I used to spend some time debating if I lost my sophomore year or junior year. It’s a question that has no real importance or answer. It did give me the basis for jokes I told far too many times about how some club positions aged me two years in 365 days. But no matter how I want to package it, I’m graduating now, three years after I started at Penn. Almost exactly half of my career here was spent in person, the other half spent on Zoom.
Graduating in three years really just means I get asked two questions a lot: “Why?” and “How?” I think, for Penn students, the question of how I did it is more interesting, because most people assume I walked in my first semester with a massive spreadsheet that carefully counted credits and balanced requirements. I’ll admit it would be pretty badass if I did that, but it’s not the truth. The real answer is it was a bit of chance, a bit of cooperation from advisors, and a lot of learning about what makes the Penn community tick.
I’m of the conviction that there are two types of people at Penn — the underambitious and the overcaffeinated. As you might guess, I firmly belong in the overcaffeinated pod. Jump to my third semester here, when I’m declaring my history major. Yvonne Fabella, the undergraduate advisor, alerted me that I’d taken a good portion of my major already and that early graduation was possible. “How early?” I asked. “Possibly three years” was her response. It intrigued me, but it wasn’t really a goal. I continued to take a big load of classes, counted my credits after they were over, and decided that I could do it if I wanted. So I did it. That’s the macro view of what happened.
One of the great ironies that I take from my journey at Penn was that it was the pursuit of the non-professional that made it more bearable. I know many people who, via their spreadsheets and friend groups, plot a transcript to match a potential job down the line. That might include a data science minor, a second major in economics, or work with a consulting club. I don’t intend to disparage people who do those things or write to claim they don’t work, but I think my extreme experience really highlights the value of pursuing something you enjoy. Every week I would look forward to my five-hour Sunday block spent in The Daily Pennsylvanian’s office, juggling opinion department meetings, editorial board pitch sessions, and all-editor Kahoots. It gave me an outlet to be creative and social in a way that (hopefully) made some sort of lasting impact. My time at the DP usually wasn't time on my calendar I dreaded or treated as just another set of obligations I had to meet.
Through my term as opinion editor, I also learned that people (at least at Penn) tend to be less extreme than I was expecting them to be. Sure, we got plenty of hate mail and derogatory comments on columns, some of which was extremely comical. But so long as we stuck to writing pieces with relevance and backing them up with sound reasoning, people were accepting. This applied both on topics mostly limited to campus as well as ones that were politically charged (and argued points that probably weren’t in line with the status quo). There were a few exceptions, but I found myself wondering if worrying about “them” (meaning the people who would pour out to criticize our work) really existed so long as we held up our end of being good journalists.
I also learned that the most popular belief on a typical issue tended to be no opinion. As hard as that was to fathom as an opinion columnist, it is the truth. And it reaffirms my belief in why an opinion section is essential — in times when people need to pick a side, having columns ready to explicitly present a reasoned opinion is necessary.
But I digress. We tend to think in extremes at Penn. Are we going to go into investment banking or a nonprofit? Will we sleep at 10 p.m. or 5 a.m.? Is Penn the place of our dreams or a place we hate? That can be entertaining in the moment but extremely fatiguing in the long run. I found taking things as they come and dedicating myself to the things I truly enjoyed was far better than worrying about predicting the future and how I would fit into it.
Graduating now is tinged with probably just a little more sadness for me because an extra year of everything that makes undergraduate education so worthwhile could have been mine for the taking. But it's also laced with appreciation for the people who helped me along the way and for what I've been able to do. But for all the trade-offs and lost sleep, I wouldn't have it any other way.
ALFREDO PRATICÒ is a graduating College senior studying American history from Philadelphia. He served as The Daily Pennsylvanian’s opinion editor on the 137th Board of Editors and Managers. His email is email@example.com.