Hometown: Pelham, NY

Major: Health and Societies

Activities: Penn Alternative Breaks, Table Talk

Street’s newest pick for EOTW comes from a town of one square mile that has upwards of 15 nail salons and pizzerias, and that’s basically it. Here, Madeline Leonard discusses her club involvement like a true Penn high achiever and reflects on the weightiness of being a senior. 

34th Street Magazine: Tell me about your role in Alternative Spring Break (ASB). 

Madeline Leonard: ASB has programs that send Penn students on service trips over winter and spring break. But rather than just focusing on the one week, we try to expand the experience and engagement with different social justice issues through pre– and post–trip education. The week of service includes reflection, both during the trip—on the dynamics and the work we are doing—and then after the trip, asking how we can take what we’ve learned and bring that back to Philly. I don’t go on the trips anymore, but I plan them along with the student leaders that we train throughout the year.

Street: What made you want to get involved with ASB?

ML: I first found out about ASB through an info session during my freshman year and thought it seemed like a cool opportunity to meet people and do something different. I ended up going on a trip to Key West, Florida, focusing on environmental conservation, and loved it. I was the only freshman, and I think it was important for finding my place at Penn. It was the first time that I had heard people talk about how they weren’t entirely happy at Penn, or that Penn was hard, and I was like, “Wow, I didn’t know other people were feeling this way.” It became a place for both personal growth and growth through the projects and the work that we were doing. 

Street: Any standout memory from an ASB trip?

ML: I led a trip my sophomore year to the Workers Defense Project in Austin, TX. They work with laborers and on immigration policy, and we got to go to a series of their meetings and shadow different legal workers to really see the work that they do. I think one of the best things about ASB is that it allows the people who are experiencing injustices themselves to truly speak about their experiences so that we can best learn how to help them, rather than having others speaking for them. I’ve also been so fortunate to form so many genuine relationships. I think having the opportunity to bond with people outside of the Penn bubble and really create genuine and vulnerable relationships has been one of my favorite parts. 

Street: What about Table Talk—what do you do with them?

ML: Table Talk is an initiative at Penn to create opportunities for conversation among groups and individuals who otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to talk. It’s based off the idea that you come to Penn and want to meet so many different people and hear all these different perspectives. While I think everyone’s really committed to that, it becomes harder to do once you go through Penn and section yourself off, whether it’s through people who study the same thing as you or who are in the same organizations. It becomes increasingly harder to have those conversations. Table Talk is a way to bring people together and have them get to know each other through casual conversation. 

Street: Looking back to freshman year versus senior year, how have you changed?

ML: Coming from high school, I was coming from an environment where so much of my identity was academically focused. Having that as such a core part of my identity and coming to a place like Penn, where people are academically focused across the board, really forced me to consider other parts of my identity—just figuring out what I value and prioritize, not only how I theoretically value things but how my actions reflect my values and the life I want to lead. Also, right now I’m studying public health and, coming into Penn, I don’t think I even knew what that was. 

Street: Best and worst of Penn. Go. 

ML: My favorite thing about Penn is the amount of opportunities. There are so many. I’ve gotten the opportunity to study abroad, and by the end of college I’ll have studied in six different countries and a bunch of different states. I also appreciate being able to engage with the city of Philadelphia, but I think I’m still figuring out what that means as a Penn student. 

As for the worst, I think a lot of people have issues about the pre–professional environment and my least favorite thing about that is that people almost perceive that it’s larger than it is. There’s a huge population of people who aren’t necessarily interested in those fields or opportunities and feel really discouraged about seeking out other things. 

Street: Are you ready to leave Penn?

ML: Well, I’m here for an extra semester because I’m getting my Masters. I think this semester has been a challenge because it’s Feb Club and all of these other big things and everyone has their bucket list. I definitely have all that, but someone told me once that rather than trying to get as much out of an experience as possible, you really have to trust that that experience has given you what it needed to. That’s what I’m trying to do with Penn, is know that the relationships and experiences I’ve had throughout Penn have had their impact on me and that’s a gift in and of itself.

Lightning Round

Street: What was your Common App Essay about? 

ML: An anonymous compliments page that I ran my senior year of high school. 

Street: There are two types of people at Penn… 

ML: The people who walk into a room and say, “Here I am,” and the people who walk into a room and say “There you are.”

Street: And you are…?

ML: I try to be a “There you are,” I’m working towards it. 

Street: Your Oscar pick for best film? 

ML: Haven’t seen that many, but I’ll go with Ladybird

Street: #1 item on your Penn bucket list?

ML: I have two number ones. I have a cat at home that has several health problems, so my goal is to be able to walk her across Locust. We’re getting there. Also, Allegro has a flounder platter. It’s $7.99. I don’t eat flounder but this flounder platter is a deal and I have a short list of people that I am recruiting to help me eat this flounder platter. It’s a goal.