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Reading through senior editor Trey Popp’s interview with Admissions Dean Whitney Soule, “Admissions in Transition,” this quote stuck with me: “The applicant pool is the future. Those are the students who are pursuing dreams for themselves—and their dreams are big.”

Their discussion took place while Soule and her team were in the process of decisionmaking for next year’s incoming Class of 2028. It touched on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action; the lingering impacts and useful lessons of the pandemic; new technological issues such as ChatGPT; and why, with 65,000 applications and 2,400 slots to fill, plenty of students who have what Penn is “looking for” still won’t get in.

But rather than just the future, I found myself also connecting Soule’s words to the alumni featured in this issue and the impact that their time at Penn had on the paths—sometimes unpredictable, and perhaps diverging from the dreams and expectations they had for themselves when they first arrived on campus—that they’ve followed since.

The main focus of associate editor Dave Zeitlin C’03’s cover story, “We Should Be Friends,” is on Man of the Year, a podcast on male friendship cocreated and hosted by Aaron Karo W’01 and Matt Ritter L’05, who’ve known each other since childhood, but the article also describes how Karo made a name for himself at Penn by somewhat randomly deciding to send out humorous emails about his campus misadventures.

Called Ruminations on College Life, his messages went “viral before viral was even a word,” leading to a career as a writer, comedian, and aspiring show creator in Hollywood. It took Ritter a little longer to switch gears after earning his Penn law degree than it did Wharton grad Karo—who chose a book deal over Morgan Stanley months after graduation—but he soon followed his friend’s example and also established himself in the entertainment industry.

The Man of the Year podcast—which debuted in 2022 and is intended to be the first building block in a hoped-for empire of friendship-fostering content—takes its inspiration from an annual ritual that has helped Karo, Ritter, and other friends from the Long Island town where they all grew up keep their friendship current. Each year they gather together at a New York steak house to reminisce, drink and eat too much, and pick one of their number to receive the trophy with which Karo and Ritter are pictured on the cover.

Thanks largely to his mother’s enthusiastic encouragement, Chip Zien C’69 already had years of experience as a child performer in his native Milwaukee and in summer camp theatricals when he landed on Penn’s campus, but the adulation he received from his participation in Mask and Wig certainly helped steer him away from a half-considered career in politics or the law.

In “The Chip Zien Show,” Zien contemporary and longtime entertainment reporter and critic Jonathan Takiff C’68 celebrates his standout career on Broadway and his varied work in film and TV. The immediate occasion for the story was Zien’s starring turn in the Broadway show Harmony, which opened in November. Zien’s performance in a role he called “the best part I’ve ever been given” was widely acclaimed, but the show’s reviews were mixed and it closed unexpectedly in February. The stage veteran was mostly philosophical about that. While admitting that this closing “really hurts,” he also told Takiff that what’s next “is always a pleasant possibility.”

—John Prendergast C’80

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