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Photo courtesy of Caroline Magdolen

Opinion applications for The Daily Pennsylvanian were due on a rainy, pandemic-era September day. Zoning out in a Zoom lecture, I wondered if I really wanted to put the effort into penning a sample column. Wouldn’t I just get rejected?

But then I remembered what Mr. Henderson, my high school English teacher, wrote to me that spring. He said he associated me with the newspaper, complimenting my writing style and how I gave my all on every assignment. If at least one person thought that I belonged at the paper, I may as well give it my best shot. 

It’s a pretty solid call to adventure, don’t you think?

When I started writing columns, I was scared stiff of saying something that would get construed the wrong way. I reviewed every last letter and punctuation mark of my drafts, and asked my friends to do the same. With that diligence, I grew as a writer. I started speaking up in meetings, and then, in my junior year, I led them as the opinion editor. 

For the longest time, I chose to interpret my time at Penn, and at the DP, as a kind of hero’s journey, where I finish demanding assignments with aplomb, and every adversity teaches me a valuable lesson. Most of us do some version of that. We hope to graduate feeling triumphant, having risen through the ranks and gained expertise in the activities and academics that we invested in. We hope that our next steps involve a dream job or school — a dream life, even.

I entered Penn my senior fall, eager to get my storybook resolution come graduation. Leaving my summer internship with glowing reviews from my mentors, I was assured of a return offer. And having made a pact with my friends to take no more than 5.5 CUs, I would be coasting, relative to my earlier 6.5 and 7 CU terms as a dual-degree student. This was the term where, instead of learning the ropes of Penn and fighting to stay afloat, I would explore and navigate new waters. 

But then, as the clock struck midnight and September began, my email inbox greeted me with a “we regret to inform you” message from the company I had interned at — the first of many, many eventful emails in my inbox. I dropped down to 4.5 CUs after struggling with a coding assignment for 20-something hours, but my workload hardly let up after that.

Over the following months, 30 and 40-hour weeks at the DP became my norm: speaking with our (incredibly, insanely dedicated) staffers and editing and fact-checking columns. I was hopping on phone calls and writing replies to email chains, dozens of messages deep in the middle of the night. By the end of the year, Opinion published over 200 staff and guest columns with diverse perspectives on campus life and current events — there is nothing I am prouder of having worked on at Penn.

None of it would have been possible without the immense support and kindness from so many wonderful, driven people. Thank you Emi, Imran, and Jesse — in the most tumultuous of times in the Pink Palace, I could count on you to advocate for Opinion and to give your all into leading the DP, which means more than words can express. Thank you Yomi, Vinay, and Emily for being the absolute best deputy editors Opinion 139 could ask for, and Matteo, for your careful sensitivity reading and suggestions. Thank you Derek, Benjamin, and all of Photo and Design for the beautiful doms, and for goofing off with me during production nights. Thank you Allyson, Julia, and all of Copy! You are the backbone of the DP.

And of course, I am most grateful for the wit, enthusiasm, and commitment of every single columnist I have had the privilege to work with; your stories captivated thousands of minds and inspired countless debates.

If I was still going after that storybook resolution, I’d tell you that upon retirement from the DP, I rode off into the sunset to some magnificent end-credits-style music. At our banquet, I was honored to receive the Editor of the Year award, and after applying to full-time positions for months, I suddenly had to decide between three great job offers over the span of two weeks.

But it’s not all that simple — I’ve learned this spring that 5.5 CUs can feel just as soul-sucking as 7 (thanks, NETS 2120), and I’ve had my fair share of tough conversations, embarrassing slip-ups, and everyday misfortunes. With the turmoil and tensions both on campus and worldwide right now, it feels disingenuous to tell a story where everything wraps up neatly, with no loose ends.

I said before that in a hero’s journey, each adversity teaches you a lesson — but that’s not how life actually works. Sometimes, you just screw up, for no reason other than bad luck or a bout of clumsiness. Sometimes, there’s no purpose to it: only pain.

Because of that, I’ve given up on the hero’s journey altogether. Shifting away from grandiose but precarious narratives that hinge on external validation, like acceptances and awards, I now prefer to focus my story on the day-to-day minutiae that bring me joy and stability. It is filled with lovely little moments, like chatting with my roommates over spicy, piping-hot bowls of instant ramen, or taking in the fresh air and ambiance as I walk through the Woodlands. 

My life feels far fuller with this type of story than when I’ve tried to contort my time at Penn into a narrative with some meaningful conclusion to it all. I have flourished in many ways here. But in others, I am very much a work-in-progress, and that’s perfectly fine. I hope that you will come to adapt your stories as you grow and change too — sticking with a rigid narrative for too long is no fun.

I suppose I’ll end here on the same line that got me into this whole (glorious) mess in hopes that it inspires somebody else: whoever you are, if you so desire, you can belong at the paper. Start writing stories, and never stop. Be curious and skeptical about every narrative you examine — ask lots of questions and raise objections when you see fit. You’re going to be brilliant.

CAROLINE MAGDOLEN is a College and Engineering senior studying earth science and systems engineering from New York City. She was previously opinion editor for the DP's 139th board. Her email is