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Credit: Tyler Kliem , Derek Wong

I have written 25 pieces for my DP column since January 2020. I’m very proud of some of them, indifferent about most of them, and slightly embarrassed by a few of them.

I started my DP career criticizing preprofessionalism (a unique idea, I know), and ended it extolling the benefits of clinical trials using psychedelic drugs. In between, I wrote about a lot of different topics — racism, COVID-19, suicide, University administration, meditation, and voting, among others. A few of those columns were somewhat widely read by college newspaper standards. Others were viewed by me, seven Twitter bots, and no one else.

In that time, I’ve figured out that I am pretty good at writing about health and well-being and not great at writing about politics. I’ve learned how to interview people ranging from doctors and scientists to suicidal students and psychedelic drug users, and I’ve held opinions so incredibly tepid I wonder how they got past my editors. I’ve authored columns that shared untold stories of Penn students with intractable mental illness, and I’ve written columns about the pandemic that aged so poorly I’m not sure a single word is relevant anymore. I’ve had a source praise me for approaching a topic with compassion and candor, and I’ve had a pissed off source send me a furious email after I accidentally called them an “associate professor” instead of a “professor.” (A note to those reading: Never mislabel an academic.)

I stressed about every column I ever wrote. (Including this one, which was submitted late because I stressed about what to write.) I feared that my work would be less than perfect, and, well — it always was. I would change at least one thing about every column I’ve ever written, yet, there’s also at least one sentence that I’m proud of in every column I’ve ever written.

I feel that way about the rest of my Penn experience, too. I have a lot to be grateful for — the close friendships I’ve made through my classes and clubs like Bent Button Productions, the incredible professional opportunities I’ve stumbled upon, and courses like “Drugs, Brain, and Mind” that reshaped my worldview. I also have a lot of regrets — don’t get me started on those.

Sure, if I could go back and fix the mistakes, I would — but I know that the altered timeline would cascade into other regrets as well as other joys. Joy and sorrow go hand in hand, but the balance between them isn’t always perfect. For most of college, my days were filled with more sorrow than joy. As my undergraduate career comes to an end, I’ve been fortunate enough to have more joyous moments than sorrowful ones. Still, I know that the balance will shift back eventually — and when the time comes, I’ll shed my tears, then know that joy is on its way again.

I’ve drafted this column several times. I’ve written and deleted thousands of words, trying to figure out what message I’d like to convey. My Penn experience was good and bad — like everyone else’s. I’m not special. Just because I have the chance to write a senior column doesn’t mean that I should spew half-assed wisdom. All I know is that it’s really hard to be a student. Hell, it’s really hard to be a person, especially in the ebb and flow of a pandemic where nothing is certain anymore. Things were difficult for me, but they were also wonderful.

So, if there’s one thing that I could change about my Penn experience, it would be this: I wish I was kinder. 

I wish I was kinder to myself, and to others. I wish I was kinder to others when I rode highs and felt unstoppable. I wish I was kinder to myself when I felt hopeless and like life was no longer worth living. I wish I had allowed myself to accept other people’s kindness when they offered it, and I wish that I had been kinder to others when it felt impossible to do so.

Kindness doesn’t solve problems. It doesn’t give me back a lost college experience. It doesn’t cure the loneliness I feel from time to time. It doesn’t allay the uncertainty of a pandemic-ridden future. But it does — even just for a little while — bring compassion to a world that needs more of it. 

It’s cliché, but I don’t care. It’s worth saying because it’s worth feeling. 

VARUN SARASWATHULA is a College senior and first-year Master in Public Health student from Herndon, Va. studying neuroscience and healthcare management. He served as a deputy opinion editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian on the 137th board and as the summer opinion editor in 2021. His email is