Keep On Keeping On.
“A Penn undergraduate student was struck and killed this morning by a SEPTA train at 40th Street Station.” As soon as I read these words in a campus-wide email, I knew something was off. Rarely does a Penn undergrad venture out to 40th Street Station. Especially not before 7 a.m. on a weekday. This was no accident.
Today, Penn mourns. Penn mourns for the loss of 21-year-old Olivia Kong, who — according to police reports — jumped in front of a moving train yesterday morning. I didn’t know Olivia, but my heart breaks for her, her family and friends, and the Penn community. I wonder what Olivia was going through. I wonder what could have helped. I wonder what could have been done. I wish I could have told her that she was beautiful, inside and out, and that she had such an amazing future ahead of her. I wish I could have been there with her throughout her undergraduate journey, cried with her, and laughed with her. I wish I could have been an attentive older sister and mentor to her. I wish I could have told her to keep on keeping on.
This marks the tenth suicide that has occurred at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, in the past three years. Ten students. Ten unique, beautiful, young individuals.
This is not normal. Suicide after suicide is not okay. Something has got to change. We have to keep encouraging students at Penn, and elsewhere, to keep on keeping on. Yes, the enormous stresses of undergraduate life at Penn and other institutions are not trivial. Penn is where I faced some of the stiffest and fiercest pressures and competition in my own life. I remember feeling so inadequate as an undergrad. It seemed that no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t meet the insurmountable standards of success laid out before me. But it was all a silent struggle. There’s a level of put-togetherness that’s expected of you at Penn. There’s a mask you wear to hide inward brokenness. The future wolves of Wall Street do not show signs of weakness.
And herein lies the problem: the silence, the hiding. Healing starts with openness and honesty. Rebuilding starts with acknowledging that we’re all broken, weak individuals. We rise from knowing that our brokenness and our weakness are what makes us human.
Beyond academic pressures, beyond career ambitions, beyond social stresses, there’s so much beauty and life to be had. For that reason, we keep on keeping on.