September 4, 2007 - Convocation Speech
by Penn President Dr. Amy Gutmann
My warmest welcome to the gifted women and men of the great Class of 2011!
You are the most academically talented class in Penn’s history!
And you’ve got exactly a year to enjoy the view from the top – before an even more talented Class of 2012 knocks you into second place. That’s what we call Penn momentum!
Congratulations to those of you who finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma sometime between the middle of July … and noon Sunday. Now you are more knowledgeable eaters – which is a good thing for you but maybe not so good for Penn Dining Services … and definitely bad news for some of the food trucks.
I extend equally warm greetings to our transfers from other colleges and universities. Transfers? Smart move!
Convocation is a cherished tradition. As of this moment you are now officially students of the University of Pennsylvania!
Convocation is also the first time that your class gathers together as one Penn family of many nations and backgrounds.
Seated among you are classmates from all 50 of the United States – from 203 freshmen from California to 406 freshmen from Pennsylvania to two freshmen from Idaho!
Among you are also seated 312 classmates from 67 countries, starting alphabetically with the A’s and B’s …. Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, and Bulgaria … right down to the Zs – of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
I know that all of you must keep so many other numbers in your heads – phone numbers, classroom numbers, and numbers of required courses.
But tonight I’d like each of you to think about the number: 45. Why 45? Because that is the number of months left before you process down Locust Walk for Commencement.
So ask yourself: How will I spend those 45 months?
I offer to you this evening two unwritten (and entirely unenforceable) Penn rules. The best rules are unenforceable.
First Penn Rule: Keep your mind open. Great minds discover deeper truths by probing the toughest questions.
Do not let criticism faze you; do not let setbacks discourage you; do not let change frighten you. Convert these jolts into learning experiences … as College Senior Mara Gordon did.
Mara had planned to spend this past summer saving the world by working at a school for orphaned children in Botswana. But she encountered what seemed like an insurmountable barrier: language. The children did not speak English, and she knew all of four words in Botswana’s native tongue.
At first Mara was frustrated, but she was also open-minded and – thanks to her Penn education – resourceful enough to find a meaningful way to bridge the language chasm. She started knitting scarves with a young woman she had befriended, and soon came up with a great idea: Why not help mothers at the school create crafts that they could sell? Local shop owners liked her idea, and Mara successfully launched the program, which the head of the school plans to continue.
By understanding women in poverty not as people to save, but rather as partners in learning, Mara ended up making a lasting difference in the world, and she’s still got a year to go at Penn!
Your partners in learning at Penn are all over the campus as well as in our West Philadelphia neighborhood. So stay open-minded and your education will expand exponentially over the next 45 months. And don’t let a month go by without expanding your horizons.
You can begin tomorrow by learning from our world-class faculty.
Nursing students? Where are you? Congratulations! You won’t find on any other faculty in the world a more accomplished group of nursing leaders who are transforming the theory and practice of care-giving throughout the world.
Engineering? You will be challenged by Penn faculty who are leading innovators and who are collaborating with colleagues in Arts and Sciences and Medicine to drive the 21st century revolution in bioengineering and nanotechnology.
Wharton! You will learn from the most eminent, influential, and international business faculty in the world.
And how about the College! Wherever you turn, you will find eminent scholars and teachers who year after year deliver the finest liberal arts and science education in the world.
Reach out to your professors as mentors who will challenge you to succeed by becoming the best you can be.
Another reward of being open-minded is the learning attached to forming lifelong friendships at Penn. Treasure them, and treasure the diversity of our student body. Experience demonstrates that you will make the most of your Penn education if you cultivate friendships throughout our campus and across ethnic, racial, economic, and ideological boundaries.
If the first unwritten rule governing success at Penn is to open your mind to new ideas and friendships, then the second Penn rule is to aim high. The more unconventional, the better.
Consider Gabe Crane, a rising College senior whose passion for writing and canoeing led him to conceive a daring adventure: He and three of his pals would paddle canoes down the entire 2,000 miles of the Mississippi River. Then he’d write about the experience afterward.
Penn English Professor Al Filreis encouraged Gabe to be even bolder. Why not create a live blog called the “Mississippi Project” and make the adventure come alive in words, pictures, and conversation?
With tech support from Kelly Writers House and financial support from the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, Gabe created a multi-media literary journal that transformed his adventure into – in his words – “a meditation on the state of our generation, coming now finally of age … and a meditation on the state of our country.”
Because Gabe aimed high, he has the beginnings of an original book and the makings of a successful literary career.
Penn can make the biggest difference in your lives when keep your mind open to challenging new ideas and friendships, and aim high.
You now know the unwritten Penn rules. Follow them, by all means! And build on them by your means! Then you will discover why Penn truly “rules.” Forty-five months from now, when we are all gathered together again on Franklin Field, I expect to declare that the great Penn class of 2011 rules.
In the meantime, make the most of all that Penn has to offer. Mix it up tonight with your future lifelong friends as you begin to spend the next 45 months living and learning together in the most open-minded, stimulating, and collegial community in the world. Let’s show the world how your great Class of 2011 and Penn can rule together.
Welcome to Penn!