Ryan Leone (CW’19) is all smiles as he gives a rundown of the Kite and Key Society, the day–hosting and tour guide group on Penn’s campus. “It feels like I’m doing something that can make a difference,” he says, leaning forward. “I think what makes Kite and Key unique is it’s one of the only university tour guiding organizations and day–hosting organizations that is entirely volunteer based in the country. Our members go through intense training and put their time in without being reimbursed by the university.”

Talya Kramer (C’18) echoes the sentiment. “I don’t think people just stumble onto Kite and Key, so the people who are on it definitely want to be there,” she pauses, adding “I’m even on exec now.” She’s the current Tour Guide Coordinator, and her responsibilities are split between working with admissions, working with current guides, and planning events for prospective students. She’s come a long way from the nervous applicant she was when she auditioned. “Freshman year I was so nervous. There’s one point where they ask you to wear Penn gear—to show school spirit—and I woke up that morning frantically texting people for clothes.” She admits that she’s actually an introvert, which is surprising, considering how affable and warm she’s been this whole conversation. In context, however, her demeanor makes sense, considering how many tours she’s given in her three years as a member. “You really learn a lot of valuable skills tour–guiding, like how to capture and keep people’s attention. I’m a TA for a BBH class now, and I was really nervous until I realized that it isn’t so different from tour–guiding.”  

For Natalie Munson (SEAS’20), Kite and Key was the obvious choice after she got to campus. Crossing her legs, she rests her elbow on her knee as she says, “I was always in awe of tour guides. I made a promise that no matter where I got into school I would be a tour guide. When I got to Penn, the first thing I applied to was Kite and Key.” Her enthusiasm for the extends to Penn itself. “I love being able to talk about how great a school Penn is to other people—it reminds me how much I like it.”

 George Cary (W’19) has a similar origin story: “My tour was so impactful in my decision to come to Penn," he says. "My mom was originally really nervous about Penn’s location, and my tour was really to show me that I shouldn’t come here, but we fell in love with my our guide, and it changed their minds about my coming back. Giving back in that way to prospective high school students is why I wanted to join.” However, he’s quick to mention all that he’s gained from the organization: “I’ve gained public speaking skills for sure. All members get public speaking skills,” he pauses, adding, “but I think Kite and Key also provides a lot of opportunities for people to gain leadership skills.”

Ryan says he notices an evolution in his guides as they go through training. Although Kite and Key has a thorough interview process and selects students that demonstrate strong speaking and presenting skills, they aren’t afraid to take a chance on an applicant if they see potential in them. Ryan explains, “there are definitely certain individuals in particular that I see really flourish after they’ve gotten used to touring. They become definitely more outgoing than they were from the start. I think they also become more confident in themselves as individuals, so it’s really rewarding to see them get as much out of as they put into it.”

With nine members on their executive board, three admissions office advisors, three shift captains for “chat and chew” and 11 shift captains for tour guiding, the tour guides on Kite and Key run a well–organized hub of activity, though sometimes snafus do come up. “I had to give a tour during St. Patty’s day,” Ryan says, laughing, “and when we were standing in front of Dietrich hall near the frats we had these drunk people come up and yell things, like ‘Fuck this place! Go to Princeton. This place is a prison!’" He pauses, growing serious, “It definitely puts us in an uncomfortable position. Even though it’s a joke, we have to show parents that that isn’t what Penn is like.” After a moment, he adds, “There are also people who ask really disturbing questions, like, ‘what’s the average sex life for a Penn student?’ only to follow up with, well, ‘what’s your sex life like then?’”

The occasional funny anecdote aside, Kite and Key members are pillars of professional behavior. Later Peter Romanello (C’19) gives a mock tour. Meandering through the Quad listening to his thoughtful, articulate descriptions of buildings makes one wonder: what happens when he doesn’t know the answer to a question? “Normally, if it has to do with Penn I’ll defer to admissions—I’d hate to give wrong information as opposed to no information. Or I’ll try to answer to the best of my knowledge and experience.” Back near the Perelman Quadrangle, he points to College Hall as we pass it. “Once I was asked what kind of stones College Hall was made of, and, so I asked the people on the tour what stone they thought it was, and everyone gave guesses. At the end of it I went ‘well that’s interesting!’ and kept on going.” He grins playfully, “Gotta get them engaged, you know?”