Dear lil’ Grant,
I remember what you were like when you discovered you were admitted to Penn. It was the the weekend of PMEA Regions Orchestra. You opened the application portal at dinner with your orchestra friends. I think you were eating macaroni and cheese. Immediately, after reading the words “Congratulations!”, you slammed your phone down on the table because you were so happy and ran a couple laps around the host school in the freezing cold. At one point, you gave the janitor a hug. You called your mom, and she replied, “Are you sure?”
It was a wild moment full of excitement and possibility. It had been your dream to go to Penn since sat underneath the Benjamin Franklin statue eating a beef and eggplant platter from King Wok, and this is the realization of your dream. I wish I could tell you that college lived up to your expectations—thrilling parties, heartwarming friends, and enriching conversations—but I can’t tell you what you want to hear.
Coming to Penn felt like an organ experiencing transplant rejection.
Most of my friends thought NSO was their best time at Penn. For me, NSO was, by far, my worst experience at Penn. It is the same with every other holiday. For some reason, my worst times at Penn were the times that I was supposed to be the happiest. It is only in those moments am I reminded of how much college did not live up to my expectations.
You had probably received the advice to be yourself. I think that being yourself is possibly the worst piece of advice you could receive as a freshman. If you don’t have an innate model of what kind of person you want to be, I think that being yourself is dangerous to have a life that you want. Even now, I still don’t have a good idea of what “myself” entails; I just know that it’s probably best not to think about it.
Your “Why Penn?” essay detailing how you wanted to make a contribution to psychiatrics as a pre-med would probably be surprised to discover that you ended up studying English. I would say this academic transition was unexpected, but in reality, you probably knew inside that you weren’t meant to be a doctor. For one, there is already another doctor with my name, and the universe wasn’t meant to have two of those.
I wish I could say that it gets better, but it doesn’t.
I searched so hard to find acceptance in some sort of community in college. Yet, the most defining part of my college experience was facing rejection from these same communities I extended my hand to. The reality is that not everyone finds a place to call home in college. I know I didn’t. In the end, I never found the communities that I believed would be an integral part of the college experience. In retrospect, there was a lot I could’ve don’t to be more friendly, more likable. But it was one of those experiences that make you ask, but how could I have known better?
For a long time, my inability to effectively assimilate into this college environment caused me a lot of unhappiness. But I learned that adhering to any idea of what things should be like is quite dangerous. It invites a tendency to compare yourself to unrealistic goals that are set by individuals who also idealize their own experience. There is no defining feature of the college experience, and believing there are certain experiences you should have at certain times in your life is just just a harmful thought to have.
My friend once showed me “The Opposite of Loneliness” written by some student at Yale. It talked about this student who felt so integrated within the Yale community that she felt what constituted the “opposite of loneliness”. My only reaction was: nothing written in this essay resonates with me at all.
I learned that happiness does not come from things that happen to you but rather from within.
Many of my friends have expressed immense sadness over how coronavirus has canceled the latter half of the spring semester. To a large extent, I can see where these people are coming from. No goodbyes to be said, no graduation to be had. They feel so sentimental about their college experience and believed it was cut short too soon. Perhaps they believe that they did not spend enough time with their friends. Perhaps they wanted to check off more things on their senior year checklist. Because college constitutes the “best four years of their life” they feel sentimental for having something to leave behind.
I don’t really share their experiences in this regard. When my friend graduated last semester, I wanted to graduate with her. There wouldn’t be much for me to leave behind. For me, this experience of social distancing had been my happiest at Penn. It is always the experiences that cause others the most sadness that causes me to feel the most at peace. Other than COVID-19, my other favorite moments at Penn where during recruiting season in the first couple months of fall. Attending information sessions for five hours a day — there’s nothing else I would rather do, and I say that with complete seriousness. At least there wouldn’t be anything for me to miss out on. It was an appropriate end to the past four years of my life: an ending without a goodbye.
There’s not much I remember about my first couple years of college, but I remember it was very cold. Late at night, when I walked back to the Quad during freshman year, I remember how cold it was to reach into my pocket and take out my Penn Card. During sophomore year, in those walks home from Van Pelt, I noticed how the frost would wrap around my hands when I would pull out my phone to skip a song. The album Awake by Illenium had just come out, and you would play “Needed You” on your walk home back from Van Pelt almost every night.
Something I noticed about isolation is that it plunges you into yourself. When I feel isolated, I tend to think less about the world around me and notice more about what I am perceiving at the moment. This type of thinking, I learned, is problematic in developing better mental health. For so long in college, I resented others for having a better life than I did — for having the community that I wanted but did not have. But, somewhere along the line, I learned that there’s no point in being resentful. At the end of the day, I was just playing myself. But there’s no point in me saying that. That’s something you have to learn for yourself.
In reflection of my college experience, I wish I could say that you should savor every moment that you had. That seems to be what everyone else is saying. But, if I were being honest, I think you should just live as if you were dreaming, as if you were going to forget about it.
Remember when you read 1984 by George Orwell in the 10th grade?
The words will come to make so much sense:
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Sometimes, it’s better to have toxic friends than no friends at all.
Sometimes, it’s better to live life on fast forward, skipping ahead to the end of the story.
Sometimes, it’s better to forget about the life that you had.