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Photo from Jessica Gooding

Credit: Isabel Liang , Jessica Gooding

The first time I met with my mentor, The Daily Pennsylvanian alumnus Mike Madden of The Washington Post last summer, admittedly, I was nervous. I was aware that I was different than most of the other interns: I was the only opinion columnist participating in the DP’s summer internship program, I was balancing full-time work, adjusting to being home constantly, and trying to entertain my two-year-old twins during each hour of the sun. Initially, I thought Mike would be living an entirely different life. However, after we met, I realized, along with a love for writing, we had much in common: He was also balancing work, life with a family, and the pandemic. Mike helped guide my writing and gave me insightful advice on how to balance my expectations. He shared his post-Penn experience with me. His perspective gave me a taste of what life after Penn might look like and what it meant to be an alumni member of the DP. Ultimately, having Mike as my mentor will be one of the highlights of my DP and Penn experience. 

Growing up in northeast Philadelphia, attending an institution like Penn was simply not on my radar. When I got here, after transferring from the Community College of Philadelphia, I didn’t quite know how to fit in. When I wasn't in class, I’d spend time walking around campus, tasting different foods and coffees, while trying to build a routine. I’d sit on the grass surrounding College Green, slowly taking in the subtle beauty and culture. Everything I noticed was distinctive and different from any other part of the city that I was familiar with. From listening to the chords and melodies of the piano being openly played in Van Pelt on spring afternoons to meeting up with friends to pick up warm macadamia nut cookies in the basement of Houston Hall during winter finals, eventually I began to feel at home. 

By my second semester, I started applying to spaces that I wanted to be a part of. When I first found out that I had been selected to write for the DP, I was quite surprised. Sharing my voice with the Penn community was exciting and important, but I didn’t know exactly how to jump in. The first time I stopped by the office on 40th Street, to my delight, fitting in came naturally. Everyone was hilarious and bright. I loved hearing about the long-held traditions, such as the DP’s yearly Thanksgiving get-together and the endless accomplishments of the impressive alumni network. I fed off of the uniquely positive and welcoming atmosphere. The more I wrote, the more my voice grew. Column after column, week after week, I poured passion into each topic. The editors provided me with clarity and insight. 

Through countless emails regarding my columns, I have connected with people from hundreds of miles away from Philadelphia and Penn. There have been moments of triumph, like when Penn announced the George Whitefield statue would be removed after I penned “Take down the George Whitefield statue” and when Penn reversed its decision to bring everyone back to campus, during a peak moment in the COVID-19 pandemic, after I shared my thoughts about that decision being wrong. There have been moments of pride, like when The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch featured me in an article and when the History Department highlighted a column I wrote about the American flag on its website and included it in its monthly newsletter. I was also granted the space to be an advocate for parents at Penn. Lastly, there have been moments of vulnerability, such as when I shared my thoughts regarding microaggressions within the Penn community and how my experience as a former School District of Philadelphia student shaped my thoughts about the necessity of PILOTS

To the highest degree, Penn is a place of abundant opportunity; the possibilities are truly endless. I have accomplished much more than I originally set my eyes on. My writing for the DP has been a huge component of that. My DP experience has encouraged me to expand my agency and provided me with tools to own my activism. What I learned throughout my Penn adventure will accompany me everywhere I go. When I reflect on my undergraduate years, these experiences will shine brightly. I grew in this space through sharing my thoughts and experiences. I’ve made lifelong friends. I’m thankful for every single person who took the time to hear my voice. I’m even more thankful for every person who took the time to listen. This journey will remain tucked away in my heart, forever timeless and invaluable.

JESSICA GOODING is a graduating College senior studying history and English from Philadelphia. She has been an opinion columnist since 2019.