I go to an Ivy League school but I’m not an entitled brat

A tale of two Penns

Last month I checked my bank account. Thinking about all the housing, sorority, and various random Venmo charges I had pending at the end of the week, I knew my minimum wage work study shift probably wouldn’t cover it in full. My stomach turned knowing I had to call and ask my parents for money.

After a long conversation about my weekend and my upcoming week’s plans I brought up my financial concerns to my mom.

We will take care of it,” she reassured. “Don’t stress out too much. Just keep working hard, ok?”

Full of guilt and relief, I thanked her and told her I love her. As always.

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My parents and my grandma are always willing to give. They offer all the time, but it just never feels right to me. They’ve spent so much of their time and money to get me here to Penn, that I want to do all I can do to help out.

Last week, after midterms, work, and hard practices I headed to our new nail salon on campus. There were only two customers at the time and I was lounged deep back in the massage chair chuckling at the newest Steve Harvey Show episode that was playing on the flat screen in front of me. I heard an obnoxious scoff and I looked over to the girl next to me.

“Mom, why do you KEEP putting this off? How is this such a hard chore for you? Put money in my account. I’m getting my nails done.”

Pause.

“Are you serious? You can go right now! You know what, if you’re too lazy to do it, I’ll do it myself.”

She shuffles around and shoos her technician away as she made another call.

“Dad! Oh my gosh, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what Mom did. She didn’t put any money in my account and I’m getting my nails done. Can you do it?….. Ugh THANK GOD!” She sighed in relief.

Not even Steve Harvey was enough to make me crack a smile. I was horrified. Embarrassed, even. All I could think about was what would’ve happened if that was me. There wouldn’t even be a “me” anymore in the amount of time it would take my parents to get on the next flight to Philly.

Although this was certainly not the first time I’ve encountered this type of behavior since I’ve been at Penn, I knew it definitely wasn’t my last either. After this particular instance, however, I spent some time reflecting on my 18 years at home. It reminded me why I was so homesick all the time since I’ve been at Penn.

In a suburb of Atlanta, my family was by no means “poor” or “underprivileged.” My mom is an incredible business woman in a management position and my dad owns his own company. My mom was an immigrant that worked three jobs in high school and my dad was raised in a single parent household. My brothers and I grew up watching both of them break their backs to save ours. We were always grateful and we knew what was expected of us: focus, respect, hard work and good grades. There was never a time where my two brothers and I asked (reasonably) to be a part of something and were not granted permission.

We did every type of extracurricular. No matter how terrible we were at it, I must add. My parents, grandma, and the rest of my family always supported us. If we loved it and worked at it, they’d make it happen. No matter if that meant taking various trips to the West Coast for softball tournaments a year, or my mom taking me to games in South Carolina the same weekend my dad took my brothers to wrestling in south Georgia. The trips we all went on  together were prime in family bonding. Instead of material things, my parents spent money on experiences. They spent money to put us in the right place to achieve our dreams and aspirations.

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My junior year I accepted a full ride offer from a D1 school a few hours away from home. I was content, and I was happy that all those years and the tens of thousands of dollars my family spent on me was finally amounting to an almost $150,000 scholarship the next four years of my life. The fall of my senior year, I got offered to be a part of Penn’s softball team. Pleasantly surprised and confused, I told my parents. They were ecstatic. “Jurie, that’s an IVY LEAGUE school! All that hard work you’ve put in on the field and the classroom has paid off!”

I smiled half-heartedly. Although I was excited, I knew it would mean more money and more time for my parents to spend.

“Ivy League doesn’t give athletic scholarships,” I said.

Their immediate reaction was disbelief that I would be so concerned. “This is a once in a lifetime chance. There are work-study jobs and grants. We will take care of it.”

When I got here, I was so overwhelmed with the grandeur of Penn. This school. These buildings. This city. It was a dream come true.

During the first few months, I discovered its flaw.

I felt like I was living amongst robots. Self-absorbed, well-dressed, silver-spoon robots. I walked around campus I felt like I was invisible, overhearing people talk about their latest shopping spree in Manhattan and their summer sailing trip to their second house in Nantucket. Conversations were like a competition to see who could one-up each other.

I didn’t feel jealous. I didn’t feel spiteful. I was in literal awe that people lived this way. My parents – who had humbly raised me to be gracious and my 18 years of public schooling didn’t sufficiently prepare me for this. The stereotypes about Ivy Leaguers were true. Kinda.

I remember calling back home and explaining through tears how much I hated this culture. Although I was friends, teammates, and classmates with kind and down-to-earth people, the majority were ones that weren’t. Smiling at someone didn’t guarantee a smile back, holding doors were only a suggestion (and apparently against the rules at Huntsman Hall), wearing sweats to class everyday is enough to deem someone unworthy of being popular, and if it comes down to the choice of  being loyal and honest or ensuring a good grade for yourself in a group project, the latter is a right of passage.

This is what real life is really like?

Everyone says going to an Ivy League school will have you “set for life”, but nobody mentions the way it ruins you.

If you let it.

Since then, I’ve made sure I wouldn’t become part of the elitist, selfish culture. I’ve never wanted to own a Canada Goose jacket, I eat at the dining hall almost everyday, I say hello to people I pass not expecting to receive, I always say please and thank you, and I call my parents and grandma at least once a week.

I didn’t write this to say everyone at Penn is this way, or to say that I haven’t met plenty of incredible people here. I didn’t write this to express a hatred for super wealthy people. In fact, I’d be lying if I said my mom doesn’t send me Amazon gifts a few times a month, get my nails done every few weeks or I don’t order Jimmy John’s when I’m too lazy to get out of bed. My incentive was not to expose anyone or make anyone feel guilty for how successful their parents are or to talk down on the way they were raised. My goal is to challenge perspectives. No matter what background you come from, you’re always given the opportunity to be kind and genuine. You can’t relate to every person when you talk about your new Birkin bag, but you can if you talk about non-materialistic things. Respecting others isn’t limited to only the people in the same tax bracket. Being “rich” in life is not just defined by your wealth.

Cherish experiences. Don’t expect anything to be handed to you. Find out what your true values are. And call your parents. Not with the intention to ask for more, but to thank them for what they’ve already given.

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