"Pursuing the Answers to the Worlds Problems and Mysteries"

May 16, 2005 - Commencement Address
by Penn President Dr. Amy Gutmann

Chairman Riepe, Trustees, honorary degree recipients, honored guests, parents, families, friends, and all survivors of Senior Week: It is my great privilege to welcome you to the 249th Commencement of the University of Pennsylvania!

I am very pleased to welcome our ever loyal alumni back to Penn. In truth, just as your Penn experience rejuvenates you throughout your lives, a big part of you enriches our University forever.

Members of the great class of 2005: Way to go!

You are my first graduating class as Penn's president. Our time together, I regret, was much too brief ... but apparently long enough for me to make it onto the Senior Matchmaking Crush list!

Graduates, I have learned a lot quickly - and with great delight - about you. I have rejoiced in the flowering of your genius, talents, and idealism in our classrooms, laboratories, hubs, galleries, and theaters.

I have screamed myself hoarse while you ruled the Ivy League in sports!

I have observed your passionate commitment to justice and the enduring values of democracy.

I therefore pronounce you ready to pursue the answers to the world's problems and mysteries that your elders have generously left to you to solve.

Today, you are about to enter a world that your fellow alumni from the Class of 1955 or Class of 1980 could not have foreseen. New ideas, technological breakthroughs, and cultural trends travel at the speed of light without passing through customs.

When Irish playwright Hugh Leonard was asked 25 years ago why he liked America so much, he replied: 

"It is the only part of the world that hasn't become Americanized."

Today, America is just beginning to come to terms with how globalized and interconnected the whole world has become.

The past several years have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that we cannot seal ourselves off from the world's blessings or curses. We benefit from exposure to a global contagion of cultures and trends for good. And we also are vulnerable. Economic collapse in the Pacific Rim, political instability in the Middle East, and the soaring demand in India and China for fossil fuels send shockwaves through the American economy and forever alter the fabric of American lives.

Past generations of Americans confronted new, complex realities and threats to civilization with courage and wisdom. So too must we boldly rethink our approach to the defining the issues of our time.

We need to acknowledge and act upon two fundamental truths. 

First, constructive global engagement always - always occurs locally among individuals who know how to make a positive difference in people's lives. 

Yes, governments, multinational corporations, international and nongovernmental organizations are largely responsible for flattening the world socially and economically.

But it is not true that only governments, NGOs, and the United Nations can manage globalization by themselves. Quite the contrary, local communities feel the effects of globalization - in jobs gained or lost, in lives saved or lost - individuals in local communities can work together to regain control over their own destinies.

The second truth: Constructive global engagement is a two-way street. Our approach must be the opposite of noblesse oblige, where governments and major institutions bestow their largesse and enlightenment on communities and countries. Rather, individuals and communities must be engaged in a spirit of true partnership.

Who better to lead the world into a new era of global engagement than the University of Pennsylvania? We respectfully engage people from other societies and cultures as full partners. We learn together. We grow together. We share the fruits of our successes, which in turn produce more success.

Penn's local engagement demonstrates the power of partnerships to solve the problems of cities and public education.

We have collaborated with our partners in West Philadelphia to revitalize our neighborhood, to launch a wonderful neighborhood public school, and to strengthen other local schools. And now, we and the School Reform Commission are exploring the possibility of building a model public high school with a focus on international studies and languages.

At the same time, knowledge and understanding flow back and forth between Penn students, faculty, and staff and the communities we engage respectfully as equal partners.

Penn provides proof perfect that individuals can make a profound difference. Graduating senior Harveen Bal, for example, worked in Ghana, where she was inspired by what she learned from sickle cell patients to devote her undergraduate research and her future as a Marshall Scholar to improving the lives of the poor in the developing world while also learning from them.

Alastair Green, another of our great graduating seniors, spent two summers in Ecuador establishing a cooperative that makes "fair trade" clothing that is now sold on Penn's campus.

I am particularly proud that Penn faculty and students, led by our Graduate School of Education, are on the ground with local relief agencies in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India to help rebuild the schools that were destroyed by the tsunami.

From collaborating with neighbors in Taipei and Caracas on new urban designs to working with Kurds to form a Parliament in Kurdistan. From developing new child-centered models of social policy to increasing the power of information technology in Asia and Africa.

These endeavors are but a few of the countless ways that Penn serves our core mission by reaching out to the rest of the world. Wherever there are dramatic advancements in knowledge and in the quality of life, great universities like Penn often are engaging local communities on two-way streets across six continents.  

Yet, we at Penn still have far to go and much to learn as we take the lead in becoming the global university for the 21st century.

We need to create ever more robust models of global engagement across all 12 schools.

We need more of our alumni worldwide to be engaged with their alma mater as we pledge to be ever more engaged with them.

We need to infuse the diverse perspectives and brainpower that our international students bring to our campus. Without exceptional young men and women from overseas, America's colleges and universities lose out in the global competition for talent - and so, too, will our country and world.

I pledge that this University will remain not only open, but eager to welcome the best and brightest students the world over into our community of scholars.

We are more than a community. We are a fellowship. A Penn fellowship bound by our quest for knowledge that deepens our understanding of the world. A Penn fellowship united in our desire to engage all the world's people in common pursuit of justice and peace.

Graduates, a few moments ago, we greeted each other on the cosmopolitan thoroughfare called Locust Walk, where students from all over the world meet and I have chatted with many of you during this wonderful year together.

I thank all of you for leaving an enduring mark on this campus and on the communities you have already engaged at home and abroad.

This is no good-bye to all that! The cosmopolitan road to global engagement goes on forever.

Next year, I will be visiting Penn alumni in India and Asia. Just as we met on Locust Walk, I hope to run into some of you on Marine Drive in Mumbei, on Orchard Road in Singapore, on the Ginza in Tokyo, and on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Graduates, I wish you health and happiness on your life's journey of engagement with places and people worldwide to whom you have much yet to offer and from whom you have much yet to learn.

This may not be the world you anticipated or the future you bargained for when you arrived at Penn. But you are prepared - not just to hold your own, but to lead.

I am extremely optimistic about the future. Why? I will give you just 6,000 reasons - the great Class of 2005! Godspeed!