Well, we’re down to crunch time, folks. In 10 days, I say goodbye to the city I’ve come to love and the people that have made that city home for the last four years. It’s pretty weird, to be honest.
A few weeks ago, I made the classic Taylor mistake of using bleach to clean my countertops while wearing my Penn Class of 2016 sweater. (It’s one of the only pieces of Penn gear I own because I really hate spending $60 on a sweatshirt.) When I realized the extent of the damage, I noticed that I was feeling waaaaay sadder than I should have about the ruined sweater.
I thought about it a little, and I realized that for some reason, I had viewed that sweater as some sort of link to Penn, like a way that I’d be able to prove that I actually existed as a Penn student. When I realized my “evidence” of having been a Penn student was gone, I felt strangely sad.
Goodbyes are weird. Things like trying to get 50 Wawa cups of coffee in the last few weeks of school, spending literally every day studying with my friends, or being upset over a stupid sweater that I bought a size too big anyways are the ways in which I’ve tried to grab onto the sand that is my Penn experience while it slides through my fingers.
I remember graduating high school and feeling like I’d made an impact. I was National Honor Society president, VP of Speech & Debate, and active in marching band (nerd alert!). I felt like that school, in at least some ways, would have been different had I not been there. I felt like I had made my mark.
As I look back on my time at Penn, I feel the opposite. I wasn’t the president of anything. I held a leadership role at the school paper, which I enjoyed but few outside the paper knew about. I wasn’t a team captain or a star student or anything else that might define me from the masses in some significant way.
Contrary to every part of my goal-setting, achievement-oriented self, I’m okay with where I’m at. I’m okay with being a little anonymous.
There have definitely been moments throughout college where I questioned what I was doing with myself. My friends are in high-profile leadership roles on campus, and I often wondered if I was being lazy or selling myself short by not pursuing leadership or distinction on campus. I often thought ahead to graduating, and wondered how I would feel about my decision.
Well, now I’m two weeks away from graduating, and to be honest, I’m pretty happy. As I sit down and look at my time at this university, I realize that leaving your “mark” is about so much more than classes or grades.
I have been blessed enough to form a strong network of friends and colleagues here, and in all of those networks, there will be a little rift when I leave. While I may not have made some great contribution to science while I was here, started a club, or launched a company, I’ve been a colleague, a volunteer, and a pretty darn good friend IMHO (Alex, if you’re reading, feel free to sassily dispute that). While I won’t be Penn-famous, I won’t leave unremembered.
Life’s about a lot more than achievement, and as I enter this next phase of life, I’m excited to focus on this new way of “leaving my mark.” I’m entering nonprofit because I love helping people (cue Miss America-style wave) and I look forward to leaving my mark on those lives I encounter in my career. I hope to learn to focus less and less on status and career and more and more on making an impact on those around me.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with doing great things and striving for achievement, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never done that during my time at Penn. I do think, though, that we often neglect the other ways in which we’re making an impact just by being part of a community.
So if you’re driving the Finals Struggle Bus or struggling in some other area of your life, remember that you’re more than your achievements – you’re making a mark in lots of other ways too.