On this occasion of great solemnity, there is also much reason for celebration. Your years of study, research, and activity reach a pinnacle today, as we ask you to go forth and to share the privilege of your education with others.
We have aspired to educate you on two levels: They are very much two sides of a scale and, if we have done our job well, the sides are in balance. On one side of the scale is your classroom education--the domain of hard questions, deep thought, and critical analysis. On the other side of the scale is the education you received outside the classroom--the domain of co-curricular pursuits, healthy competition, and lasting friendships.
Both sides are necessary for balance, for intellect does not always translate into caring. Good grades do not necessarily come with a good heart. And deep thinkers may not be the most thoughtful soul-searchers.
During your time here, it has been our effort to give you the tools to be all of these things, to help you become whole people: to be smart and to be sensitive; to be willing to gain knowledge and to share it; to learn and to love.
When you leave Franklin Field tomorrow, you will not leave Penn behind if you use wisely the tools we have given you, if you take away from here both a sharpened intellect and an open heart.
Reinhold Niebuhr, known as one of the greatest theologians of our century, believed that hope, faith, and love are the very roots of human existence. In his words: "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone, therefore we must be saved by love."
Celebrate the love in your lives, the relationships you have built, the friends you have made, the goals your friends and family have helped you realize. And always attend to what is important in life.
The important things are not always readily apparent, for it is easy to simply live from day to day. Sometimes the important things are not brought to the fore until we experience a life-changing event. It is then that we recognize the importance of the transcendent notions of hope, faith, and love, which are too often obscured by the sometimes gritty reality of daily living.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author named Anna Quindlen, who is acclaimed for documenting the transcendent in the everyday, describes it this way: "It was not until the aftermath of my mother's death that I began to realize that I would have to fashion a life for myself . . . Up until that point, life had fashioned me. There had been almost no decisions for me to make, in part because I was not permitted to make them, and in part because I saw no path other than the one I was on.
"I went to school, did well, came home, ate dinner, finished my homework, went to bed. I fought with my brothers and loved--but did not know--my parents. I wore what my friends wore and said the kinds of things they said . . . There were . . . good reasons not to interfere with such a life."
With her mother's death on a January night, Quindlen wrote, "a kind of earthquake in the center of my life shook everything up, and left me to rearrange the pieces . . . I have had to approach some simple tasks in new ways . . . what I have learned since that January night many years ago is that life is not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on . . . Muddling through the middle. . . . Living out loud."
As Quindlen found--and as I believe, too--we need not look far for inspiration, for individuals whose remarkable lives give us pause, for individuals who give us the faith to blend sense and sensitivity. You are all inspirational. You mark a great achievement this day and you deserve to go forward with great hope.
Let us look for inspiration, too, from individuals all around us--like the five women whose personal stories are chronicled in a book called Composing a Life. Each is remarkable for her accomplishments and for her approach to life. The first, the wife of psychologist Erik Erikson, is a dancer, writer, and jewelry designer; the second is the first black woman president of Spelman College; the third is a psychiatrist and researcher on homelessness; the fourth is an entrepreneur and an electrical engineer who contributed to Skylab; and the fifth is the author of the book--the daughter of anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson--who has spent much of her career in higher education.
They all agree on what helped them to succeed: It was hope, faith, and love in themselves and in others. This, they realized, is what is important in life. This is what matters. The changes in their lives--births and deaths, marriages and divorces, career changes and unexpected decisions--all taught the same lesson: To understand what is important and to make it a priority.
The author, Mary Catherine Bateson, describes it like this: "Each of us constructs a life that is her own central metaphor for thinking about the world. . . . Mostly, they look like ongoing improvisations, quite ordinary sequences of day-to-day events. . . . [but] each one is a message of possibility."
And with each message of possibility comes an irrefutable responsibility. It is the responsibility to use your intellect to help you work from your heart, despite all manner of change and adversity. As Bateson wrote, it is not for us "to confirm what is" but "to imagine what could be," and to weave it into our lives.
Hope, faith, and love: These are what make life meaningful. These are what is important.
If you believe this, you too will compose a good life.
That is my hope for you, the Class of 1997.
Congratulations and God bless you.
Penn's 1997 Baccalaureate Speaker, Mme. Simone Veil, the former French Minister of State for Social, Health and Urban Affairs. Photo by Tommy Leonardi
It is a great honor for me to be named Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Pennsylvania, and I give my warmest thanks to the President and the Board of this venerable university for having chosen me.
Nevertheless, I ask myself why I have been chosen, and it is that question that I will try to develop further.
When I received your letter advising me of your choice, many memories from my school days came back to me: I remembered that your town was founded at the end of the 17th century by William Penn, a visionary who intended to build a "city of fraternal love." For this reason, Philadelphia quickly became the "Athens of Colonial America,"and was going to play a very important part in the history of the rising United States of America.
