Why my 5-Year Reunion Disturbed Me

Let me start by saying I had a blast this past weekend at my 5-year undergraduate reunion. I caught up with friends over wine and food and occasionally Bud Light and drinking games.

A game of Quincy at The Blarney Stone

That said, I found myself (especially after a few drinks and lulls in conversations) feeling a sharp aversion to what I saw around me.

All the money being poured into frivolities: construction everywhere to replace old but probably functional buildings. Our 5-year reunion party was nice but very expensive. For some reason, we felt it necessary to rent 3 huge searchlights (the one’s that shoot light into the air you can see from miles away) — in case we couldn’t find the party otherwise?

The random unnecessary luxuries reminded me of all of the resources we funneled into obtaining this education that now feels like a Ponzi scheme. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it or that I regret going to Penn. I don’t. I know that without my Penn degree, my professional life would not have come as easily (even as hard as it was to kick off). I was given opportunity after opportunity to bomb interviews until I figured it out. I would not have had these chances if I hadn’t grown up following the rules: maintaining a stellar GPA, taking ‘impressive’ classes, and participating in extracurriculars that would look good to admissions officers and employers (Part of me wishes I had been more of a black sheep — what if I funneled that intellect and attitude into something I was more passionate about?).

In the end, I landed an entry-level job in finance/consulting in NYC, basically accomplishing what I’d set out to do my whole life (I no longer work in finance but that’s a story for another time).

It pains me to think that besides the stamp of approval that comes with being a member of the Ivy League, Penn did not give me much more than any other much cheaper education would.

Very little of my time spent on academics was for the love of learning, which is one of the main reasons for my negative feelings this past weekend. Although, I couldn’t help but find certain classes and topics very interesting (that class on animal behavior and linguistics 001), my primary motivation was always getting an A.

What a waste.

But who could blame me? That’s what the whole system set us up for. I wish I could go back and focus on learning and being inspired and improving my ability to formulate thoughts on paper, and maybe take a computer science class. I remember telling classmates that I avoided courses that made you write long essays just because I feared the subjectivity involved in the assessment process — what if I had no control over my grade! Sure we had access to world class professors and resources, but I didn’t appreciate or make use of them the way I should have.

On the social side, Penn was fantastic but at what cost? We had a fun in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without the dollars funneled in. The Spring Fling concerts with the likes of Snoop Dog and Third Eye Blind; the sorority formals and the frat parties with free booze; the largest private police force in Pennsylvania protecting us from the rest of West Philadelphia allowed us to stumble around campus at 2am without fear.

But there is nothing about this microcosm that resembles reality. What’s more, after finally being thrown into the real world after school, I realized that although the fun we had in college was unique and plentiful, I was able to continue to have the same quality of fun afterwards.

I wish I didn’t now see my university life through this film of cynicism. But I can’t help it — I guess that black sheep in me is finally making it’s way out.