“I was like, ‘Dad can we go get Philly cheesesteaks and go home?’”
This was former Daily Pennsylvanian reporter Julia Klayman’s (C ’21) reaction during her first visit to Penn’s campus, when she was a bright–eyed high schooler from Westchester, N.Y., ready to embark on her next step. After being on College Green for a matter of minutes, she realized she could not stomach the elitism that characterized every fun fact on those red and blue pamphlets, or the whisper of inaccessibility that could be heard under every conversation.
How, then, did she end up getting ready to graduate from that very same campus, four years later?
Through a series of missed connections with other schools and a heap of Common App submissions, Julia ended up deciding her initial hesitation wasn't worth rejecting Penn at all. With a look of awe, she tells me that her whole outlook changed during Quaker Days. When she stumbled into the comfort of the Kelly Writers House, she overheard a student deliver a story he had written; she later approached him, probing him about his own Penn story.
“I loved everything he said about his experience and how he was able to carve his own path and figure out himself along the way, and all the opportunities Penn gave him … I decided that it would be a good place for me.”
Not only did Julia revisit her initial thoughts on the school’s admissions process—she would go on to revisit the admissions process itself. Serving as the co–chair for the Admissions Dean Advisory Board, as well as the head content creator for @PreviewingPenn on social media, Julia’s involvement with reshaping prospective students’ perceptions of the school has infiltrated every corner of her college career.
Oh yeah, and she’s given tours. A lot of them.
The former Kite and Key president smiles as she reflects on the fulfillment being a guide has given her, especially when students approach her and say that she gave them their first tour as they were making their college decisions. During these infamous tours, Julia always ensured that she touched on the real weight of making a college decision.
“At the end of the day, all these schools are kind of promising really similar things. And, no matter where you go, there will be those great things, and there will be those great days, but there will also be the horrible days, like the days where all you want to do is cry and go home. Maybe it's your first fight with your roommate, or you fail a midterm … You are going to have a bad day. When you close your eyes, ask yourself, 'Where do you want to be?'”
For Julia, she always pictures being on Locust Walk, even on the horrible days. That’s how she can confidently say, at the conclusion of her time at Penn, that she picked the right place.
Even though she constantly shapes the lives of others, Julia's molded considerably by her ardor for people. Her natural curiosity lies in the intersection of culture and humans as she tells me about her academics. When she arrived as a first year, Julia knew she wanted to sample as many courses as she could that piqued her interest. Her fascination for the humanities intermingled well with her success in her first economics class, and after learning about the philosophy, politics, and economics major, she and the degree became a perfect fit.
Despite the major requirements, she always ensured that she took at least one fun course—usually in creative writing—that gave her something to find academic respite amid a hectic schedule. For example, she fell in love with English professor Jay Kirk’s "Experimental Nonfiction" course where she got to follow around an ROTC student for a semester and write about the journey. Her favorite class, however, has been on intercultural communications, which is where her love for learning grew, as she was exposed to how different parts of the world reflected different concepts and ideas.
Here, she realized that identities held different meanings, including how she presented her own. The concept of identity hangs over her, such as when she studied abroad in France one summer, and decided not to tell her host family about her Jewish faith.
“I realized I was irrational with my family, specifically, because they were so loving and welcoming, but at the time, I just remember being like, ‘I don't know who you can trust.’”
Later, after leaving the area to travel to Lyon, she tells me that her mentality shifted considerably when she began to introduce herself without a filter. “It was a lot more confidence, being like, ‘This is my identity and you should know it from day one, because if you're not gonna like it, move somewhere else,'" she says.
Confidence is the central component of Julia’s personality. She radiates it, even as she sits in the corner of her college apartment combatting a violent case of springtime allergies and the common cold. Julia is used to being relied upon. She never skip plans yet makes room for her extracurriculars, but is shocked when others come up to her and thank her for being an inspiration.
She tells me that this has been both a blessing and curse during her time at Penn; while she loves being depended upon as a leader, Julia realizes the mental toll it took on her well–being. The balance of being supportive yet supported has been her No. 1 priority, as she relays how “everyone can be really successful around you, and you can be really successful in your own way too,” which is why it's of utmost importance that she is there for the people who are there for her.
Success is not a finite resource, she has come to learn, which is why she charts all of her failures on her self–proclaimed “Failure Resume.” Written in the same font and style as her actual professional resume, Julia’s project documents all of her club rejections, failed job interviews, and other mishaps where she was met with disappointment. After initially recording the failure, she returns to the margins of the page months later and writes down all the important lessons she gained from having this failure. That’s just who Julia is—the type of person to turn even a missed opportunity into a teaching moment.
What’s next for Julia is an even greater learning moment than she has ever known. The soon–to–be graduate is moving to Oahu, Hawaii as a part of the nonprofit Teach For America, where she will be teaching math to high schoolers. Although she loves the humanities, math became a prized subject for her because it was the one she had to work the hardest at, often spending her grade school lunches and after–school sessions studying to catch up. She wants to pass on this dedication for learning to her future students, who she will be spending the next two years getting to know.
And just like all of the prospective Penn first years, creative writing classmates, or @PreviewingPenn followers, they’ll be more than lucky to get to know her.