As I’m finishing up my junior year at Penn, it scares me that I only have one year left. I made a pledge to write about the things I want the courage to do during my time left at Penn, so here we are now.
Before I started Penn, I came in confident with high expectations for what my time at my dream school would be. During NSO I went to my first downtown, I dartied, I DFMO'd and I flirted with some cute upperclassmen (I even had the courage to do so sober). During my freshman year, I became a member of Arts House Dance Company, I rushed and joined a sorority and I skipped French to begin Fling festivities on Friday morning. I could see why people called college the “best four years of your life.” Despite those feelings, at the end of freshman year, I went home for the summer wishing that I had enjoyed the smaller moments in all of them, too.
I want the courage to not stress myself out so much about school and to learn how to be present. While I have learned to be okay with not getting perfect grades in all of my classes, I still bury myself in my books and go to bed making a laundry list of things I want to accomplish the next day. When I’m in my last rehearsal of the night at 11:30 p.m. during “Heaven Week,” all I can think about is how soon I want the clock to strike midnight, so I can get home and get to bed or prepare for tomorrow’s CINE285 group presentation.
As our Saturday Spring show was coming to its end, the Senior Videos started playing, and I found myself beginning to cry backstage. It was a moment where I wish I had taken advantage of my breaks in between rehearsals to hang out with the seniors, as this was our last time performing with them in front of a crowd of close to 300 people. It was a moment where I wish I had jumped in to help clean up the roses sprawled on the ground during rehearsal by having someone push me across the stage while I sat on the floor with my legs straddled open (turned out to be a fast way to sweep them up). It was a moment where I wish I had just taken a breath, relaxed and enjoyed the wildness of Heaven Week that brought our show and company together. It was a moment where I realized that that was going to be me next year watching pictures of myself flashing up on the screen as my senior video played.
Balance is hard to find—both in dance and in life—as I’m always busy struggling to juggle an endless amount of things on my plate, just like almost everyone else you talk to at Penn. My Type A personality kicks in, and instead of being present, I become busy thinking about the next thing I need to do, or the next person I need to talk to, because it always feels like I’m missing something.
To be present means many things to me. To be present is to be grateful. To be present is to block out any superfluous, unnecessary thoughts. To be present is to let yourself get lost in the moment. To be present is to feel alive. Someone asked me last year, “When do you feel alive?” Easily, I responded, “Dance.” When I dance and perform, I become so focused on the task at hand that nothing else seems to matter. During those moments I feel present, whole, centered and alive.
Over the summer, I found what is still my theme song, “Don’t Look Down” by Martin Garrix & Usher. I listened to it every morning on my drive to work and listened to it as pump–up music before the Arts House’s spring show while the dancers waited downstairs as the audience came into the theater. Even though the story of the song isn’t the story of my life, when Usher asks, “Can we stay up here in this atmosphere, or are you afraid to fall?,” I wanted to say, “No.” I felt an enabling, driving force in my gut that made me feel fearless. Fearless to just go for things where there’s nothing to lose. Fearless to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Fearless to lose myself in the moment. Fearless to be present, and that’s what I want—the courage to be present.
I want the courage to be in the moment, excited and ready to take advantage of every moment that I have left at Penn, whether it’s finally making my way over to hear Kweder at Smokes' on a Tuesday night or even finding a way to (somehow) enjoy GEOL100 next semester as I fill my last two sectors. I want the courage to not just “be” grateful, but allow myself to be moved and “feel” grateful. I want the courage to let myself feel vulnerable. I want the courage to find the presence and the Hallie that comes to life when I dance. It took nine months for me to find the courage to write this, but I don’t want it to take another nine months to be sitting here, still trying to find a way to enjoy the last few weeks of college.
Two years ago, I fell in love with a question Sheryl Sandberg raises in her book, Lean In. She asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?,” and I have attempted to answer this question and live by that motto ever since. If I weren’t afraid, I would let go and let myself feel alive and free. I don’t want to let myself get stuck in the mud. Instead, I want the courage to find the joy, happiness and gratefulness I found as I stretched my arms out, looked to the ceiling and rose en rélevé performing my last solo onstage three years ago. I became filled with pure joy, happiness and gratefulness. A smile began to spread across my face as I held onto a moment of stillness a little longer before I exploded—free—and lost myself in the moment, dancing without fear, making every second count. I want the courage to just enjoy the rest of my junior and senior years at Penn. I want the courage to perform and live life with the rule my dance teacher taught me, and what I hear in the song as I still listen to it every morning: “Don’t look down.”