The Class of 2000 looks back.
The cover story of the October 1996 issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette—as of not a few other alumni magazines that fall—was on the incoming freshman class, who would graduate in the momentous year 2000. While opinion remains divided on whether 2000 represents the dawn of the new millennium or the last gasp of the old, by most accounts the year’s arrival failed to live up to expectations, dire or otherwise. But how about the Class of 2000’s experience of Penn?
As their time on campus grew short in May, we e-mailed everyone quoted or pictured in that story with a list of questions about their academic majors and initial expectations of Penn, their favorite and least favorite spots on campus, memorable moments, significant classes and people, plans for the future—and, finally, for any advice they had for the incoming Class of 2004 (the last, or first, of the millennium to be admitted to the University). Six took time out from papers, finals, packing and whatever else they were doing to respond. Here’s what they had to say.—JP
Kathryn Dekas W’00
I concentrated in marketing and minored in psychology. When I came to Penn, I was undecided as to what my major/concentration would be.
For the most part, Penn was very close to what I expected. That said, the students were even more intelligent and dynamic than I had anticipated. I probably learned more from my peers, both inside and outside of the classroom, than from professors.
My favorite place is probably the top of the 38th Street bridge looking down on Locust Walk, or the cafe in the Bookstore. My least favorite is the wind tunnels in Superblock.
Without a doubt, I will miss my friends and peers the most. The friendships formed in college are unparalleled, and I will probably never have such an impressive group of peers again, both to work and socialize with. I will least miss the exams!
Management 100 has been my most valued class. I was a TA for three years after taking it as a freshman, and have seen its positive effect on an amazing number of people. Through the class, I have been introduced to some of the most incredible people I have ever met—professors, students and fellow TAs. It was a wonderful experience.
Penn has helped me figure out what I truly feel is important in life. This sounds very broad, but through challenging me on many levels and presenting different situations, Penn forced me to make choices and determine what I really valued.
Next year I am working for Andersen Consulting.
I would emphasize to freshmen that over the course of four years, a person’s Penn experience will change a lot. It’s important not to form your ultimate opinion of Penn during freshman year.
Smita A. Rahman C’00
I majored in political science, with a concentration in political theory, and also rediscovered my love for the ancient world along the way and picked up a minor in classical studies—a far cry from my first few weeks when I anticipated majoring in physics. I was inspired tremendously by my very first political science class and made the impulsive decision to declare my major freshman year, which I have never regretted.
I came in with stars in my eyes, which faded by the end of my first semester (I am surprised they lasted that long). I resented Penn enough to leave for Washington for the Fall semester of my sophomore year, but that was the lowest point. I have truly loved this place. I may gripe about its vocational nature and occasionally about the XandO-fication [XandO is the name of the coffeehouse in Sansom Common—Ed.] of campus, but it has given me too many great memories. I almost loved it enough to stay another six years and get my Ph.D. here.
My favorite place on campus was the “beach,” the little patch of grass across from Van Pelt House, where I spent multiple afternoons and nights talking, reading, singing, dancing in the rain and all kinds of things that I can’t mention here. The other favorite was the 3 a.m. Saturday night cheesesteak line at Billybob’s (whose demise I mourn every weekend). My least favorite was Stiteler Hall, where I spent way too much of my time—not only for the ugly concrete brutalism of its architecture but also the hit-or-miss temperature, freezing in winter and broiling in the summer.
I’ll miss the crazy weekends with my friends, grilling in our backyard, the fourth quarter atmosphere at the Palestra during Penn-Princeton games—and I’ll honestly miss Locust Walk. I’m very glad to be done with the huge meaningless lecture courses that I skipped as often as I possibly could.
I’ve acquired a lot more humility, become very open-minded and much more relaxed now than I was as a competitive little freshman.
I am starting graduate school in the fall in the doctoral program in political science at Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in political theory. I plan to pursue an academic career.