I tried to refresh my memory: I verified that it was in 1776, in Philadelphia, that the Colonial Congress voted for the independence of the federation. And that it was in 1787, still in Philadelphia, that the American constitution was approved, making Philadelphia, until 1800, the seat of the federal government. And she was the first capital of the United States.
But in my mind, Philadelphia is also linked with the memory of a man considered by the French to be the most illustrious of all Americans, I mean to say Benjamin Franklin, who made his career in Philadelphia and was the city's representative from 1751 to 1764 and was the founder of your University.
Remember that Benjamin Franklin was the first American Ambassador to France. He was regarded as a pioneer in the defense of liberty, of the coming human rights, and of the declaration of independence.
I told you that I had asked myself why I have been given the honor of being chosen by you to receive this distinction. I know that the dream of the founders of this country was to give to the world a model of democracy, and to see in Europe, as on this side of the Atlantic, the founding of a United States of Europe. This was a great subject of discussion all through the 19th century on our side of the Atlantic, as, for example, you can still read in the works of Victor Hugo.
So, perhaps, this honorary doctorate is above all awarded to the first President of the European Parliament, a parliament which may have appeared to many Americans as the first step toward a United States of Europe.
It seems to me that I am receiving this honorary doctorate because I am a very firm believer in Europe, and, I hope, a very believable European. Because in my youth, among the innumerable victims of the Nazi barbarism, my faith in Europe found its prime source, in my wish to see the nations of Europe cease their suicidal behavior after so many wars, and, particularly for the last war, so much barbarity. I am a European in favor a greater solidarity among men and peoples, and first and foremost, among Europeans.
I would like to talk about something I believe to be very important and that was absolutely ignored by both the constitution born of your country's first constitutional convention, and that stemming from the French revolution--that is the role of women in our societies.
It took a century for that issue to arise, and two centuries to see the beginnings of a solution to it.
I am not particularly feminist, but I am surely in favor of giving the same rights to men and to women and I have attempted, all through my political career, to make progress in this matter.
In that domain, the role played by American women was paradigmatic. Very few Europeans today even know that the International Day of Women on May 8th is an American initiative. The European suffragettes at the beginning of this century, however, modeled themselves on their sisters across the Atlantic.
This honorary doctorate also seems to me to be a tribute to the work of those women who, slowly but surely, in Europe, are finding their way in the world of politics.
If we are to speak of politics, let us remember that the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, the first American academy, was very active in the creation of American political science, and very active in the creation of a new science, sociology, which, in our century, with anthropology, is considered to be the main American scientific contribution to social and human science.
I presume that the distinction with which you honor me today is also a reminder of centuries-old relationship between France and the United States. Thus, all over the world, your university's reputation for its efforts to dispel stereotypes, to reduce misunderstandings among intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic and thereby to seek answers to shared problems, is well established. I am thinking of the development of initiatives to establish social peace and peace among peoples; I am thinking of the directing or emerging technologies for promoting the creation of jobs for the youth; I am thinking of the creation of strong cultural links across national boundaries. And above all, I believe that the business of the university is not only to produce but to diffuse knowledge, considered by all to be the incorporeal, good of permanent value, as the main starting point for the building of a better future. In this increasingly complex world, on the eve of the third millennium, the emphasis must be on the interface between technology and science, and between science and culture.
Under what conditions can the academic community work for the creative process in support of the never-ending search for a better life in a friendly society and environment? And finally, how must students prepare themselves and be prepared by their masters in order to receive the most and the best that universities can provide them?
These are, along with others, the questions faced by universities and their communities in their mutual effort to answer the demands of modern societies. The changes in the way of being and having inside our societies almost all over the world make it obvious that we need a "new contract" between students and universities, and between universities and other authorities in the political, economic and social realms. This new contract must be established in order to respond to the challenges of the upcoming century. I must take into consideration the aspirations of the youth for self-accomplishment inside our ever-changing environment, the respect of the experience of the elders, and, surely, it has to convince decision- and opinion-makers of the need to offer the advantages of knowledge, of culture, and of science to a large number of people.
That is a necessary condition if they wish, in answer to Europe's plea, to fight unemployment and, in answer to the plea of American society, to build the forces for eradicating violence of all kinds: man's violence against his fellow man, but also against himself; I am thinking of drugs, rape, murder. Surely universities are the place where knowledge is shared in a confident atmosphere and during a period of life when one nourishes dreams and has the strength and the time to make them work in everyday reality, now and in the future. Let me say that it is what I have experienced myself in my own academic endeavors. In a Europe which experienced the humiliation of man by man and on behalf of man. That is how I describe the disaster caused by fascism, nazism and communism.
