Every Penn student remembers the moment he or she got in. I was on an annual spring break biking trip with my school in Nantucket, in the top floor of a bed and breakfast that was way too fancy for the Queens hooligans it was housing for a week (like the cast of Entourage without the whole “fame and success” thing). I locked myself in my room for some peace and quiet, and as the results came in, I would relay them to my chorus of friends outside the door, who would return to me an emphatic “1, 2, 3…FUCK HARVARD!” Rinse and repeat for Yale, Dartmouth and Princeton.
When the Penn page loaded, complete with the music, I was excited for all of five seconds. Then it hit me that I was really, actually leaving the only place I’d ever known. I went to a small, K–12 school for eleven years and graduated with a class of 26. To put that in perspective, the intro biology class that I took during the required two–week “I’m pre–med!” stage of my freshman fall was three times the size of my entire high school. I never had to worry about making first impressions, because I made all of them as a talkative six–year–old Yu–Gi–Oh! master with Harry Potter glasses and a CD player filled with my dad’s old Clash and Ramones records.
Once the first–semester luster of free alcohol and forgettable DFMOs—for both parties—wore off and the second–semester confusion of shallow rush conversations and somewhat forced Greek friendships came and went, I realized I had no idea who Mark the Penn student was. I had stopped rocking heat from my beloved sneaker collection and bought a pair of boat shoes. I wanted "to go into consulting” even though I still couldn’t tell you to this day what the hell a consultant is. I stopped skateboarding, which was one of my favorite things to do back home, because I thought carrying a board with me would make me look like a kid. I got an ear piercing (okay, that was kinda cool). I was smack in the middle of my quarter–life crisis.
During the fall of my sophomore year, I started seeing a therapist at CAPS. While talking things out helped a little, my real therapy came when I got forwarded an email from the circulation manager asking for someone to fill in for a day handing out the DP on the Compass. Making $15 sounded like a pretty nice way to spend the awkward hour and a half between my 9 a.m. psych lecture and my next class, so I went for it. I was surprised by how fun it was, so I took the time slot weekly for the rest of the semester and ended up taking on even more hours in the spring.
Now, Monday through Thursday from 9:30 to 11 a.m. is my Zen time. Penn as a whole takes itself way too seriously, and I let it rub off on me. The platform allows me to be the goofy, fun–loving Mark I was back in high school. I get the chance to blast the music I want (for the most part) and see my friends every morning, along with some minor acquaintances and former hook–ups who probably get tired of saying hi to me every single time (the feeling’s mutual but hey, I’m getting paid). I interact with a ridiculous cast of characters on a daily basis, from flyering vegans to gregarious homeless people to helicopter parents asking me for directions to a specific computer science professor’s office to introduce him to their nine–year–old son. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Being the guy on the Compass every morning has become a large part of my Penn identity. Pretty much every new person I meet says I “look familiar” because I’ve harassed them with a paper in their face in the past. Girls match with me on Tinder and call me the “DP guy” (Ed. note: let’s get a new nickname). That confidence boost gets swept away the second a cute girl asks me why “the taller one” (Max, the circulation manager/heartthrob) isn’t working that day, but I digress. I find joy in entertaining the zombies who walk down Locust every morning. With all the discussion we’ve had around mental health on campus in my time here, I think we all owe it to the Penn community to try to make it a better place. Even if you don’t take the paper from me, if I made you laugh or smile, I did my job.
“You’re the only person who makes this job look fun,” one friend laughingly said to me the other day. I think that’s the best compliment anyone’s given me at Penn. No matter how disconnected I feel sometimes at this school, every day I’m being myself in the middle of campus. And that’s the message I hope my story conveys to you—not everything you do at Penn has to look nice on a resume. I might not ever be a professional paper–hander–outer (I’ll keep checking PennLink) but I’ve learned more about myself handing out the paper than I ever have in another position on campus. Whether you’re an incoming freshman excited about the future or a disillusioned sophomore or junior questioning what they’re doing here—find something you actually love doing, for your own sake and not for anyone else’s. And take the DP every morning.