Welcoming the Class of 2000
Members of the Class of 2000: Welcome!
The Class of 2000 is a title of great significance. But while the very words assume apocalyptic proportions, they leave us in a quandary.
What will you be called?
I was a student at Penn in the '60s. Then there were the classes of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. But to call you "The Class of Zero-Zero" sounds a bit clumsy.
According to a columnist in The New York Times Magazine , someone may suggest that since the word "naught" means zero, you should be called the "Naughties." He said other suggestions may include the "Zips" and the "Zeros."
But I am sure you will all rise too high for any of these nihilistic names to apply.
Let us consider then, as this pundit did, calling you the "Ohs"--"oh" as when you utter words of wonder and awe, which all of us expect you to inspire during your years here.
With that settled, I ask you, as we come together on this momentous occasion, to think about some other great wordsthose of great writers you may have readand to consider what they all have in common: There is Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." And Ralph Ellison, in his distinguished novel: "I am an invisible man." And, of course, Ernest Heming-way, in A Moveable Feast: "Then there was the bad weather."
Have you guessed what they all have in common? It is their first line. It is poignant. It is memorable.
Tonight, as you come together for the first time as a class, you are writing the very first line of your great storythe story of the Class of 2000 and your own personal story. I trust that your tale will be well-told, and that it will mark one of the most memorable experiences of your lives.
In The New Yorker recently, an essayist wrote that "Good writers . . . have the ability to make you keep on reading them whether you want to or notthe milk boils over, the subway stop is missed." In other words, good writers make you want to know what happens next.
You are the authors of your story, which begins here, tonight. And I, for one, am very eager to learn what happens next. My interest in this page -turner is shared by the University's deans and members of our faculty, who are here with me on the stage.
Equally anxious to have your story unfold are your student colleaguesthe Classes of 1997, '98, and '99, some of whom are with us here tonightand also the staff and administrators of the University. Among them are your undergraduate admissions officers. They helped you write your prologue.
Now, your personal and collective trajectories here at Penn are about to begin.
You bring with you to this great university your individual stories. Selected from the largest applicant pool in Penn's history, you represent all 50 states and 55 nations; 326 of you were either valedictorian or salutatorian of your high school class; 234 of you edited your high school newspaper; more than 150 of you were president of your student council or of your class.
Nearly 800 of you are competitive in sports, and there are at least 20 Olympic hopefuls among you. Many of you are musicians, dancers, and actors. More than one-third of you come from minority backgrounds. And, for what we believe is the first time in Penn's history, slightly over half of you are women.
You have among you a top pistol-target shooter from Sweden, an internationally ranked squash player from Canada, and a national competitor in ballroom dancing from the Czech Republic.
As student body president at a school in Bangkok, one of your classmates made presentations to the school board and had audiences with the king. Another of your classmates spent a summer in Calcutta working for Mother Teresa. Also in your midst are published researchers, a pub-lished poet, and a radio producer who is here to study nursing.
These are some of the people who will inhabit the story of the Class of 2000. Each of you is special in some way, or you would not have been chosen to attend Penn. Some of your unique qualities are more observable than others; some are less so. But very special you are. Remember that.
In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway recounts his friendships and meetings with some of the most colorful characters in literary history. Here at Penn, you may meet the next Gertrude Stein out on College Green or in Writers House. Or talk with the next James Joyce at a little table in the back of Chats. Or even critique or be critiqued by the next Ford Madox Ford during a class in Bennett Hall.
However, with all the wonderful characters in A Moveable Feast, perhaps the greatest is one that never speaks. One that is not a person, but a place. A place called Paris.
In Paris, Hemingway grew as a person and came of age as a writer. He found his experiences there so stimulating and the city itself so endearing that he carried Paris with him for all his days. "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man," he wrote to a friend in 1950, "then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
When he wrote his retrospective of his days in Paris, Hemingway unlocked a trunk of memories of people and events that changed him and shaped him.
Much like Hemingway's experience in Paris, the next four years will be ones of growth and exploration for you. They will be filled with new friends, new endeavors, and new experiences. Today, you are a unique position. You can look ahead to what you would like to remember.
What experiences would you like to take away from Penn? What stories and memories would you like to recall someday? What would you like to be your "moveable feast"?
Perhaps the most exciting parts of your story will be centered around Penn traditions, like Hey Day and Ivy Day, Frisbees and dogs on College Green, bicyclesand roller blades, tooon Locust Walk.
Perhaps your story will highlight the academic challenges of your years at Penn. A great debate with your Wharton professor about the national deficit. A conversation with your nursing professor about the future of hospitals. Working late nights with your engineering professor to test a theory. Or trying to convince your English professor that the lyrics of "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette are a classic example of literary irony.
Perhaps the greatest chapters of your story will focus on your commitment to service. The satisfaction you feel when the student you are tutoring in compound fractions cries out, "I get it!" Or the pleasure given you when the fund-raiser you organized is a success. Or the pride you feel when you make your point well at University Council.
Perhaps some favorite lines of your story will come from your experiences off campus, in the cosmopolitan city of Philadelphia, which, in itself, is a moveable feast. You only need a Philly cheesesteak to show you that!
Take a walk down South Street with your hallmates. Enjoy nights under the stars at the Mann Music Center. And visit science and art museums like the Franklin Institute, named for the founding father of our great university; the Barnes Foundation, which is the legacy of a Penn alumnus; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Or perhaps the best parts of your story will result from the evolution of our campus: the Perelman Quad, which will be our new student center; the new Barnes & Noble superstore, which will be a haven of books, coffee, and music for the Penn community; and the 21st Century Project, which will enhance the undergraduate experience at Penn.
