I’m sitting in The Daily Pennsylvanian’s office alone right now. The walls are covered in yellowed newspapers, a whiteboard where we sign our names in green ink over and over again, and streamers from birthday celebrations passed.
Actually, much of the past year has been me sitting alone somewhere. Whether it was on my 21st birthday Zoom call, virtual classes and meetings, or bingeing "The Queen’s Gambit" over and over again during quarantine — I was alone for most of my senior year.
Sitting alone forced me to think a lot. I thought about the memories I cherished in college, that I prayed would come back come springtime. I thought about how lonely I felt in the beginning of my first year here, and how it compares nothing to COVID-19 life. But I thought mostly about my time at the DP and how I got here.
I got off of the Penn waitlist on May 8, 2017. I was committed to another school, but it just didn’t feel right. Penn was not on my radar. I never even visited before attending. But my English teacher told me he really saw me going there, and soon after he told me this, a direct flight to Philadelphia from my hometown was added to our local airport’s roster.
The night of May 7, I scrolled on my phone at pictures of Penn’s campus. Realizing it probably would make me more upset about my waitlist status, I closed my phone and went to sleep. Somehow — maybe it was divine intervention, or maybe it was meant to be this way all along — I got into Penn the next day. I have never in my life cried tears from happiness, but that day I really did.
Knowing that I was so close to not coming here made me cherish the experience more. Once I arrived it took a year of joining and quitting clubs to really find a “group” I fit in with. My friend Michael Warren said he was part of the photo department of the DP, and that I should try it out since I loved photography. Honestly, I only joined to beef up my resume, and anticipated keeping my status at the DP as a very low commitment.
Fast forward three years and I have been News photo editor, Editorial Board chair, and summer Opinion editor for the DP. It is hard to summarize these three positions in a short column. In the multimedia section (where I sit currently), Sage Levine and Sukhmani Kaur sat across from me every day. We blasted pop music while editing photos and video footage. It was also here where I started to livestream all celebrity award shows (and highly disturb print production nights), and a crowd slowly formed where I began to make friends.
Across from me is the Red Room, home of the Copy Department (which I was a member of for one whole day), where Katie Steele, Sam Mitchell, and I most notably wrote and edited the editorial endorsing Bernie Sanders for the 2020 presidential democratic candidate. The next day, Max Cohen told me Sen. Sanders reposted it on social media, and we spent the night celebrating.
Next to Copy is the Blue Room, home of News. Conversations strategizing photo essays morphed into talking about classes, life, and Shawn Mendes. Max, Maddie Ngo, Deena Elul, Manlu Liu, and Giovanna Paz all let me sit in and have fun while they edited their reporters’ stories. This is also the infamous locale where “Mariarmy” was born. I was talking to Gio about how funny it is that celebrities' fandom names sound so aggressive — Selenators, Arianators, Shawn Mendes Army. I joked, “imagine there being a Maria army … a mariarmy!”
The joke turned into a Slack channel for anyone to join to talk about fun, trivial matters in the office. Yes, I realize how odd it is to name a Slack channel or group after yourself, but somehow the joke morphed into a real, tight-knit community. During quarantine, we had a Mariarmy secret santa exchange across the world, and at the most recent Kamin Cup, we fought to defeat DPOSTM (and of course, failed).
Most visibly across from me is the Sports office. My status as a DPOSTMite who has never actually written a sports article began with homework help from Will DiGrande. But in November of 2019, I dealt with the loss of my grandfather, somebody I was extremely close to. I never experienced such a close death, let alone by myself at college hundreds of miles away from home. On my flight back, the only thing that sounded comforting, the only thing I wanted, was just to be with my friends in sports. The moment I entered the office, Will ran up to me and gave me a big hug.
Down the main hall of the DP office is the Opinion Office where Isabella Simonetti and Julia Schorr, or “JJ,” unknowingly convinced me to stop being a vegetarian of five years due to their tempting Terakawa orders. It was in this office that Julia, Isabella, Sam, and Dalton DeStefano made a video called “What we love about Maria” also after my grandfather died. They sent it to me, and needless to say, I was wrong for assuming I would be dealing with this loss without the support of family.
So, when I sit in the office alone right now, somehow it is the least lonely I could possibly ever feel. And when I am forced to recall memories over the past four years, and think of how I got here today, I realize why I was meant to get off the Penn waitlist. I was meant to be at the DP. I was meant to meet my family here. Now that I have, I can only hold immense gratitude and joy that we get to move through the world — post-DP, post-Penn, and hopefully post-COVID-19 — together. Thank you all for being my family.
MARIA MURAD is a College senior from Hazard, Ky. studying cultural/linguistic anthropology, ancient history, and cinema and media studies. She served as the News photo editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian on the 135th Board of Editors and Managers, Editorial Board chair for the spring 2020 semester, summer 2020 Opinion editor, a photographer, and a videographer.