Xavier Hill wants the world to know that he is more than a swimmer, more than a student-athlete, more than a Penn student. His time at Wharton has allowed him to be who he is: a jazz pianist, bilingual student, and political junkie.

“You’re the Penn swimmer, right?”

With Thomas Biche, my swim coach at the Cercle des Nageurs de Fontainebleau-Avon (CNFA) when I trained on their team for the summer. (Image: Xavier Hill)

I’ve always perceived myself as more than this.

I bumped into a high school classmate after years of not talking, and they said, “You’re the swimmer going to Penn, right?” Our interaction made me realize these identity traits dominated what others thought of me.

It’s normal for others to create perceptions of you based on a few characteristics. However, I realized how much the perceptions created by other people affect the way you perceive yourself. I inevitably put myself into a box that I wasn’t aware of. No matter what I wanted to do, my passions, my interests, I felt like I had to conform to a certain culture, a certain way of doing things, or a certain career path.

“Why do I need to decide my entire life during my first month here?”

College is a time in people’s lives where we get asked to make a decision on who we want to be and what we want to do, often before we have enough information to make that choice concretely. Fear of missing out and stress can often overwhelm students as they try to balance their interests and passions with the demands of school and the pressures of choosing a life and work after school.

Finding out who you are and who you want to be is not something that happens overnight. The decision making can easily take over students’ lives, preventing them from following their passions or interests they’ve held throughout their youth.

Personally, I was worried that coming to university would require me to stop practicing the piano. Being self-taught, consistent practice is required for me to stay in touch with this passion. Coming to Penn, I was afraid that the pressures that higher education places on students would necessitate me giving up practicing the piano.

However, this could not have been further from how things turned out. I brought a keyboard into my dorm room and played when I wanted to. I’ve gone to World Café Live to listen to jazz artists and come back home to play and emulate the music. Having a piano in my room was an excellent conversation starter, and I made many friends based on that passion. I ended up getting the opportunity to play in multiple piano concerts throughout the year and subsequent summer.

Studio Piano Gobelins, a piano studio I would often go to to practice while I was in Paris. (Image: Xavier Hill)

A fundamental aspect of college is that it requires you to choose who you are going to be. Choosing a major or concentration will inevitably change your identity. Students owe it to themselves to keep the interesting parts of their identity and their unique interests alive at Wharton.

Summer Opportunities

My first day at work. (Image: Xavier Hill)

I grew up in a bilingual household, speaking French and English. By 12th Grade, I had tested out of the requirements for taking language classes at Penn. Taking more language classes in a language you’re already fluent in feels repetitive and like a waste of time. Many of my bilingual friends stopped taking language in high school.

However, after taking a French class my first semester at Penn, I was introduced to a unique summer opportunity that would end up taking me to Paris for two months. After mentioning my desire to keep my French roots alive in my business life to my advisor, he introduced me to the World Research Assistantship Program (WRAP), one of Wharton’s summer research abroad programs.

This opportunity to live in Paris and work as a research assistant at INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau, France, was extremely rewarding. This experience started with the freedom to take language classes at Penn, and through the amazing programs that Wharton provides.

Pursuing my interests while getting a business education

Filming at the United States Capitol in DC. (Image: Xavier Hill)

While continuing my business education, I was given the opportunity to follow one of my other passions. My first year at Wharton, I took a class in the Annenberg School of Communication taught by David Eisenhower, grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I was tasked with creating a lengthy paper on a president. I was given a travel stipend to do research at a primary location. Having always been interested in politics, I chose to study a recent president who was beginning to campaign. As an independent journalist, I attended and studied a Donald Trump rally live, and used my experience to create a 90-minute documentary, filmed in three states with a 30-page script, on Donald Trump’s communication style and path through the American political establishment.

No matter what passion you may be interested in or what class you want to take, Wharton’s flexible curriculum allows you to do so.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Whether you want to become an investment banker, consultant, political scientist, healthcare professional, entrepreneur, or any other profession, Wharton is a school where everyone is given the chance to be rewarded for being themselves and pursuing their unique and individual passions.

Despite what you may hear, you don’t need to give up on your passions and interests early in your college career. They make you who you are, and you owe it to yourself to keep those alive. You still have a lot of growth left, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to grow up too fast.

—Xavier Hill

Posted: March 28, 2024

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