Not the same Penn she entered

Recently I stood among my friends cheering as Penn clinched at least a share of the Ivy League football title with a 41-10 shelling of Harvard. Now I must admit that I have not been an avid attendee of Penn football games the last few years. After my freshman year the novelty of throwing toast and watching as people pegged both the Quaker and the Zamboni trying to suck up the mess wore off.

But as I stood on the South Street Bridge, surrounded by hundreds of my fellow classmates watching as the goalpost was hurled into the Schuylkill River, I realized that like that goalpost, my time at Penn was over.

But the Penn that I am leaving is radically different from the one that I entered. The American civilization department has gone by the wayside, making me happy that I decided to major in American history, and political science has become the sick man of the College, although it is making desperate attempts to pull itself back into prominence.

In spite of these setbacks, Penn has been in an academic upswing. Four years ago Penn had yet to break the top 10 in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. Now it occupies the sixth spot, proving that it deserves to be in the company of Princeton and Yale.

But the academic transformation is nothing compared to the physical one.

While sifting through a pile of old notes from freshman year I found a basic map that was my bible to campus those first unsure weeks. Now it is obsolete. Not only have the names of buildings changed - for example, Superblock is now Hamilton Village - but construction has run rampant. No matter what street you walk down, you are sure to run into some sort of coned obstacle course.

But don't get me wrong. I think the facelift that Penn is in the midst of is a wonderful move toward the 21st century. I have heard many seniors say that this campus will be "cool" in another two or three years. The addition of restaurants like Mad 4 Mex, Shula's 2 and Eat at Joe's have replaced the monotony of Chili's for affordable non-fast food.

Sansom Common is already proving to be a popular place. Its centerpiece, the new Penn Bookstore, was a much needed replacement for an out-of-date system. It used to be that if you realized after 6 p.m. that you neglected to buy a book that you needed to have read by recitation the next day, you were out of luck. These and plans to add a Sundance theater and a grocery store - no longer will students know the pain of having to trek to Thriftway - will make the campus more student friendly.

So if I have to jump a few hurdles to get to class, then so be it. Meghan Leary is a senior in the College.

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Originally published on December 3, 1998