I think a lot about how we retell the stories about our experiences. The way that we talk about an experience to someone else often ends up being the way that we remember it. For that reason, I have had a lot of hesitation in writing a reflection about LA; there were so many moments that I want to remember, and I am worried I will only remember the ones that I write about here. So instead of reflecting on the moments that happened on the trip, I want to reflect on my lingering thoughts instead.
First, I want to express so much thanks to everyone involved in the planning and execution of the trip. To Melissa (‘Coach Mel’) who lined up the events and crafted an especially well-balanced and diverse set of speakers. To Amanda who laid the foundation for the trip before she moved on from PLA. To Kristine who let me annoy her the entire trip yet still wanted to have discussions about religion, relationships, and life after college while sitting in LA traffic. And to the Hintzes whose love for the Academy is so deep and so palpable. Thank you.
The trip to LA also reminded me of how little I know about the world. I generally consider myself to be a knowledgeable and well-versed person, but hearing from experts on sustainability practices on college campuses and educational disparities in public schools really humbled me. While I have a cursory understanding of sustainability and education, I am nowhere near ready to have a thoughtful, deep conversation about either issue. This trip helped me realize what I don’t know and inspired me to start taking steps to close those gaps. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to interact with experts across industries through PLA. When else in my life will I be exposed to so many different fields that I know little about? I’ll always remember PLA as a way of learning what I don’t know.
After not taking the PLA course this semester and being unable to go on the Baltimore trip, I felt somewhat disconnected from my PLA peers – despite the amount of time I spend in Melissa’s office. Reconnecting with the senior class was very special to me. After being close sophomore year and drifting apart junior year, it was nice to come back together and rekindle the friendships that I hope carry on into adult life. It’s fun to see all my peers deciding on steps for the future and overall seeming a whole lot surer of themselves. I think very few members of the senior class would say that they know what they want to do with their lives, but it seems like we’re a whole lot closer than we were when we entered the academy. I also appreciated the opportunity to meet and befriend members of the lower classes. It’s assuring to see that other classes are having the same positive experience of PLA that I did and are surrounded by ambitious, reflective, and charismatic friends.
Travel is always good for gaining perspective about the world, and this may be my greatest takeaway from the trip. For the past couple of weeks, every minor bullshit has felt very consequential in my life. When you’re in the bubble of Penn State, exams, assignments, and even parties can feel very important. After spending a week away from Penn State and away from my normal life, I realized how little of this will matter in 5, 10, or 20 years. I absolutely love Penn State – don’t get me wrong – but it’s a healthy thing to remember that what seems important now won’t really matter in the long run. If they write a Wikipedia page about my life someday, this will still fall under the “Early Years” subheading; I have a whole life left to lead. This thought has brought me comfort as I approach graduation. There’s a whole world out there to explore, and I’m ready to take the leap away from Penn State.
In all, as I do after every PLA trip, I feel recharged, inspired, and grateful for being awarded this opportunity. PLA has shaped both my college experience and who I am as a person, and I am so thankful for that.