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Right Where You Should Be: Mackenzie Cullen’s Senior Column

Towards the end of summer session in August 2018, I remember calling crying to my older sister, Ali, and telling her how set I was on transferring to literally anywhere else and how I wished I could skip the next four years.

She asked me why I was in such a rush to get through life and told me that it was important to embrace where I was because I’d never get that time back. Being the younger sister that I am, I blew Ali off and pretended like she didn’t know what she was talking about.

Over the last four years, I’ve thought about that phone call a lot and although I don’t always admit it, Ali was right. Sad!

In all seriousness, though, there’s something to be said about recognizing that where you’re at is just as good as what’s about to come. I’ve always been someone who spends too much time overthinking instead of simply enjoying the present moment with the people who care about me the most.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the late Bob Saget’s “Full House” character, Danny Tanner. There’s one episode where he tells DJ, “Don’t miss out on what’s happening right now just because you’re waiting for something better to come along.”

The unlived aspects of life always seem so much better, but that’s not always the case.

As a soon-to-be Penn State alum, I feel like it’s easy for me to say that now considering that my time here is over when, in reality, it’s taken a lot of work to get to the point where I feel somewhat secure in who I am.

Especially in the moments when we’re not feeling like our best selves, it’s easy to feel isolated from the rest of the world and that no one understands what you’re going through. I know I’ve felt like this a lot, which only fuels the thoughts of wishing I was someone or somewhere else.

At a school like Penn State, it can feel hard to recognize that the qualities that make you stand out are actually a blessing when there’s so much emphasis on being mainstream. However, there’s a lot of power in going against the grain when it comes to things like joining clubs, choosing majors, and friends — even though it’s easier said than done.

Another one of my favorite quotes is from Emma Stone, who says, “What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden, and it’s not. A lot of the time it’s what makes you great.”

It’s kind of sad to say, but it’s taken until this year for me to feel like I’ve truly embraced the parts of myself that I don’t necessarily love or that I’ve struggled to show even my closest friends. I’m beyond grateful to have amazing friends who accept me for who I am.

Of course, a lot of that has to do with the people I’ve met through this silly little blog we call Onward State. I remember reading former writer Katie Klodowski’s senior column “Do It Your Way” at lunch at the end of my senior year of high school. To sum it up, she talks about the importance of embracing who you are and following your own path and that the rest will fall into place.

It’s not always easy to do your own thing, especially when it goes against others’ expectations of you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a part of this blog, it’s that you’re going to piss a lot of people off with the things you do. However, it’s more important that you’re happy with who you are and where you’re at than feeling like you’re supposed to be somewhere or someone else.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my family for being my rock throughout the last 22 years of my life but especially these last four. Mom and dad, I won’t admit that either of you is right about much, but you were both right about making me visit Penn State almost five years ago. Thank you for forcing instilling love for Penn State within me.

Ali and Jenna, thank you both for always being my sounding boards and the first people to bring me back to reality when I get too ahead of myself. You’re two of the greatest friends and sisters a girl could ask for.

Jason, I’m beyond excited for you to be the next Cullen sibling to carry on the Penn State legacy. We might be the middle children of the family, but I’m happy this is one thing we can hold over Ali and (potentially) Jenna. I look forward to crashing in your dorm every home football weekend. You’re the greatest (and only) brother I could ask for.

I’ve never met Katie, but I feel so grateful to her because her column was the reason I wanted to join Onward State in the first place, and it made me feel like I had a place where I belonged before even stepping foot on campus.

As someone who is extremely biased, I don’t think I could’ve made it through without the people of this blog. There isn’t enough time or space in this article to describe how much I love the people I’ve met through Onward State. These people and this blog have been the one constant in my life, and have helped me get through my lowest moments.

To say that I’m grateful would be a significant understatement. The impact you’ve had on my life has been tremendous, and I look forward to singing Gaffeoke, drinking Cafe pitchers, and going to the Brew on Fridays as washed-up alumni with all of you in the future.

To any Penn State student who’s reading this column, please know that not every moment of college is perfect. There’s a lot of shit that gets thrown your way, unfortunately, and it’s not going to be easy, but I promise you’ll get through it. In the end, it’s what’s going to shape you into the person you’re meant to be.

In the moments where you’re not feeling good enough or that you’re doing enough, remember that you’re right where you should be.

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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