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Convocation 2018

August 27, 2018

By Amy Gutmann

Don’t Just Meet Destiny. Make It.

Members of the Class of 2022: You have arrived!  

Transfer Students: Good call!  

You come from 49 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and 88 countries around the world.

So let’s hear what that sounds like in action. On the count of three, together, I want you to shout out your state or country of origin. One, two, three!  

I don’t think I heard everyone. Let’s try it one more time all together. One, two, three!   Good!

I welcome you all to the Penn family. You are a truly unique Class.

Never before in Penn’s history have so many first-year students been born at the turn of the millennium. We will not see a similiar Class for another thousand years. You are truly one-in-a-millennium.

My challenge to you is to mark this historic occasion with a momentous calling. Consider another historic occasion eighty-two years ago when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Penn’s campus. He addressed a roaring crowd on Franklin Field. “This generation,” he famously declared, “has a rendezvous with destiny.”

Your Class has an even greater calling. We call upon you not just to meet destiny, but to make destiny.

Members of your class have already begun. After Parkland, you said #NeverAgain and Marched for Your Lives to end school shootings. You formed political action groups for educational reform in Paraguay. You built coalitions here in Philly to improve access to clean drinking water and nutritious food.

Many of you will vote for the first time in the midterm election this fall. The importance of you doing so is impossible to exaggerate. It will be a milestone moment when your generation speaks more powerfully than it has ever done before.

All these engagements underscore my message to you tonight: To truly make destiny, to effect change for the better, no one person goes it alone. We each pursue our own dreams, but we make destiny only together.

Mark this as why we’re gathered here tonight: At Penn, everything we do to make our future better, we do together.

Here’s an historic case in point: A century ago, Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was a brand-new Penn student, fresh out of high school. She earned all her degrees at Penn, becoming one of the first two African-American women in the United States to earn a doctorate.

She found her passion in the law, becoming the first African-American woman to earn a Penn Law degree and the first to be named Assistant City Solicitor for Philadelphia.

In 1946, President Harry Truman appointed her to the nation’s Committee on Civil Rights, which successfully urged Truman to fight against employment discrimination.

Like all of you, Dr. Alexander was clearly a leader, a pioneer who pursued her own destiny no matter the obstacles. “I never looked for anybody to hold the door open for me,” she said. “I knew well that the only way I could get that door open was to knock it down: because I knocked all of them down.”

Dr. Alexander’s story also reveals that making destiny—even for pioneers—is never a solitary pursuit.

Many people at a university, in a city, on a civil rights committee mobilized. Dr. Alexander’s spirit lives on in one of our own, the pathbreaking scholar and teacher Dorothy Roberts, who is the Sadie Alexander Professor of Civil Rights in Penn Law and a Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor in Law and Arts and Sciences. She leads the Penn Program on Race, Science, and Sociology. Dorothy’s with us tonight – let’s hear it for her.  

Dr. Alexander’s legacy extends to all of us here tonight who prize inclusion and innovation, and to thousands more.

The youngest pursue bright destinies just a few blocks west of here, at a transformative public school named in Dr. Alexander’s honor, created in partnership by Penn, the School District, and the teachers’ union.

The stellar achievements of Penn Alexander School students earned the school the highest National Blue Ribbon honor. And I am thrilled to report that two of your classmates are proud Penn Alexander graduates: Jenaye Johnson and Jana Pugsley – let’s hear it for them.     

That’s the best part of making destiny: when you knock down doors, you open them for others.

Each year, a diverse group of Penn seniors win the President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes.

These prizes are open to all graduating seniors. The best proposals receive major funding for year-long post-graduation projects. They are supported from start to finish by caring Penn faculty mentors and staff.

One winning project is called Lanzando Líderes, Launching Leaders. When I first read the team’s proposal, it brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Launching Leaders promotes educational success for immigrant and first-gen Latino students in our South Philadelphia community. Last year, the Penn team Yaneli Arizmendi Estrada, Alexa Salas, and Camilo Toro – one Nursing and two College graduates – mentored dozens of young leaders, helping to prepare them for college.

They found, as you will find, that when you open those doors, the light shines in for so many others. Launching Leaders is empowering immigrant families to make their own destinies.

Yours is a generation – and this is the class – that will bust open so many doors. At Penn, you join us in making destiny, together.

To help you on your way, we believe your momentous calling and your historic Class require special recognition.

Since you are one-in-a-millennium, let’s make it official, have some fun, and bestow a special title upon your Class. 

It just so happens I have authority as president to do so, but I still need your help. I’m going to offer three choices of Class title. After I do, I want you to talk to the people around you. Figure out which title you like best.

I will then call on you as a Class to cheer for your favorite. The longest, loudest cheer wins, so build support for your choice fast. Ok, here we go.

Your first choice for official Class title is: Destiny Makers.

Your second choice is: Twenty-Two Together.

Your third and final choice for Class title is the most solemn; it’s timeless; and it’s in no way a reference to Drake’s #1 Billboard-topping song or the viral Internet craze it inspired…. That said, for your final choice, get in your feelings: it’s Class Kiki.   

I’ll say them one more time.

Destiny Makers. Twenty-Two Together. Or Class Kiki.

Everybody got it? I’ll be coming down to see how you’re doing, then I’ll call the vote. Ok? Everybody, go!

Alright! The time has come to choose. I will say each title one at a time. If that’s your choice, cheer! The loudest cheer will win. So let’s hear it for:

Destiny Makers.   

Ok, how about Twenty-Two Together.   

Finally, what about Class Kiki.  

I believe we have a winner! By the power vested in me, and by your own acclaim, I hereby declare you Twenty-Two Together!   

May it grace your hashtags, inspire your actions, and adorn your t-shirts at Spring Fling.  

Tonight’s ceremony embodies what lies ahead. We will work together, we will discover together, we will have fun together. But most of all, here with the best living and learning community you will find anywhere, we will make destiny together.

And what an exciting time it’s going to be!

Welcome to Penn!