One quick glance at her Twitter, and Niva Baniya’s love for Harry Styles is apparent. Her pinned tweet is developed film photos she took at his latest tour. After we’ve finished with the formalities of the interview, it’s the first thing I want to ask about.
“Oh, I’m a huge fan of Harry Styles,” she laughs, then goes on to tell the story of the concert. She had bought tickets with a friend in the fall of her first year. They waited over FaceTime at ten in the morning to get tickets for a show that summer. But the pandemic postponed the tour and she wouldn’t get to go until the summer following her junior year. The concert seemed well worth the wait though, as she recommended I see him should I ever get the chance.
“I love live music. I think that’s the best it can get,” she tells me. We talk about the concert scene in Philly. Having spent her years attending many concerts in the city, she speaks highly of the scene: “I just love it here because there’s such a range of different venue sizes. So you can have the biggest superstars like Taylor Swift coming and also super small artists and venues that fit a thousand people.”
Her love of live music comes as a bit of surprise. It's a far cry from the work she does through Wharton, concentrating in both Finance and social impact and responsibility. She walks me through her thoughts on choosing the separate concentrations.
“Finance, I feel like is pretty self explanatory,” she admits, but delves deeper into her choice to pursue the social impact concentration. She opens up about her desire to use the privilege that comes with attending Penn and working with big corporations for social change. In high school she engaged in social activism and found a deep care for advocacy. She voices some hesitation and that over the years her perspective has changed since she first applied to Penn. She acknowledges how fulfilling she still finds social activism, but also her concern in being able to support her family. She ends on a slightly optimistic note, glad that she was able to take an in depth look at the role businesses play in society and learn how it can be improved.
Niva had also thought of minoring in fine arts. She had an interest in the arts while in high school, but being too preoccupied with taking APs, had avoided taking any art classes. She found at Penn, though, that she could take fine arts classes and have them actually count for requirements. One of the classes that could’ve counted towards the minor was an art history class.
She took said art history class in the spring of her junior year. And she failed it.
“I felt like I just kept having to explain or defend what happened. Like, oh I was having complications with the medication I was on, that’s why that happened. Or the professor wasn’t understanding. I could hear myself explaining away and justifying why that happened,” she says.
Niva recalls her high school English teacher and the advice she once gave to the class. “I remember she said something along the lines of, 'Everyone, all of you are going to fail an exam, a paper, a test, a class at some point in your academic careers. That’s just kind of inevitable. You can’t be perfect your entire lives no matter how hard you try. It’ll happen and that is okay. But the way you come back from it is what matters so much more.'” She tells me it’s something that's stuck with her and that despite the years that have passed, she still remembers the moment so clearly. It was advice that helped her deal with the reality of her situation.
And though it may have felt like it at the time, it was not the end of the world. Niva was open about accepting her situation and realizing that despite failing a class, she was still graduating with a good GPA and plans for her future.
Giving her own advice, having lived through it, she tells me, “I’m not going around like ‘everyone should fail a class and you should be okay with that.’ But if it happens, it's not the end of the world. We’re at Penn. I’m sure it will feel like the end of the world, but it will be okay.”
She also acknowledges the slight humor of her situation. When asked what motivated her to take the class, she answers, “That’s the funniest part of it all. I took it for fun. I thought it sounded interesting and I had friends in the class.” She follows up stating that it would fulfill a credit for her potential fine arts major.
“Never take a class for fun,” she laughs. “Actually, some of my favorite classes at Penn were classes I just took completely for fun.” Niva had taken a class on public health history that discussed various pandemics and epidemics the spring of her first year. It coincided with COVID and the class was able to discuss the pandemic as it was happening in real time. She had also taken photography and art classes through the School of Design and found a real love of those creative outlets, though she is quick to clarify she isn't the next Monet. And most recently, this past semester she took a class focused on pop music, gender, and sexuality that allowed her to tie her love of music into her academic career.
Looking towards the future, Niva is moving to New York and working towards a career in banking. Eventually, she hopes to end up back on the west coast, whether it's back to her home state Oregon, or California or Washington. She’s found that the fast–paced environment of the east coast is fun, but that she prefers the slower moving lifestyle of the west.
Most importantly, the question I’d been wondering the whole interview: Niva is in fact attending the Taylor Swift Eras concert in Philadelphia.
“I literally had to fight a war to get those tickets,” She jokes. “That was a personal struggle I’ve overcome."