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Credit: Sydney Curran

“5 Fun Things To Do in Philadelphia,” read the subject line of my most recent email. 

Sitting in my childhood bedroom back in 2020, I curiously pondered over this random email that landed in my inbox. With no connection to the city, I didn’t understand why this was relevant to me. I almost ignored it, if not for my superwoman of a mother who reminded me that I was still on Penn’s waitlist. I had previously concluded that Penn was no longer a possibility, but thankfully, my mom urged me to check the portal anyway. 

My screen was adorned with red and blue confetti — I had, in fact, been accepted to Penn. After re-reading the acceptance letter about 15 times to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me, my heart sank when I noticed the date. I was accepted over a week prior, but I had no idea because I missed the original email notification. 

If I had not seen the subsequent email advertising Philadelphia’s main attractions, I may have missed the deadline to make an enrollment decision, or I may have never even known that I got into Penn. I was so grateful to still have the chance to attend this prestigious university despite being so irresponsible, and I made a promise to take advantage of every opportunity this school offered. 

And that I did. 

My Penn experience has been nothing short of fulfilling. Though my first year was characterized by measures of isolation (virtual classes, mandatory masks, grab-and-go dining), I had never felt more connected with others. Call it trauma bonding, but there is something unifying about being a “COVID freshman” that only the Class of 2024 could ever understand.

My first year was also the time when I joined The Daily Pennsylvanian as an opinion columnist, and over the next four years, I would write, edit, podcast, and even create crossword puzzles. I learned how to navigate ruthless backlash from readers attacking my character and my intellect, and I served as a deputy editor during one of the most polarizing times in DP history — two formative experiences that have shaped who I am as a person and a writer. I credit the DP for planting the seeds of my future in journalism, and I would not have had the privilege of working for NBC News, CNN, and ABC News without my roots here. 

Aside from the career benefits, writing for the DP also presented opportunities to unravel years of internalized racism. My articles about Asian hate and xenophobia in Congress may not seem significant to the average reader, but this represented a huge step forward in not only accepting my racial identity, but being proud to publicly defend it. Coming from a predominantly white neighborhood and high school, I never truly felt comfortable in my own skin and even cringed at my culture. I am ashamed to admit this now, but I sought to assimilate by subconsciously surrounding myself with white friends, American cuisine, and white norms. 

While this may sound like an absurd paradox, joining a sorority further prompted me to embrace my Asian identity. I began to see Asian women engaging in social endeavors and being welcomed in spaces that I had previously assumed were exclusive to white individuals. And though Greek life undoubtedly has a litany of faults in regards to diversity and inclusion, I do credit Penn’s chapter of Alpha Phi for providing my first friendships with girls that actually looked like me. I have had some of the deepest conversations with these women regarding shared backgrounds, childhood similarities, and generational differences — topics that I never even fathomed to touch on beforehand. 

These social interactions remain my most treasured takeaway from college. Of course, all the sweaty frat basements, overpriced downtown events, and BYO dinners are core memories in my Penn experience. But rather than reminiscing about these drunken nights, I am more proud of the friendships that these social outings have rewarded me with. I have met my best friends that know me better than I know myself, some of whom I would quite literally consider to be family. I have learned about love and loyalty, support and sacrifice, trauma and tragedy.

My friends have also inspired me in a myriad of ways, and I’ll never tire of watching them launch companies, save lives, and change the world. They dedicate their hearts and souls to every endeavor, including athletics, the arts, and other extracurricular activities. In fact, witnessing my peers’ passions has served to revitalize my own. As a competitive figure skater for over 12 years who suffered from burnout and grew to despise the sport, I refused to step foot on the ice again. Though I joined the Penn Figure Skating Club during the fall of my first year, it was not until senior spring (seven semesters later) that I visited the Penn Ice Rink for the very first time. I regret how long it has taken, but it has been a beautiful journey receiving such profound support and falling back in love with the sport that defined me for over a decade. 

I could go on and on about the many things that Penn has taught me, but my mind always goes back to the day I discovered my Penn acceptance and the panic that ensued after realizing I opened the letter a week late. I often think about how different my life would have been had I continued to neglect my inbox, and I always come to the same conclusion: none of these experiences would have been the same, and many of these life lessons may have never come to fruition. 

So if there’s one piece of advice I have to give, it is to check your email. One email could change the entire trajectory of your life, just as mine did. 

EMILY CHANG is a College senior studying communication and law & society from Holmdel, N.J. She served as a deputy opinion editor and the opinion podcast host on the DP's 139th board. Her email address is