Ben Moss-Horwitz (C’ 23) has been trying to escape his fate for the past four years—but to no avail.
“People now say I have group therapist vibes.” Ben, whose parents and older sister are all therapists, has been feeling this side of him creep up during college. He’s gotten more mushy, vulnerable, and sentimental. “I’m comfortable talking about my feelings. Because everyone talks about their feelings in my family. It’s horrible.”
Amid the the stressful competitive environment of Penn, Ben has established a meditative, relaxing space for the people around him. “I've become so much more hippie than I expected.” He pauses from eating his halal cart food, staring off through his round–rimmed glasses as if to reflect on how he got to this point in life. He continues, with a hint of good–humored disgust, “I lead meditation. And like, make everyone hold hands in a circle.”
Despite Ben’s laid–back attitude, he’s been active across campus in dozens of organizations, doing a million things at once. Yet, forgoing preprofessional culture, Ben doesn’t work for his resume, but for his own passions and interests—of which he has plenty. He founded The Chavurah, a student group for progressive Jews, and leads activist actions with the Young Democratic Socialists on campus. As a player of clarinet, piano, and guitar, he’s passionate about music: He brought the Songwriters Collective back to life after the pandemic, has taught music at the West Philadelphia High School, and played with a variety of music groups on campus. Ever passionate about bringing a smile to people’s faces, he also does stand–up comedy as part of Simply Chaos. And if you’re ever struggling with an essay, you can find him at the Marks Family Writing Center, where he’s worked as tutor for the majority of his time at Penn.
Ben has a knack for not just finding the opportunities around him, but also in forging those opportunities for himself. At school, that meant creating the student groups that he wanted to see on campus. Outside of school, it meant identifying people and projects that he knew he wanted to work with, and making it happen. When he taught at West Philly High School, he realized that the Netter Center’s work didn’t go far enough in their community engagement, such as providing other student needs like music lessons, food security, or health care. He wanted to be able to refer kids to other nonprofits when the Netter Center couldn’t provide all these services. As he read more and more about it, he decided that he would create a project to help kids access existing community resources easier, as opposed to building entirely new ones. Service Link does something similar with hospitals, so he became involved in Service Link while also working to expand their model to programs at the Netter Center.
He’s involved with so many things that even he can barely list them off the top of his head, but he’s figured out what ties them all together. “Socialist advocacy, arts, and Jewish stuff are like the three things I’m known for," he says.
After graduation he hopes to unite his passion working on arts policy and arts investment programs. Many countries, including the United States, invest money into arts programs, whether it’s keeping opera houses open or giving culture passes for teenagers to spend on enjoying the arts. In a sense, he says, this also ties into the labor movement. “When you’re working 50 hour work weeks, you’re not painting. Having health care, worker protections, increased pay is kind of a fight for us to have things in our life besides work,” he says. Much like during his time at Penn, Ben wants to create opportunities for people to step back from their work lives and engage in their communities through music and art.
But he wants to make it clear: He doesn’t actually have anything lined up for after graduation. In fact, he almost spits out his drink in his rush to say it—“Literally no one talks about it, but a lot of people don't know what they’re doing after they graduate.” Ben is not one to hide what he’s doing, and his exasperation with Penn’s pre–professional culture shows throughout the conversation. “No one talks about it at this school!”
Before graduating, though, he has to focus on taking one last class this summer. “Geology was canceled this semester. And then I was like, I'll take astronomy—how bad could it be here? And the answer was, well, very bad.” He describes going to the disability center, the tutoring center, and trying to find every academic resource on campus before the first exam. In the end, he says, “it just did not work with my brain.” He ended up dropping astronomy in his senior year spring semester, meaning he still has to fulfill his Physical World before he can officially graduate.
While he’ll be taking astronomy over this summer, past summers have been more of a a mosaic of everything he’s interested in, all at once—like everything else he does. He kicked off last summer with a solo Amtrak trip around the country, sleeping on the train and only getting off to stay with the friends he knew in each city. He shakes his head as he recalls the unplanned, car–less antics at each stop. “It was very chaotic, and it did not work very well …
Probably one of the craziest things I’ve done.” When he returned to Philly, he volunteered with the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, a nonprofit project that supports worker organizing at the workplace. “I learned about the labor movement through Starbucks employees. And then I was fired up. I was like, I gotta get money from Penn to work for this union nonprofit.” Afterward, he went to Ireland for a few weeks with a grant from the Urban Studies Department to conduct ethnographic research on government–funded community music schools.
For those who are trying to figure out what to do with themselves at Penn, Ben offers two pieces of advice. First, he emphasizes how intense people at Penn are, which he feels isn’t acknowledged often enough. “Everyone I know was an overachiever in high school, got to Penn, burnt out, and then kind of put themselves back together by thinking about what they find grounding, what’s important to them,” he says. He was no exception in this, but he was lucky enough to end up with an abundance of people to rely on.
Which leads to his second piece of advice: “Join a really big organization when you get here, one that introduces you to like 500 people.” Over the course of the conversation, he coined the term “hoodie organization,” a term encompassing all the organizations at Penn that give their members hoodies. Those are the organizations you should join, he says, because those are the ones that will introduce you to all sorts of people at Penn. If you want to find your people, join some student groups, even if it’s a random group. He had never done comedy before, and now his stand–up comedy group are some of his best friends at Penn.
When it’s all stuff you enjoy, doing a million things at once is more than just manageable—it’s invigorating, and it’s healing. Ben definitely had his ups and downs at Penn, but coming out of it all, he’s never wavered from these causes. “I'm very proud that a lot of people have expressed a lot of appreciation for the stuff I’ve done," he says. "I feel like if I made any impact on Penn, it's pushing those grounded, calming spaces.”