Commencement Address 2024

By J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD

May 20, 2024

Reverend Howard, thank you.

It’s been a hard year for the world and for Penn, but there’s also been plenty of joy, and we’re feeling it today, thanks to our families and friends. Let’s hear it for them.

Now, let’s hear it for these graduates.

Class of 2024, you arrived on campus in the thick of the pandemic. Our world has only evolved faster since then. Today, we launch you to navigate, and improve, that rapidly changing world.

That’s a lot to handle, but I’m confident you can do it – and more.

After all, your Class was forged in the crucible of change. Now, you’re shaped by it.

More important, you know how to shape it.

Many years ago, in 1782, our founder Benjamin Franklin corresponded with a friend about the significance of a free press.

To drive home his point, Franklin coined a new phrase:

Don’t just strike while the iron is hot. Heat the iron by striking it.

Your Class is expert at both.

You are now poised at one of life’s great inflection points. Moments like these are usually clearer from a distance. So, I want you to step back for a second and take stock with me.

Remember when you first arrived on campus. What were your thoughts? Your feelings? Your dreams? How have you changed and what have you accomplished?

Now, fast forward 50 years. Maybe you’re going to your class reunion or another graduation, two generations away. If this future version of yourself could advise you today, what words of wisdom and pride would they share?

I have some predictions.

First: They would tell you to savor this moment. Carpe diem. You’ve earned it.

Next: Keep reinventing yourself. As heirs of Franklin, you share his legacy of innovation, self-improvement, and knowledge for good.

Never stop learning. Humanity’s knowledge is always expanding. Staying up to speed is invigorating and empowering.

As Penn students, you are super-engaged. Keep engaging. Hold tight to family and friends - they nourish you. But welcome new connections as you grow and adapt.

Challenges will definitely come—but, as a group, you’ve already faced more than most. You’ve learned that navigating challenges successfully also creates opportunity for you to shape the future.

So, strike while the iron’s hot. Heat the iron by striking it.

None of this should sound strange to you. After all, isn’t this what you’ve been doing all along at Penn?

Think of each surprising turn, each hurdle overcome, each new friend and memory made.

During challenging times, you got creative – and then some. You connected, built community, and adapted to your surroundings for the better.

Talent and hard work got you here. Penn only helped amplify your potential.

Now, you have something the world very much needs. We face climate change, social and political conflict, stunning advances in artificial intelligence, revolutionary new tools in medicine—and the world is only going to spin faster.

More than ever, we need people who can steer through uncertainty and create opportunity from it. People who strike while the iron’s hot and heat the iron by striking it. The world needs you.

So, keep reinventing, learning, and engaging. Savor your accomplishments and this moment.

All of us at Penn are proud of what you’ve achieved. We will be even prouder of what you have yet to accomplish. Please know that this University will always be here for you. That is something that will never change, even in a rapidly changing world.

Thank you all. Congratulations to the phenomenal Class of 2024!