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Photo courtesy of Fiona Miller

When senior spring rolled around, a warning email from Career Advising landed in my inbox. URGENT. Apparently, my current enrollments would not complete my degree requirements. Apparently, I wouldn’t graduate. As always, procrastination came back to bite me.

“Social Impact and Responsibility: Foundations”: the last class I needed to complete my concentration. As the name suggests, the course was meant to be entry-level, taken at the beginning of my academic journey, not at the tail end. Every semester, I pushed this three-hour seminar off. I could push it off no longer.

After an email with my advisor, who not-so-politely suggested that I should have planned my course load better, I finally enrolled in Social Impact Foundations during my senior spring. A three-hour seminar, a foundations course as a senior — I couldn’t wait.

The first assignment for the cursed course — which, due to my late enrollment, would be submitted well past the due date — was a legacy paper. In 2050, when you look back at your life (both personal and professional) what will you consider to be your main achievement — your legacy? 

To some, this assignment would kindly be referred to as easy and unkindly referred to as busy work. To a senior soon to be facing the real world, legacy was terrifying. All that mattered was what immediately lied in front of me: graduating, getting a job, getting into law school. I was too young to think about myself at age 48, and it was way too early to cement my legacy.

Legacy? So terrified by this word, I had actually enrolled in and immediately dropped this course a year prior. Now, I was backed into a corner and forced to face my legacy head-on. I debated dropping my concentration entirely, but that meant admitting defeat to my concentration advisor. So I stayed in the course, mostly out of stubbornness and partly out of spite. 

I began thinking back to the dreams I wrote about in my college application. Who was I when I came here?

At 18, I told my dad I wasn’t applying to Penn. Why bother if there was no chance I would get in? In southwest Virginia, most of my peers would stay in-state or head down to Southeastern Conference schools. No one from my area had been to Penn in recent years; Philadelphia was a strange new land. 

My dad disagreed. Spoken like a recreational soccer coach, he replied: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” The what-ifs loomed too large to brush off. Hours before the deadline, I submitted my Wharton application. When decision day rolled around, my family and I jumped up and down in excitement — not over an acceptance, but over a spot on the waitlist. My shot in the dark was met with a wait and see, a more favorable outcome than a rejection. By a mix of luck, chance, and the rise of COVID-19 gap years, I was ultimately accepted. And with the payment of my deposit, Pandora’s box was opened.

At 18, I knew all the numbers about Penn: rankings, post-graduate outcomes, CU limits, and course requirements. Over time, numbers became my litmus test. Numbers assured me I was on the right track. Apply for five clubs, like everyone else. Apply for dozens and dozens of internships, like everyone else. Stop sleeping eight hours a night — no one else does.

Each year, the numbers told me there was more I could do. Another club, another leadership position, a more challenging minor, a more challenging career. Each NSO, I felt like Sisyphus, with any progress I made erased by another tick of the clock. The numbers stretched on. Better to have two internship offers than one, better to have three leadership positions than two, better to have four A’s than three A minuses… 

Living by the numbers was no way to live. Constantly comparing myself to my successful classmates was productive to no one and crippling to myself. At some point — far too late in my college career — I stopped trying to fit a standard I didn’t believe in. Far too late, I resuscitated my ambitions from amnesia. 

Flashing forward, I returned to the legacy paper. I knew the sources of my unhappiness at Penn. I knew I hated the numbers, the never-ending comparisons. Most importantly, I knew who I didn’t want to be. For now, that could be enough. I wrote the legacy paper. I stayed in the three-hour seminar. I will graduate with the concentration that I applied to Penn with. 

As seniors know, much of spring term is reminiscing and remembering: thinking back to first-year roommates, old friend groups, long-abandoned majors and minors, and pre-professional tracks. The legacy paper, the bane of my existence, forced me to look both backwards and forwards. The assignment made me face uncomfortable questions of “What does success mean to you?” and “Who even are you, really?” 

Like most seniors, I don’t really know the answers. I am graduating with a degree that claims I know something when really, I feel more confused than I did at 18. But if four years at Penn has taught me anything, it’s this: Comparison is truly the thief of joy. The only thing comparison has taught me is who I don’t want to be. 

FIONA MILLER is a Wharton senior studying behavioral economics and social impact from Roanoke, Va. Her email is