A Sad Note at the Start of the Year

Patricia Rose, Director of Career Services

I usually write an upbeat blog post on this first day of classes, urging you to take full advantage of Penn and of the services our office provides to help students define their career goals and take the steps necessary to achieve them. I may even quote statistics on the success of recent graduates.

Today I am writing about an alumnus from the class of 2013, Christopher Allen, who after graduation went to Europe for a master’s degree and then embarked on a career as an independent journalist in Ukraine, which was at the time beset by war. He was one of the first reporters on the scene of the Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down by Russian-backed rebels, and his account was published in British newspapers. He wrote about that experience in our alumni magazine, the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Recently Chris had gone to South Sudan, a country which has been engaged in a civil war for over three years. Many thousands have been killed there, millions have been displaced or have fled, and human rights abuses are commonplace. On Saturday, while embedded with rebel forces near the Ugandan border, Chris was killed. He was 26 years old.

A friend of the Allen family spoke about Chris in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “He had a passion for telling the stories of people touched by war,” she said. “He went to South Sudan for the same reason all good journalists go to trouble spots: to get the story and to bring that story to the world’s attention.”

Chris Allen’s death is a tremendous loss to his family, his Penn classmates and his friends, of whom my son is one. I write about him today because he was focused on something larger than himself, and he pursued it with everything he had. He had the courage to put himself into harm’s way, but also the courage to forge his own path. At Penn that can sometimes be a hard thing to do. There are certain well-trod paths that many choose to follow, and that’s fine, if it’s the right path for you.

As we start another academic year, think hard about the choices you will be making. You have one life to live. I am not advocating that you go to war zones, merely that you reflect on the contributions you can make, on the ways you can make a difference in the world. Chris Allen made a difference. In your own way, so can you.

Author: Patricia Rose

Patricia Rose is the Director of Career Services at the University of Pennsylvania.