It seems to me that definitely it is against that perversion of humanitarian values that we must build our own humanism. It must be founded on the principle of enhancing for all, all the advantages that freedom, culture, science, knowledge and art can procure. All men, regardless of gender, economic or social condition must enjoy the goods of civilization and of culture freely. That is in my mind the ultimate aim of education. Let us make the books speak to everybody; that is surely the highest achievement that high education can serve: to prepare young people for an intergenerational solidarity; to give them the possibility to realize how enriching mutual respect for others is for all; and to see what an exciting life is the one based on the willingness to share efforts to improve, for man's sake, the conditions of life and the instruments for action; and to understand how fundamental it is to innovate the forces for building a better tomorrow. All these are what the academic community aspires to achieve.
At any rate, I shall underline that in my mind, no other institution but the university has been charged by the citizens with such an exciting mission. No other community may procure a more effective spiritual component for a courageous, rewarding and happy life based on justice. No one more than students may be better prepared to face the complexity of the modern world. And this, because they are the only people to have the privilege of living with their fellows in the center of a world whose critical mass allows them to create more knowledge, new tools for managing the forces of well-being, of giving and sharing--a world that has the capacity to face adversity in this often unfriendly society.
My message to people like you would be double: first, don't forget that you are the over-privileged ones, having the moral and material advantages, and second, remember that this position makes you the models for the accomplishment of man's highest aspirations. Any future success will be your own. But your failure will also be our failure; it will have universal effects. In this world, where no man is an island, you are in the limelight; everyone keeps their eyes on you.
You carry our hopes; you can make our dreams a reality. One piece of advice: mind your step before you begin to climb. Students, young women and young men, from the bottom of my heart, I wish you good luck for your life.
A Sense of Identity
by Vivian Center Seltzer
Trustees and Officers of the University, President Rodin, Provost Chodorow, Dr. Cosby, honorees, deans and faculty, graduates, relatives and friends of the graduates: On behalf of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania I bring you greetings and congratulations. To the graduates, I extend congratulations and our respects. Today the faculty, along with your families and friends share pride in your achievements. You have earned a degree from a great university!
Let me share a few words with you, the graduates, before as is said around Penn these days, you go off to "get a life".
It has been a long time since anyone asked you "what" you will be when you grow up. Today you can reply (okay, at least most of you can). In order to advance your efforts to answer the "what" question, the course of education at Penn encourages critical observations by surrounding you with diversity of people and situations to stretch your mind and expand your soul. Your professors encourage you to pursue original explorations and creative configurations toward new discoveries just as their own academic activities model the notion that "a theory is never proved, only supported" -- giving life to continuing inquiry, essence to The Penn educational philosophy.
Explorations of What will I be? necessarily link with investigation into Who am I?; this search for one's identity begins rather early in life, at 11 or 12, when our body tells us we are on our way to adulthood. It is not surprising that in a complex western nation such as ours this search for self definition takes a long time. It extends well beyond the teenage years into the four undergraduate years and even beyond, even into graduate study.
Why does settling on a "sense of identity" take so long? Since the essence of self definition is more than a collection of facts, a sense of identity must tie facts, feelings, and perceptions from the past, with those of the present and those about the future. It must incorporate data not only about self but about self in relation to others --requiring many assessments and repeated reassessments. Achieving a sense of identity stretches over What will I be? (my career) and How will I be? (my personality) to Who shall I be? (my character,my values, my attitudes, my actions. Hammering out "identity" seizes time and energy. I suspect many graduates are aware of the hours spent at Penn trying out different postures on a variety of issues in relation to a panorama of personalities even as you tended to academic studies and carried out other responsibilities.
In truth, two diplomas should be awarded today. Your academic achievement is recognized in beautifully engraved parchment. The other diploma--for "maturational headway"-- is unseen, private--but deeply experienced; an affidavit to the concentrated identity work you focused and integrated here at Penn.
Yet a further question arises: How to best use what I am? Who can I be? Today, we live in a dramatically enlarged world. Technological strides tantalize us with "virtual" possibilities, but offer paradoxical dilemmas. We worry about isolation while guarding privacy; we clone "Dolly" but need to assess its ethical implications. DNA identifies an English gentleman as descendent to Cheddar Man who lived 9,000,000 years ago. The Englishman's candid response mirrors what we all experience: "It's a bit to get your head around." Is it not!
What will I be? How shall I be? You ponder these old dilemmas in a new age . But, graduates, the question that moves to the front and takes on new intensity is the Who can I be? question. How can I help advance my society, and thus become a successful human being? How can I, just one individual, contribute to civility and to the quality of life of those others alongside whom I will spend my own apportioned time?
As the 21st century dawns, permit me to reference an ancient text which might offer a relevant and quite reasonable approach to this dilemma in these times, from Pirke Avoth, Sayings of the Fathers--
From portion 20:
The day is short and the work is great.
From portion 21:
It is not for thee to complete the work,
but neither are thou free to desist from it.
