Thoughts From a Man Named Michael
- by Stephanie Nam
Do you ever feel lost here at Penn, like you aren’t studying the right thing, like there’s no reason to go to class? Do you feel like, in the words of Mark Twain, schooling is getting in the way of your education? At the height of the frenzy you just want to get away from it all and say, “I should drop out. I don’t need this.”
You’re not alone. I have heard this story dozens of times, and I heard it once again on Oct 23 during a Business of Life Lecture from an unexpected source: a man named Michael, who was in your shoes 35 years ago. He ended up withdrawing from the first class he ever took at Penn—chemistry—and switching between Penn schools twice. He decided to stop going to classes his fourth semester at Penn and seriously thought about quitting and spending 60 hours a week working at a nightclub instead.
His mother told him, “Look, you’re two years in. It’s kind of like someone swimming to the middle of a swimming pool. You either go back to where you started or you finish.”
Michael made it to the other end of the pool, and, today, he is known as Mayor Michael Nutter, W’79.
Looking back, he recounted that Penn helped him to develop his tenacity and helped him form relationships with supporters and mentors. He went from barely obtaining a diploma to becoming an advocate and supporter of public education here in Philadelphia, where “the gap between the secondary and post-secondary education systems is unacceptable.”
What you do now does matter for you future, but perhaps not always in the way that you predict, he said. At the end of the day, you are not defined by a number but rather by what you contribute to society and how much you “work your ass off.”
As Penn students, it’s easy to be so absorbed in the here and now that we take our education for granted—even sometimes considering running away whenever midterms strike. Meanwhile, we live next door to thousands of people who don’t even have the opportunity to consider an education.
So, “They need to hear from every one of you about why education is important,” Mayor Nutter said. “Young students here and around the nation are starved for information and attention—of a positive nature.”
It can be as simple as mentoring kids through one of the many organizations here on campus or reminding your city officials about the value of education. As residents of Philadelphia and University students, we have this responsibility.