Advice to freshmen: Let it wash over you, at least for a few weeks.
Peggy Hanefors C’00
When I came to Penn I was set on majoring in communication with a focus on political campaigns. I am now a double major in communication (had taken too many classes for it not to be a major) and environmental studies. I also have a minor in political science.
I did not really know what Penn was going to be like, so I am not sure how it compares with my expectations. One thing I can say is that it was much better than I ever could have imagined. A lot harder, too.
One of my absolute favorite places is Franklin Field during the Penn Relays. I can go there and forget everything about the schoolwork I should be doing. Seeing all those athletes perform to the best of their ability is inspiring. A similar calmness, and general feel-good sensation, comes over me whenever I attend a Penn track meet. I have been to all but one home meet during my four years here. Even though I do not run myself, I enjoy watching the action—or sometimes the lack of it. Many question why I so religiously attend all meets. The first outdoor meet is always freezing. I wear at least five layers of clothing and am freezing when I get home after five straight hours in the cold, but I always have a smile on my face.
My least favorite place at Penn was my apartment sophomore year. I did not exactly get along well with my roommates. I am confident in saying that we are all happy that ordeal is over.
I will miss my friends and fellow students the most. The people who go to school at Penn are so amazing. Every day I meet someone new who is doing incredible things. I can’t imagine any other place like this. The diversity of the student body is exciting. I really see that when talking with people about what they will be doing next year. One is helping small-business owners in Latin America through the Peace Corps; another has gotten a sponsor that will allow him to run for a living; a third is teaching English as a second language in Washington—and then of course there is the crowd of business geniuses taking Silicon Valley by storm.
I think the only thing I will not miss are the papers I have had to write.
I value my freshman-year roommate, Akta Patel, more than anything. She and I certainly did not look that compatible on paper, so we both were a little nervous before moving in together. It worked out better than either of us ever could imagine. We are the best of friends. She taught me so much. Freshman year, I was not always able to look at a problem from a new, different perspective. By always—and I mean always —taking an opposite point of view, Akta taught me to see things in a new light. I sometimes wanted to kill her, but now I value the lesson I learned.
Right now I am blissfully unaware of what the future holds. After a year or two, I think I want to go to graduate school. I would like to get a doctoral degree in environmental emergency-response planning. I have not yet decided the angle from which I want to study this problem. I guess I will have time to figure that out this coming year.
Advice to freshmen: EXPLORE!
Tara D. McGuinness C’00
I am an urban studies major. When I first came to Penn I was an English major. In fact, I was a double major for a long time. Now I am just urban studies, a decision I made so that I could study abroad for an extended period.
I can’t remember what I thought Penn was going to be like. (I should check out that old article and see.) What I can say is that Penn has become something tremendous for me. I don’t think there is anything like urban studies at Penn. It is really an outstanding department—in my unbiased opinion, the finest at Penn—and I have had the opportunity to become engaged in work throughout West Philadelphia and the city as a whole related to my major.
West Philadelphia is my favorite neighborhood (that I have ever lived in). The Carrot Cake Man—a joint exclusively for carrot cakes here in West Philly—is one of my favorite places.
I will miss the people here a great deal. I have met some unbelievable folks at Penn, kids and professors and staff alike. I think I take for granted all of the pieces associated with a huge university environment: Constantly interesting and edifying stuff going on, people awake 24 hours a day talking and producing and concentrating on things without the underlying cost-benefit analysis.
I made a point of only taking outstanding classes, so the list of influential professors is quite long. However, I would have likely left Penn had I not become involved with the work of Dr. Ira Harkavy and Dr. Lee Benson while holding a Ford Fellowship my freshman year. There is a small but powerful cohort of students and professors and community members who take a very experiential approach to higher academe that have really altered the direction of my undergraduate career and post-graduate pursuits. At the center of this work is the idea that civic responsibility, advanced academe and innovative urban development can be intertwined in a Penn education.