Graduates, your teachers facilitated your preparation. Now, From all of us: Good luck!
Hey, hey, hey.
I'll make this very short so you can get out of here now. They had you fooled. You think this is something special to sit in the sun and pass out. Four years of higher education and you're sitting in the sun and you pass out. And your folks up there waiting for you because they've got some things to tell you about the house.
I have two important... first things first. First of all, those of you who took a "C" in a couple of courses here, I'd like you to write the professors a letter and apologize. Because you could have done better, you just didn't want to. And I've spoken to these professors, they're crying. And they're not too thrilled because they think they failed.
Number two: you're in debt. That's why your folks want to talk to you. You got a degree now they expect you to work your way out of it. Those people are back there not to receive you but to shake your hand and let you know you don't live there anymore. It's a wonderful example of how to get rid of your kids finally.
The third thing is, I want you to pay off your student loans. Now this is super important because there are people coming behind you. Or else just let write a note and tell the people you're not going to pay the loan off because you don't want anybody coming behind you. They offer you a note. Now let's get to the funny part.
In terms of your life from this point on, it's no big deal. You've got a lot of time now. Not to stay at home, not to sponge off of anybody, but just to develop yourself and getting going.
I want to give you an example of something. Mrs. Cosby and I were in South Africa recently. And we went to this place, Robben Island. We had a chance to sit next to and talk to the political prisoners. And of course having the knowledge of television, radio, books, magazines, newspapers, all over the media, we had an idea of the beatings, the mistreatment, the inhumane acts on these political prisoners. And, of course, our feelings, as we listen to these men talk about days in the sun, facing the white, lime rock with the guards overhead. And the dust from the lime rock going into the lungs. And the blinding reflection of the sun off the white rock causing bad eyesight after 18 to 30 years. To ask permission to have a sip of water, to ask permission to go to the bathroom, to have to hide the fact that you are teaching a criminal prisoner how to read because it was against the law, to draw letters into the dust made from the lime rock the letter "a", and teach that criminal that this was a letter and how it sounds. To listen to these men, prisoners for 18 years. To listen to men tell us how, how for three meals a day they served up grains three different ways and how for breakfast they gave a teaspoon of brown sugar on top and how every morning he ate in a circle until he got to that brown part and that was the last--that brown sugar--was the last and most tasty morsel. And then at lunch a piece of meat about the size of the tip of your little finger, the part that bends. They would drop it and it would go into the bottom and he would eat around the same kinds of grains until he got to that meat which was last. And how at dinner there was brussel sprout and a piece of broccoli dropped into the center and how he ate around the center until he got to that vegetable.
This was some 27 years, this was some 18 years to our political prisoners. And the first question when these men finished telling me stories because we were there and we saw it and we could almost feel it. The question was when the time came and you were free did you get them? And the answer, ladies and gentlemen, was no. We didn't have time to worry about revenge because we had goals. We didn't have time, we didn't want to bother to stop and strike out at someone because our goals were in front of us. And we had to move on because that's why we were doing what we were doing.
And so for all of you, here, my friends and to make a pun, my children. All of you, set your goals. You'll have time for revenge and you'll have time for anger. Yes, I know that those of you born in the United States of America were told and made to feel and you told yourselves this that there's a special place for you and that degree. You should have a job, you should be graced, you should have a check. But this is not true. The United States of America was not founded on giving a gift to every person born except one: opportunity.
Because you are what you are and what you are told before you got this degree. All you have is opportunity. And I'll tell you why it's rich and beautiful. Because you haven't had a chance to see it the way immigrants see it. Those of you born here in the United States of America don't really know the word opportunity.
But I'll tell you what. Meet an immigrant. Whether that person is driving a cab or picking trash or washing windows. They have a goal and they know that this is the land of opportunity. And you have to be responsible. So I don't want you to be angry today because you don't have the job you want, because you graduated from the University of Pennsylvania but you didn't get exactly what you wanted or you're not working. Because ladies and gentlemen, this is the land of opportunity. You were born into this, now work it. Work it the same way a person coming from Russia, coming from the Caribbean, coming from China, coming from Thailand, this is your country. Work your own opportunity.
Last week before Commencement, the honorary degree recipients and friends paused for a group portrait. Standing behind Ben Franklin and President Judith Rodin,were (left to right): Commencement Speaker Dr. Bill Cosby (who received the honorary degree in 1990), Dr. Shirley Sears Chater, Trustees Chair Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, Dr. Louis Sokoloff, Dr. Charles K. Williams, II, The Hon. Richard A. Posner, Gary Graffman, Dr. William H. Danforth, Dr. Ahmed H. Zewail, and Mme. Simone Veil, who was also the Baccalaureate Speaker. Photo by Mark Garvin
Volume 43 Number 35
May 20, 1997
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