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Hail to the Red and the Blue
From retching to rah-rah. By Ariel Horn

 

In the world of admissions catalogs, Penn has no safety problems whatsoever. There’s no wind tunnel in Superblock (sorry, Hamilton Village). And the food in all the dining halls is really, really delicious California-style gourmet. Upon arrival on campus, though, such visions of “college life” are crushed like small defenseless bugs. We come to see the aspects of Penn that we weren’t told about in the brochure: First, Penn students actually do get mugged. Second, the wind tunnel can rip contact lenses off of eyeballs. Third, the food at the dining halls consists of fries, pizza and wraps.
Illustration by Regan Dunnick   As doe-eyed prefrosh, we visit Penn and other colleges on sunny April days and see students lounging on the Green (or Green-equivalent) in bikinis, playing guitar and enjoying the weather. We receive catalogs about how Fill-in-Blank University is superior to all other schools. Pictures of multi-racial groups of friends from exotic international locales cavort around a pile of Nietzsche books in the library early on Sunday mornings. Professors casually sit on the steps of impressive-looking historic buildings chuckling with students about politics.
    Brochures like these make me want to retch.
    With three older siblings, I had seen more than my share when it became my turn to pick a school. All I wanted was for someone to tell it like it is—not the candy-coated laminated version but the cafeteria-style, sneeze-guarded truth. After I came to Penn, I wanted to be able to perform that service for others—to be that beacon of light. But having been rejected as a tour guide not once but twice, I thought I would never have my chance and that the idea of a “real guide to Penn” would remain forever an elusive dream …
    Then came the day I was selected to be one of the Penn students on the new video brochure Penn sends to potential applicants: Suddenly, I imagined the doe-eyed freshmen-to-be looking at me. I laughed a long, loud, sinister Montgomery Burns laugh and began to scheme.
    I envisioned a video montage in which I would tell prefrosh about living in one of the few completely unrenovated rooms in the area of the Quad now fondly known to students as “Ghetto Quad.” I would tell them about seeing mice scurry across the floor on a daily basis in the cellar of the Fine Arts Library. I would tell them about my brief, but dramatic, stint with food poisoning from the dining hall. My eyes lit up with anticipation like the broken emergency blue-light phones twinkling on Locust Walk. My chance at a “real guide to Penn” had arrived; I had been delivered.
    But as I began to speak with the company responsible for the video, with my heart devoted to telling the deep dark truths about Penn, I found myself lying. Or perhaps not lying so much as concealing the truth. Or worse yet, not concealing the truth, but realizing that “the way it is” is far more positive than it is negative.
    Suddenly, the rats in the library cellar scurried out of my mind. I began talking, nay, ranting—as if I were a paid admissions officer!—about all the wonderful things about Penn:
    About how students, alumni and faculty alike have a borderline maniacal obsession with the school itself.
    About how Penn is not just another Ivy League school—it’s the only truly proud Ivy, where a walk down the Walk truly does look like a catalog because so many students voluntarily sport clothing bearing the school’s name.
    About how, at athletic games, students paint their faces red-and-blue like warriors and cheer for Penn not with shouts but with war whoops.
    About how, the first time you see an entire stadium sing “The Red and Blue”—with the complementary fascist-style arm motions—you become entranced and proud all at once to be a member of such a bizarre cult.
    After my discussion with the video company, a sick thought entered my head. Maybe these brochures weren’t lies at all; maybe they were genuine reflections on the community, if amplified and edited so as to look more appealing. So what if there are mice on campus and the school might have a little bubonic plague outbreak here or there? So what if you can in fact eat uncooked meat on occasion at a dining hall? It’s a small price to pay for the best years of your life, right?


Ariel Horn is a sophomore English major from Short Hills, New Jersey. She is a weekly columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian and hopes to pursue a career in writing.


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