Of the 3,404 students admitted to Penn’s Class of 2024, 168 of them hailed from the city of Philadelphia. While it is highly unlikely that every Philadelphia admit accepted their offer of admission from Penn, it can be assumed that around 5% of the 2,400–person junior class possesses the unique perspective of attending college in the same city where they reside based on the number originally admitted. Statistically speaking, then, being included in this percentage is a rarity on this campus.
I am part of that 5%. Whether it’s the 19145 zip code on my driver’s license, the 215 area code at the start of my phone number, or my mispronunciation of words like “water” or “bagel,” there’s no mistaking that I grew up in the city that most Penn students have never stepped foot in before enrolling.
Some days, being a Penn student from Philadelphia is a tremendous blessing. Others, it’s my greatest curse.
The differentiation between positive and negative in this situation lies within the distance between the life I’ve always known and the life I began when I became a Penn student. While some people have to travel across the world to come to Penn, my house is a mere 3.9 miles from my apartment. I watch my best friends from Los Angeles, northern Virginia, Chicago, and even New Jersey learn how to navigate the ups and downs of independence for the first time, knowing that I will never be able to experience that during my time as an undergraduate. While my peers tell me that I could easily do the same, they forget that the decision isn’t that simple. When the people and places that have created my happiest memories are always within my grasp, I can’t bring myself to stay apart from them.
Like clockwork, one of my parents picks me up every other Friday to spend the weekend sleeping in a bedroom that’s only ever belonged to me. As Interstate 76 rushes by my eyes on the drive home, I stare out the window, wondering if I made the right choice when I committed to Penn. Wondering if I should’ve pushed myself out of the world I’ve always known instead of making the comfortable decision. Wondering if I would have been a different person—more importantly, a better person—if I had left Philadelphia.
The constant “what ifs” that plague my mind as a result of the decision I made almost three years ago drive me, in all honesty, to the brink of insanity. My tendency to overthink everything I do escalates these thoughts from simple worries to pure paranoia. Turning down invitations to spend time with friends because it’s a weekend at home fills me with immense guilt. Seeing snapshots of my Penn counterparts experiencing something new every Saturday makes me question my role in Penn’s social scene. And when I tell my parents that I’m not coming home so I can spend time on my own, I fear that they presume I want nothing to do with them. In summary, no matter what decision I’m making, I feel as if I’m disappointing someone—and in turn, becoming a disappointment myself.
In this contemplation, however, I realize how much of a privilege it is to be so close to home during college. In the past year alone, I got to attend the World Series and watch my hometown Phillies play in the fall classic for the first time in 13 years, embark on impromptu weekend trips with my sister, take my friends to the New Jersey shore town where I’ve spent every summer of my life thus far, and watched my 3–year–old godson grow up right before my eyes. When I finally caught COVID–19 last April, my parents promptly brought me a care package that would have lasted for five quarantines instead of one. I could see the bridge right by my house from my dorm room window sophomore year when others could only see their hometowns in pictures. And throughout my time at Penn, I’ve never felt homesick. Ever. It would be impossible for me to.
Despite my senior year rapidly approaching, my dilemma is far from over. As I plan to further my education, I am forced to make the same decision that I was faced with almost three years ago: Do I stay in Philadelphia, or do I finally take the leap of faith and face the world alone for the first time? Like many facets of my situation, the choice is complicated. However, this time around, I know one thing I hadn’t realized before—whatever decision I make will be the right one.
Throughout my musings on the topic, I know that I’ve been too hard on myself sometimes. I’m still too hard on myself. But I know that whatever I decide to do, I’ll be a better person because of it. No question this time.
I know that many people reading this won’t understand my problem, and that’s okay. College comes with its unique challenges for everyone, challenges that make sense to no one else but themselves. But facing these challenges head–on—whether that’s in your South Philly bedroom or beyond—is enough. That’s what really matters, after all.