Author: Elizabeth K., C’04
In 2004, I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and cried for about a week straight. I loved Penn and couldn’t believe that four years had flown by so quickly. I was so sad to leave my best friends, my boyfriend, and the Penn community for the far off land of Los Angeles, where I was going to go to USC Law School. Getting to hear Bono speak at graduation provided a little solace, but as people cheered and threw their hats in the air around me, I did it with tears in my eyes. Thirty minutes later, when I met up with my family I was a sobbing, blubbering, snotty mess. My father, a 1975 alum, was also crying, which set my Mom off, then my Nana and before you know it our red puffy eyes ruined every single picture of my family with me in my cap and gown. Thanks for the memories, Penn.
Cut to 2009. It’s September, and I’m back at Penn, this time as a staff person. After a brief, unhappy stint as a lawyer I decided it was time to find happiness in the very different field of higher education administration. I loved school but after seven straight years of college and law school, I was done being a student. So, I thought if I’m not going to be a student, why not work at a university? Clearly, my first choice place of employment was Penn and I was so excited the day I got my job offer. I was only nervous about two things. First, would it make me sad and nostalgic to be back at a place I loved, but not as a student? And, what if people mistook me for a student instead of a savvy Penn employee?
The truth is that Penn feels like a completely different place from my new perspective as an employee. I still do a lot of the things I did as a student. I buy my lunch from Houston Hall (better as a staff person because we get the staff punch card to earn a free meal), grab coffee from Starbucks or Cosi, eat at the Magic Carpet lunch truck, and cheer on the Hey Day parade. But, all of these things feel new as I’m doing them in my more grown up, professional life. I think the real difference is that at the end of the day Penn isn’t home for me anymore – home is the apartment I share with my husband that I get to go at the end of every workday. I love that home, and my adult post-Penn life makes me very happy. So, being here doesn’t make me miss being a student. It makes me appreciate what I had, and the chance Penn gave me to grow and mature into who I am today. I don’t want to go back, but I can look back with even more fondness.
And my fear about being mistaken as a student? Completely unfounded. First of all, I could never look as cool or stylish as the girls I see walking around campus. I’m wearing stockings and heels, not leggings and Hunter rain boots (more on Penn styles to come in my next blog post). Turns out, I look my age, especially when standing next to 19-year-olds. I walk down Locust Walk and the students instinctively know not to hand fliers to me. Sometimes I want to shout, “Come on! I’m still cool! I could go to your Strictly Funk dance show!” But then my heels get stuck in one of the cracks on the Walk, I have to spend all my energy to stop myself from face planting, and my dreams of coolness evaporate. One day someone gave me a sticker to try to get me to join their sorority. I was elated. It’s still on a bulletin board in my office.