As I write this, I am one month away from graduation. Senior year is a funny experience because while my daily life feels similar to freshman, sophomore, and junior year, I’ve been keenly aware that this is the end of my Penn journey. Any end is a chance to reflect and, recently, I’ve been thinking back on my years on this campus.
When I came to Penn four years ago, I thought I was on a fast track to Broadway. I wanted to pursue Theater Arts, write plays, and spend a life in the performing arts. Now, I am graduating with a degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. I completed a collection of personal essays for my honors thesis, and I am interning as a music blogger at WXPN, a local independent radio station. To some, this change of career path might seem tiny. Theater to writing, what’s the big deal? For me, this change has been enormous and the result of many small decisions that helped me discover who I truly am.
During my freshman year at Penn, I performed in four plays in one year. It was an enormous time commitment, but I thought it was what I wanted. In high school, I was an active member of the drama club and I was excited to continue my theatrical journey in college. I thought theater was my place -- where I belonged -- and where I would meet my best friends. This was partially true. I did meet many wonderful people, and many of them are my close friends today. But the more shows I did at Penn, the more I burnt out. By my sophomore year, I realized I wasn’t doing theater because I wanted to do it anymore. I went to auditions out of obligation and fear. I thought I had to do theater. I didn’t know who I was without it. And I was afraid that if I left, I would lose all of my friends and never have another creative outlet in college.
Eventually, the fatigue overwhelmed me. I was cast in a small part in a musical during my sophomore spring, and I ran to my friend Jasmine’s apartment and cried on her bed.
“I’m just so tired! I don’t have time to do this!” I exclaimed.
“Then quit.” Jasmine said.
Quit? What did she mean, quit?
“What will I do if I don’t do a show this semester?” I asked.
“Whatever you want to do.”
Jasmine made it sound so simple. Spoiler: I quit the show. I wrote a grateful but honest message to my director and told her that I had taken on too much responsibility that semester and I couldn’t be the musical. She understood and wished me well.
In that moment, I realized that walking away from an activity I once loved didn’t mean I had betrayed my passion or given up. Sure, I loved theater but I also loved writing, knitting, cooking, reading, and spending time with friends. I had other passions I wanted to pursue and, unfortunately, in college you only have so much time in a day. It was very difficult to leave student theater, but it helped me grow other interests and I am grateful for my decision.
I’m not writing this to say that you should go out and quit the activity you enjoy. I’m saying that your college years are a period of immense personal growth. Sometimes you grow out of an interest or run out of time. When this happens, check in with yourself and ask, “Am I doing this activity because I enjoy it, because it enriches me, because I want to be there, or am I doing it because I’ve always done it and I’m afraid of change?”
Change is a good thing. The transition from high school to college is an enormous change but it’s important to realize that you keep growing and changing during your time at Penn as well. Now that I’m on the cusp of graduation, I can look back and appreciate how much I’ve changed since New Student Orientation. The main reason I left theater was because I was growing as a writer and I needed to give myself the change to express my own thoughts, rather than continuing to perform someone else’s words. If I hadn’t left theater, I never would have had the time to write my thesis -- a project I loved and care about deeply.
And in terms “losing friends”, here’s my advice: true friends will remain in your life regardless of what clubs/activities you are involved in. I held onto friends from theater and made new ones. There’s so many ways to spend time with people on campus. While meetings or performance groups are one way to meet people, it’s not the only way. Do what feels right for you, even if it’s not the same path that others around you are taking.