Alfredo Pratico | How I accidentally graduated in three years

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I used to spend time debating whether I lost my sophomore year or my freshman year. This is a question that does not really matter or answer. It gave me the basis for jokes I’ve told too many times about how certain club positions have aged me two years in 365 days. But however I want to wrap it, I’m graduating now, three years after I started at Penn. Almost exactly half of my career here has been spent in person, the other half spent on Zoom.

Getting my degree in three years just means that I’m often asked two questions: “Why? and how?” I think, for Penn students, the question how did I do is more interesting, because most people assume that I went through my first semester with a massive spreadsheet that mattered carefully balanced credits and requirements. I admit it would be pretty badass if I did that, but that’s not the truth. The real answer is that it was a bit of luck, a bit of cooperation from from advisors and lots of learning about what makes the Penn community tick.

I’m convinced that there are two types of people at Penn – people with low ambitions and people who drink too much coffee. As you can guess, I firmly belong to the overcaffeinated capsule. Skip to my third semester here, when I declare my major in history. Yvonne Fabella, the undergraduate advisor, alerted me that I had already completed a good part of my major and that graduating early was possible. “When early?” I asked. “Maybe three years” was his reply. It intrigued me, but it wasn’t really a goal. I kept taking a lot of classes, counting my credits once they were done, and deciding I could do it if I wanted to. So I did. This is the macro view of what happened.

One of the great ironies I took away from my journey at Penn was that it was the pursuit of the non-professional that made it more bearable. I know many people who, via their spreadsheets and groups of friends, plot a transcript to match a potential job down the line. This may include a minor in data science, a second major in economics, or working with a consulting club. I don’t mean to disparage people who do these things or write to claim they don’t work, but I think my extreme experience really highlights the value of pursuing something you love. Each week, I looked forward to my five-hour Sunday block spent in the office of the Daily Pennsylvanian, juggling opinion department meetings, editorial board pitch sessions, and Kahoots. It gave me an outlet to be creative and social in a way that (hopefully) had a lasting impact. My time at DP was generally not the time on my calendar that I dreaded or treated as just another set of obligations that I had to meet.

Through my tenure as an opinion writer, I’ve also learned that people (at least at Penn) tend to be less extreme than I expected. Sure, we got a lot of hate mail and derogatory column comments, some of which were extremely comedic. But as long as we stuck to writing relevant articles and backing them up with solid reasoning, people agreed. This applied both to topics that were mostly limited to campus as well as those that were politically charged (and argued points that were likely not in line with the status quo). There were a few exceptions, but I wondered if worrying about “them” (i.e. the people who poured out to criticize our work) really existed as long as we stuck to our goal of being good journalists.

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A small assortment of community feedback we’ve received on our coins. I will admit that Old Geezer #2 is probably right.

I also learned that the most popular belief on a typical issue tended to be opinionless. As difficult as it may seem as an opinion columnist, it is the truth. And it reaffirms my belief that an opinion section is essential – in a time when people have to choose sides, it is necessary to have columns ready to explicitly present a reasoned opinion.

But I digress. We tend to think in extremes at Penn. Are we going into investment banking or a nonprofit? Are we going to sleep at 10 p.m. or 5 a.m.? Is Penn our dream place or a place we hate? It can be fun in the moment but extremely tiring in the long run. I found that taking things as they came and devoting myself to the things I truly loved was much better than worrying about predicting the future and how I would fit into it.

Graduating now is tinged with a little more sadness for me, because an extra year of everything that makes undergraduate studies so interesting could have been mine. But it’s also about appreciating the people who have helped me along the way and for what I’ve been able to do. But despite all the compromises and lost sleep, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PRACTICAL ALFREDO graduated from a college studying American history in Philadelphia. He served as an opinion editor for the Daily Pennsylvanian on the 137th Editorial and Management Board. His email is [email protected].

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