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All About the Benjamins (Not)

Work-study jobs pay more than money. By Gabrielle Arnay


Illustration by Brian Biggs

“I have two seats in the center aisle in Row J about halfway back from the stage. How does that look to you?”

To many Penn students, it looks like a prime spot to enjoy the sights and sounds of a burgeoning jazz-new-age-fusion-rock band or an experimental tap-meets-hip-hop-en-pointe dance troupe. Yet to me and 30 or so of my undergraduate peers, it’s all in a day’s work.

As a ticketing agent in the box office of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts I have learned more than just the value of a work-study earned dollar or the benefits of a mezzanine versus orchestra pit seat in Irvine Auditorium—I have learned to embrace different cultures, debate tactfully with those of differing opinions, and sweet talk my way out of many a sticky situation. And that’s before even speaking to customers.

Penn prides itself on maintaining an impressive level of diversity in its student body, fetching applicants from across the globe to meet in an intellectual orgy of history, finance, chemistry, and carbonated ales. Yet despite the University’s best efforts, a student from Memphis is likely to never encounter his Minskian equal. A Turkish pre-med may not break bread with a pre-law from Tampa. This is by no means the fault of racism, bigotry, or small-mindedness, but rather the nature of collegiate courses and clubs. For one to find her niche in a school of 10,000 undergraduates, an ambitious student seeks out classes and activities that excite her educational taste buds and stimulate her extracurricular senses. In doing so, she can find herself surrounded by only those with similar tastes, backgrounds, and goals for much of her college career.

But in a small windowless room (well, except for the ticket windows) tucked in the lobby of the campus’s theatrical hub lies a hotbed of diversity. The Annenberg Center Box Office draws together workers from the greenest first-year students to jaded seniors, hailing from private and public schools, from Mexico to Massachusetts, rural hamlets to the largest cities in the world. The box office employs language enthusiasts next to pop-culture pundits next to future I-bankers of America. Greek. Non-Greek. Democrat. Republican. Independent. Unregistered. Untraveled. International. Intramural athletes. Competitive ballroom dancers. Community service volunteers. A cappella singers. The tone deaf. The smartaleck (that’s me). All of us brought together thanks to the least diverse group possible: a few dead white men—George, Abe, Alex, Andrew, Ulysses, and, of course, Benjamin.

A student’s initial draw to the box office is most likely to be its work-study perks: convenience, ease, and an accommodating workplace environment. Yet what begins as a means to a steady cash-flow for books, Penn sweatshirts, and midnight snacks becomes a tool for personal growth and learning—at least it has for me.

I’ve learned the real meaning of snow from my friends from Amherst, Massachusetts. True paradise as described by the lips of a Hawaiian coworker. The real difference between North and West Philly according to some heatedly proud locals. Why Los Angeles is the best city in the world (not). When Spanglish is appropriately used. Why Clinton was a genius/scumbag. Why George W. Bush is a hero/fool. How to get my foot out of my mouth without abandoning my views. How to best break in a new pair of ballet slippers. How truly early varsity athletes wake up every morning. The complicated and convoluted path to studying abroad in Cuba. Where to get the best cheesesteaks. Why some eat matzoh while others avoid red meat. The easiest bars for an underage patron to get into (just kidding, Mom). The real truths behind fraternity and sorority stereotypes. The best classes to take. The best professors to avoid. How guys manage to do laundry three times a year. What girls really think about Ben and J. Lo.

My classes have most certainly deepened my knowledge as a student—of American history, derivatives, the relationship between presidencies and the press, the Prisoner’s Dilemma and how it applies to every subject possible, and I might even have accidentally picked up a thing or two in microeconomics. But my work-study job has broadened my once-sheltered horizons and helped form a more aware, prepared, and well-rounded person, all thanks to the diversely ragtag group of individuals I am proud to call my coworkers. And anyone can be a part of this life-altering experience. All you need is a ticket. Cash and all major credit cards accepted.

Gabrielle Arnay is a communications major from Great Neck, New York. She would like to thank the Annenberg Center, the sisters of Sigma Delta Tau, the Bloomers, and Chris & Emily Carrera for teaching her the real meaning of diversity.

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2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 02/28/03