Yes, these will surely be years of exploration and change for all of us.
We will grow together as one universitycontinuing our development as a premier research university, as an international university, and as a university committed to modern technology, which began right here at Penn 50 years ago with the invention of ENIAC, the world's first all -electronic, digital computer.
All of us look forward to your contributions.
One of your classmates said it well in his application: "I don't know what my freshman year holds in store. . . . There is no way to predict the future or what mark I will make at the University, but I am sure Penn will be proud of me."
I am sure of that toofor all of you.
In a Parisian café, Ernest Hemingway captured similar sentiments in his writing and in his heart. He wrote: "You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil."
I encourage all of you to let Penn belong to you, just as you belong to Penn. Pick up your notebook to begin your Penn story, fill in the blank pages, and revel in what happens next.
Good luck to all of you.
President Rodin's address to the freshman class was delivered Sunday, September 1, in Irvine Auditorium. It was followed by the message of Provost Chodorow, below.
The Class of 2000. It has a nice ring. But I'm a medieval historian. So I want you to take a brief time trip with me.
Imagine for a moment that you are taking your place in the Class of 1200 at the University of Paris, instead of the Class of 2000 at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1196, the University is a guild of teaching masters. It does not have buildings or a library; it only has the masters. They make and sell knowledge, just as the master leatherworkers and weavers make and sell their products.
You, the students, are the buyers of the knowledge; you will pay the teachers directly for tutorials and lectures. You will buy knowledge because you think, rightly, that you need it to be leaders in your society.
OK, back to 1996. The University looks very different now. It is a large complex institution with over a hundred buildings and a large library. But even though it looks different, the University is still doing what it did in the twelfth century. It is making and selling knowledge. The University has the form of a modern institution, but in its heart it is still a guild of knowledge-makers.
Yet, this guildnow eight centuries oldhas always been a bit different. You, the students, are its customers, but you don't come here to sit in lectures or meet with faculty and then just go home, as you would if you came to buy shoes. You become a resident of the place, and you work along with the masters and other students. Knowledge is a growing, evolving thing, and those who use knowledge must learn how to create it.
The faculty here will hand out a lot of knowledge in their coursesand will continually test you on it. But the most important thing they will teach you is the art of discoveryhow to make and use knowledge.
You are joining the University, not just entering the shop. You are coming to work with people like me, faculty and graduate students who fell in love with knowledge-making. A few of you will fall in love too and never leave school. Most of you will leave here to pursue other professions, in which knowledge-making and using are essential tools.
Now, as an undergraduate, how do you practice the arts of discovery?
I will tell you about three students who graduated last May. The fall after you graduate, I look forward to telling the class of 2004 all about you.
Erica Weissman spent last year studying the skeletal remains of villagers who lived 8,000 years ago in the highlands of Iraq, where the agricultural revolution took hold. Erica showed that the villagers lived only about 35 years. She also began to puzzle out what kinds of diseases and injuries they suffered during their lives.
Aside from its intrinsic interest, how is Erica's work important? Well, it tells us something about the history of human disease. Most infectious diseases come from domesticated animals. Measles came from dogs; it is closely related to distemper. The common coldcaused by the aptly named rhinovirusescame from horses, the only other animal that gets colds. So, Erica's study produced information that may be useful to those who study common human diseases.
Another Penn student, Gregory Grimaldi, spent much of last year creating a program for the Internet that could make an efficient on-line market in any product. A good market is one in which sellers and buyers have a great deal of information about one another, about prices, about the product, and so on. The Internet is an information medium and will soon be a virtual place for virtual markets. Gregory was a model Penn student because he had broad interestscombining computing with economicsand he made a real contribution to our future.
One final example of student research at Penn. It is one of my favorites, because I got to know the student very well. Last spring, Ryan Hanley was a student in my course on the origins of constitutionalism, and he was outstanding. At the same time, Ryan was preparing an honors thesis in history on the origins of the idea of an independent judiciary. Our conversations were among the highlights of the year for me.
During the semester, Ryan persuaded me to let him miss a class to go to a conference in Chicago on the history of political theory. At the conference, Quentin Skinner of Cambridge University, one of the world's leading historians of political thought, heard Ryan's comments and went out of his way to speak to him privately. A few weeks later, he asked Ryan to come study with him at Cambridge this year!
Erica, Gregory, and Ryan were three of the hundreds of students who joined the faculty and graduate students in doing the business of the Universitythe work of making and using knowledge. All of those students became true members of the University.
We want every Penn studentevery one of you to contribute to our work. There are opportunities in virtually every field of learning you've heard of and many more that you've never heard of.
>Right now, your vision is filled with the prospects of courses, new friends, and a bewildering number of student organizations to look into.
You will have fun in a dozen different ways at Penn. The clubs, the parties, the city of Philadelphia, the intercollegiate sports (go Quakers!) offer the whole range of fun.
But no diversion compares to the fun of making new knowledge. The independent discovery of something no one else knows is an amazing experience. When it happens to you, you'll give yourself a standing-O and call or e-mail everyone you know.
Discovery is what you've been studying for.
Discovery is why you stuck to the books.
Discovery is your reward.
Welcome to Penn.
Volume 43 Number 4
September 17, 1996
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