently discussed in my column for The Daily Pennsylvanian, which, at the time, felt like one of the only spaces where my voice was heard. I was away from home for the first time, without any friends, in a new city, taking challenging courses, and navigating a new environment. The DP felt like the closest thing to home, and it was where I learned the importance of having sympathy and empathy towards others.
But numerous tragedies that occurred during my first year at Penn shaped how I viewed and interacted with the University. A College senior died by suicide during my first week of classes, and I quickly learned about the mental health crisis on Penn’s campus. Blaze Bernstein, a College sophomore, was murdered over winter break, and a fellow first-year student died in a plane crash.
I was left to process these tragic events while I was also a member of an organization, the DP, that was responsible for respectfully cataloging them. This made things very consuming and distressing. At the time, I was not one of the people involved in that reporting. Still, I saw the importance of the work my peers were doing, and vowed to commit myself to the same meaningful work. Even when they made mistakes, I admired how the editors and reporters at the DP corrected them swiftly, and made note to be better next time. They also offered the DP office as a space for staffers to come and process everything that was going on on campus. I knew then that I wanted to help tell the most important stories, both tragic and triumphant, at Penn. Since then, I have found that the most beautiful thing, in my opinion, about good journalism is how it listens to and uplifts as many perspectives as possible. Reporting is an art that celebrates the nuance of the truth.
I spent a lot of my time at Penn chasing different stories that seemed the most pressing. I learned an unfathomable amount about journalism, and decided to pursue it after graduation. But the most important lesson I learned was to value and be respectful to the people around me: my editor who became one of my best friends during my first year, the columnists I worked with and eventually mentored, the reporters who stayed in the office until three or four in the morning. All of us cared about thoughtfully reporting everything that happened at Penn, and spent most of our time doing it. Of course, it was easy for us to grow frustrated with one another, since we spent so much time together doing urgent work. And we often did. More than that, members of the Penn community sometimes grew upset with us — often rightfully so — when we made mistakes, which presented its own challenges.
It was easy to have tunnel vision working at the DP. No matter how mad we were at each other, or what angry email had floated into our inboxes, we were responsible for publishing the next print edition, updating the latest stories online, and keeping the entire operation going. But the worst consequences of that was that I was often blind to the other side, what the administrators I was frustrated with were dealing with, or what my peers had on their plates outside of their interactions with the DP. As I became a leader at the DP, I encountered reporters who were emotionally distraught from sources who had yelled at them and called them names, or columnists who experienced severe backlash from articles they had written. In these moments, I was able to see the value of kindness and compassion, which everyone deserves in their most vulnerable moments.
The DP has been the most formative experience of my time at Penn. It has guided my career ambitions and made me into a strong journalist. Yet, as I leave Penn, the most valuable lessons I have learned from the DP are not about reporting. Penn students are ambitious and often so preoccupied with worries about school and searching for internships and jobs that we forget about the importance of treating one another with respect. I am happy with my academic and career-oriented accomplishments at Penn, but I am most proud of the ways in which I have learned to critically engage with the community around me while acting with integrity and compassion towards others.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a graduating College senior from New York City studying English. She served as the president of The Daily Pennsylvanian on the 136th Board of Editors and Managers. Previously, she was the Opinion editor on the 135th Board, an opinion columnist, and reporter for 34th Street Magazine.
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