The Class of 2020 is the Most Impressive Yet: Here’s Why

Freshman columnist Stephan Cho with the latest on Penn’s incoming Class of 2020.

With the acceptance rate for the Class of 2020 at a record low 9.4 percent, it’s harder than ever before to get the “thick envelope” from College Hall. But for 3,661 students, four years of hard work and determination paid off last Thursday with news of admission to Penn.

In honor of these promising new additions to the Penn community, The Pennsylvania Punch Bowl has chosen to profile Harrison J. Whitman, the Deerfield Academy senior who has already been identified as having the best shirtless profile picture in the Class of 2020 Facebook group.  Whitman will be one of many fresh faces on campus next fall, but you wouldn’t know his own story – or his life – just by looking at his dreamy hazel eyes or sculpted, golden abs.

Whitman has a promising future at Penn, but his path to getting into an Ivy League school wasn’t always easy.

In December, his college dreams were nearly halted when he heard some devastating news — he was rejected from Princeton University, his parents’ alma mater.

“That first week was brutal. I’d feel awful for myself whenever I saw some kid in my grade wear Princeton gear, or even mention that name. Like, I had a 2210 SAT score, stellar interview and essays, I’m co-treasurer of junior varsity squash, but even Caroline Beckford got in over me, and her highest math was only Calculus I,” Whitman said.

Two weeks later, Whitman visited Penn over winter break and immediately fell in love.

“Visiting [Penn] campus after the saddest day of my life, it was like meeting my soulmate after a really messy breakup. I even made it LinkedIn official that day. I went from ‘Candidate for Admission for B.A. at Princeton University’ to ‘Candidate for Admission at the University of Pennsylvania’. So that’s how my friends found out,” he said.

Both his guidance counselor at Deerfield and college admissions advisor at home in Manhattan were supportive of his choice to apply to Penn, but he had only two weeks to finish his application essays. Despite the tight deadline, Whitman said he is still proud of the final product.

“I wrote about seeing Hamilton on Broadway, and realizing how much that story – the immigrant story – is really my story. My grandparents came to this country from Italy with no money. And the Deerfield motto is ‘Be worthy of your heritage.’ So I wrote about how I worked to honor my ancestors’ sacrifices, even when I was away from my parents at boarding school. Jay Z and Beyonce were in the audience that day, too, and they’re really proof of how much opportunity we have in America. Here, you can go from growing up in Marcy Projects to being able to afford Hamilton tickets.”

After learning of his acceptance to the Class of 2020, Whitman also offered some advice for future applicants.

“My parents were able to go to college and buy a home for our family because of their hard work and my grandparents’ sacrifices. So you, too, have to put in the work. Go to SAT class, don’t slack off at practice, do the right extracurriculars. Like, I pulled all-nighters for the Investment Club in high school and now I’m at Wharton, you know? That’s all there is to it, really.”

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