Thursday, June 30, 2016

Always at the Forefront

The subway train approaching
Today was our first full day in Philadelphia, so we decided to start out with some breakfast at the nearby Sabrina’s Cafe, which serves American food. The food itself was great and came in sizable portions and the ambiance of the cafe itself was fairly relaxed, which made the meal quite enjoyable. After that, we proceeded to head downtown to go sightseeing via the subway. We took the Market-Frankford Line to 2nd Street, at which point we surfaced once more.

As soon as we reached the open air, we had a great view of Penn’s Landing immediately across the street and the blue bridge further in the distance. However, we headed in the other direction, away from the Delaware River and towards the historic sites. The first historical site we saw was Independence Hall, where our nation’s founders had held the Constitutional Convention. It's great to have a U.S. History teacher as our chaperone in a location with so much history like Philadelphia. He told us interesting trivia that helped us gain better insight into what it was like during that time. For instance, at Independence Hall, he said that the Constitutional Convention met during summer in that hall with closed windows, which without the modern comforts of air conditioning, could get very hot and humid. He also told us a short anecdote, in which Benjamin Franklin (who is revered in Philadelphia and the best-known founder of the University of Pennsylvania) always wondered whether the sun on the back of George Washington’s chair was rising or setting, and that eventually he decided it was a rising sun, symbolizing the hope he had for the new nation.
Independence Hall from the front and back, respectively

We also saw the Liberty Bell from the outside, as it would have taken too long to get close to it. In front of Independence Hall (we had apparently seen the back first), we came across a man who had adopted Benjamin Franklin’s persona. We asked him some questions, such as why Franklin seemed to be more popular than George Washington in Philadelphia, to which he responded that Franklin was a native Philadelphian while Washington was a Virginian, so naturally the people resonated more strongly within the people of Pennsylvania. I thought that this particular impersonator of Benjamin Franklin exemplified the great respect that people have for the historical significance of the city, as he was willing to learn and memorize intricate details about Franklin’s life and dress up in old-fashioned clothing to bring Franklin’s personality to life and share it with people. The man then directed us to the site of Benjamin Franklin’s old house, which was unfortunately destroyed, although the foundations remain and the shape outlined.
We also passed by the Second Bank of the United States along the way to Franklin's house

Irvine Auditorium and UPenn coat of arms
Soon afterwards, we had to return to the hotel, as the time for our tour was approaching, and took a short break before meeting up once more in the lobby. We then walked to the admissions building, where we received red wristbands to identify us as part of the tour and were directed to the Irvine Auditorium, which was one of the most impressive structures I’ve seen in Philadelphia so far. There was also a large version of the UPenn coat of arms adjacent to it, which made for a picturesque setting. We then entered the auditorium, which had fascinatingly patterned ceilings as well as enormous pipes for the organ. Shortly after 1:00 PM, the presentation about UPenn admissions began with a brief video of UPenn’s highlights and most interesting facts before a presenter began to talk to us about UPenn and its admissions process. She reaffirmed what Dyana had told us the night before, saying that UPenn was a highly selective university that, unlike the other Ivy League universities, focused more on pre-professional education and courses structured to allow UPenn students to experiment among the four schools for undergraduates. I also liked her analogy of applications to a scale, which she compared by saying that strength in academics or extracurriculars corresponded to its weight on one end of the scale, and having more weights would tip the scale in that particular student’s favor.

After the presentation, the audience was split up into multiple tour groups. Ours was led by Wendy Zhou, who is majoring in communications and biology. Interestingly enough, our tour group comprised solely of students interested in either sciences & arts or engineering. She went on to show us the various buildings and talked about each of them enthusiastically, telling us interesting stories as she did so. One of the stories I liked in particular was how College Hall was moved, brick by brick, onto UPenn’s campus, just so that UPenn could claim that it was older than Princeton. It showed a lighter side to the college search that I certainly appreciated and enjoyed, as opposed to the stress that typically accompanies thoughts of the college selection and application process.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge, over the Delaware River

We then returned to the hotel once more for an extended break. I jumped on the opportunity to start working on my blog while listening to music to relax a little. After the break, we met up in the lobby and headed downtown again, getting out at the 2nd Street station once more. At our behest, Mr. Hillyer took us to Sonny’s Famous Steaks for our first Philly cheesesteaks. Although it was a little rich for my taste, the cheesesteak was absolutely delicious and well-deserving of its reputation. Once our hunger was satiated, we proceeded to Penn’s Landing, where we passed by several inspiring memorials and proud, battle-tested ships, relics of the rich history of the area. We also got the opportunity to get a great view of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Delaware River, and Spruce Street Harbor Park, where many people were outdoors, enjoying the pleasant weather, eating tasty foods, listening to live music, and having a good time in general. As we headed back, we passed by plenty more historical buildings and areas, as well as more magnificent buildings, which Philadelphia has a wealth of. As we descended into one of the subway stations, I was amazed at the ease with which Mr. Hillyer was able navigate the complex subterranean channels.
Fountain in George Washington Square

After spending just about a day and a half in Philadelphia, I’ve been astounded at the depths of historical roots in the area, the apparent pride in that history, and the beauty of the city itself, displayed through its buildings. Prior to being in Philadelphia, I had almost never seen brick buildings, so I found it really interesting to observe the variety of different styles of brickwork and the way it has been integrated with modern architecture. It also seems that Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia in particular, were at the forefront, or “first,” in a variety of different aspects, such as being the nation’s first capital, establishing the first secular university (UPenn), and even being the site of the first electronic general-purpose computer, ENIAC, just to name a few. I think it’s really remarkable how Pennsylvania was able to establish so many precedents and lead the nation on numerous occasions, and I’m glad and grateful to be able to experience such an amazing city.
The Penn Medicine building

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