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Credit: Tyler Kliem

Six months ago, I was possibly the happiest I’ve ever been. I had just graduated high school with the love and support of my friends and family, and I was overwhelmingly excited for the next chapter of my life at Penn. 

Yet, the romanticized version of my first months at Penn I had envisioned fell short of being realistic; the transition to Penn was harder than I had imagined. I mentally glossed over the reality that I had gone to the same school for my whole life and never had to make the transition of moving across the country to an entirely new environment. I’ve been here for two months, and I feel as if I’ve experienced every emotion on the emotion wheel. I’ve started to come to terms with the difficult reality that I actually don’t have a solid grip on who I am or who I want to become. I chose Penn because I wanted to be challenged and stretched far beyond my comfort zone, but I never expected feeling this level of discomfort.

I spent so long wishing that I could leave my Mississippi bubble that I forgot to really appreciate and express the gratitude I had for it while I was there. Now that I’m here, at the school and city of my dreams, I find myself daydreaming about the comfort of my home. I had a strong sense of place within my local community, and I’ve found that coming to college means having to work again to find your new sense of place with new people, which is, of course, easier said than done. I believe that I should work on implementing the lessons of gratitude in my life to remember that I am where I’ve always wanted to be: an excellent university with excellent students, faculty, resources, and opportunities. 

When I was 12 years old, someone dear to my heart passed away, and I was forced to face the realities of life and death. I really had to think about what it meant to live and how to live with the intent and purpose to experience the sanctity of living. From that moment on, I’ve tried to always remember that at the end of the day, I should just be grateful for the fact that I’m alive. I had the opportunity to experience another day, good or bad, and that’s a gift in and of itself. 

To be a student at Penn is even more of a blessing than just simply living at Penn. I’m in a community of people who are exceptional in their own right — whether it’s a classmate in my writing seminar course who can solve math problems with ease that I can only dream to understand or a professor who expresses passion and dedication in teaching that I can’t help but admire. 

I’ve had days at Penn where I lose my gratitude and find myself feeling disillusioned. Whenever I’m faced with feelings of frustration, loneliness, or confusion, I remember to ground myself in what makes life worth the ride: gratitude. I don’t just mean being grateful for the big things in life — such as family, friends, and an education — I mean finding joy in the little things as well. I’m grateful for my warm cup of coffee each morning that helps me start my day. I’m grateful for the ability to see the vibrant yellow and red leaves all over campus. I’m grateful for my sunset runs along the Schuylkill River Trail when the water glistens. So, now, may I ask you: What are the small things in your life that bring you joy? 

Internalizing what I’ve learned in my classes, along with gratitude, has helped me even more. In my religious studies class (RELS 011, which I highly recommend), we often discuss the influence that philosophy has on religion. Whether you’re religious or not, I believe that Aristotle’s postulation of a telos, the idea that each human is constantly growing and working toward understanding his or her raison d'être, can universally help us cope with life’s vicissitudes

I like to think that we are a collection of experiences in which we are constantly learning as life oscillates between its highs and lows on the x-axis of time. I frame all of my experiences, whether difficult or painless, as small pieces of building who I will become. I believe we could all benefit from remembering that all of our experiences, at the end of the day, help us reach our telos. 

As long as you’re living, you’re learning. Be grateful for that. 

ALLISON SANTA-CRUZ is a College first year studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Jackson, Miss. Her email address is allisant@sas.upenn.edu.

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