When I entered Penn I had a ton of interest and enthusiasm; now I have some experiences to really support my interest in directing change. The lessons of my Penn education span from carrying all of my worldly belongings on my back into the mountains of Eastern Nepal to pick rice and interview rural women about property rights, to working with police, youth gun-offenders and trauma surgeons to address issues of violence in Philadelphia, to taking the oral histories of former residents of University City in order to script a community-based production on urban renewal. I can’t give a neat statement on how Penn has changed me, but these things are just a few of my experiences studying here.
After graduation, I am going to India with another Class of 2000 graduate, Bea Jauregui C’00. She and I have received a grant from the University Scholars Program to conduct an ethnographic study on inter-caste, inter-faith families and socio-political conflict throughout India. I will be going to Nepal after this study to perhaps work on some development projects in Kathmandu. And I am deciding whether I will begin an international comparative legal studies master’s program at the School for Oriental and African Studies in London this coming fall or whether I will return to work on some violence-policy projects here in the States.
In terms of my long-term goals, there are a few: I want to play rhythm guitar in this band called Cosmo; I am interested in joining the small but influential ranks of American female political figures; I would like to conduct a comparative, ethnographic study of violence in the U.S. and the UK; and I would like to publish non-academic writing.
Advice to freshmen: 1. Explore Philadelphia; it is your new home. 2. Spend time abroad. 3. When it rains, play in the mud in the Quad. 4. Study what makes you happy.
Christine Phillips W’00
I’m in Wharton; my concentration is accounting. I did not know what my concentration was going to be when I started.
I did not have any expectations of Penn because I did not visit before choosing (I’m from Hawaii), but my experience here has been one that I have throughly enjoyed.
Favorite place: Campus green when the weather is nice and lots of people are out. Least favorite place: Van Pelt Library.
I will miss being in school when I’m working nine-to-five. I’ll miss running into people on the Walk; also, the Penn scene. I’ll be glad to be done taking tests and having to deal with grading curves.
I have adapted to the East Coast way of life. I’m not sure if I’ve changed in any other ways.
After graduation, I’m moving to New York to do audit work for Ernst & Young.
Advice to freshmen: Don’t squander your time here. Do everything you want to. Don’t have any regrets, because the time will fly.
Tafari Smith W’00
My majors are marketing and management. When I first came here, I thought about majoring in French, but then I realized that was a School of Arts and Sciences department a few weeks into the semester. So, it became my minor.
I believed Penn was much more academic than I found it. It could be that since I’m in Wharton, I wasn’t exposed to Penn’s truly academic (read: liberal arts) side. Still, it hasn’t been a disappointment, as I have learned a great deal and have been exposed to new ideas.
My favorite place in the neighborhood is the Wurst House pizzeria at 43rd and Baltimore. It has a great international beer selection and cheap eats. My least favorite is the XandO—almost as expensive as a Penn education.
I’ll miss the late-night socializing and being legal my senior year. Also, I enjoy the fact that some of my best friends are just a block away in any direction. I won’t miss the 9 a.m. lectures, the curve, and the Friday morning recitation. (Oh wait, most jobs start at 9 a.m., don’t they?)
I took a College House seminar course on Students and the Political Process that was especially interesting. Another course was Corporate Ethics.
Penn has definitely taught me how to be more aggressive and proactive. It’s amazing how ingenious one has to be to get through the bureaucracy inherent in large organizations.
Immediately, I’ll be working in Philly for First Union Securities doing analyst work in the leveraged-finance unit. Around three years out, I plan on getting my MBA in London and working in Europe for a while.
I would tell freshmen to take advantage of Philadelphia. There are lots of great shops, bars and other entertaining things about the city. For Whartonites, avoid Steiney-D (Steinberg-Dietrich Hall) after midnight. It’s filled with red-eyed, exhausted, delirious finance majors. It’s the twilight zone.