Everything New under the Sun

by Judith Rodin

Welcome, Class of 2003!

What a class you are, and what a pleasure it is to welcome you to Penn. Beginning tonight, at this Convocation, you are embarking on a wonderful journey, one that Provost Barchi, the faculty, deans, and your fellow Penn students look forward to sharing with you. It is a journey I took at Penn as a student in the 1960s, and one that still inspires me today.

This Convocation ushers in a new era for you. Tomorrow morning, as the adage goes, you will find everything new under the sun. Discoveries. Awakenings. Ideas. Friends. New ways of life.

Always remember that you are outstanding students--at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the greatest institutions of higher learning in the nation and the world.

You will carry on the legacy of Penn's founder, the great statesman Benjamin Franklin. America's first scientist founded Penn, America's first university, in the birthplace of American democracy--the great city of Philadelphia.

You join the ranks of alumni who founded the United States, and those who fought for democracy and changed the course of world history. You join the ranks of alumni who have risen to the top of every profession and life's work, and you will add to this great legacy.

Each of you brings your own unique talents and fresh ideas to this historic University. Build upon them. Challenge them. Nourish them. Exploit them.

When I was sitting where you are-when I was a freshman at Penn-I remember feeling many emotions: excitement, anticipation, eagerness, nervousness. I also vividly recall a feeling of uncertainty. What would Penn really be like? Would I make friends? Would I meet expectations? Exceed them?

I quickly found out what Penn was really like, and I loved it. I loved the intellectual stimulation, the beauty of the campus, the City of Philadelphia, the world at my doorstep.

The same world is open to you, even more so and even better than when I was a student. Our academic programs are exceptional--innovative, challenging, encouraging. Our faculty are committed and dedicated scholars and teachers.

Provocative undergraduate research and interdisciplinary study are not the exception at Penn-they are the norm. Ask the more than forty College students who recently received University grants for their research on such diverse topics as: the U.N. and Irish civil rights; non-spatial task-functioning of the brain; and music performance in Islamic and Judaic mysticism. Ask the Engineering students who just qualified for the National Sunrayce 1999 in a solar-powered car which they designed and built themselves. Ask the Nursing students involved with the Advance Practice Program in Health Leadership. Or ask the Wharton students in last year's Management 100 course who worked with colleagues to have an impact on life in our surrounding neighborhoods.

Each of these instances--and I have named only a handful--involves students taking the initiative to create bridges, to explore, to turn their uncertainty into knowledge and experience.

New spaces for study and reflection also continue to emerge all over campus. In fact, yours will be the first class to use the bright new undergraduate study center in Van Pelt Library on College Green. Writers House and Civic House are looking forward to having you frequent their programs and coffee hours, adding your energy to their dynamic efforts. Your class just inaugurated the freshly renovated Irvine Auditorium during the performances of Copenhagen. Irvine will host wonderful performances of all kinds for you this year.

There is so much to do and learn here. Explore broadly and well.

Last year, a recent Penn alumna told a group of freshmen that one of the greatest gifts that Penn affords you is the opportunity to become "close friends with people who are nothing at all like you."

I agree, and in your class, there is ample opportunity to meet and become friends with students from all over the world, and those virtually from your own backyard. The Class of 2003 includes students from every U.S. state and from 65 countries. There are also 129 students from the many neighborhoods in Philadelphia--Penn's hometown--which is also my hometown.

Collectively, the Class of 2003 is a stellar group, and I hope you will take delight in learning of one another's individual achievements. Sitting next to you may be Amanda, who was junior mayor of Cape Town, South Africa. Or Dario, who escaped from Bosnia wearing a priest's collar. Or Rachel, who sang for Pope John Paul the Second. Or John-who goes by "Robbie"-and who is a bass player and founder of his own swing band. Or Melissa, who speaks Tibetan.

Among you are scores of valedictorians and salutatorians; student journalists; National Honor Society members; athletes; students who have started their own businesses; students who are the latest generation in their families to come to Penn, and students who are the first in their families to attend college. Whatever you bring to our campus, each of you brings something special.

Sitting next to you may be a fellow freshman who shares your interest in ultimate Frisbee, or Lauryn Hill, Green Day, or Ricky Martin; or someone who enjoys theoretical discussions about the environment; or who adores horror films and wants to see The Sixth Sense--for the seventh time.

Each of you brings singular abilities and interests. Each of you was chosen to be part of Penn's Class of 2003 because you are special in your own way. Always remember that. I have every reason to believe that you will exceed our expectations, and your own.

Gaining knowledge. Creating knowledge. Imparting knowledge. These are the reasons we are here. Using knowledge wisely, using knowledge well--these are the tasks before us all as members of an academic community.

Be proud. Learn from each other. Enjoy each other. And take good care of each other, academically and socially. Be safe and be smart.

I welcome you to the University of Pennsylvania, and look forward to watching you grow in knowledge and the certainty of your path in life.

Good luck to each of you.


Stretching to New Levels

by Robert Barchi

Members of the Class of 2003, it is my great pleasure to join the President in formally welcoming you to the University of Pennsylvania. What a fantastic time to be joining our community of scholars.

During my 25 years as a teacher and scientist on Penn's campus, I have witnessed an amazing procession of advances in our fund of knowledge. Many of these you may already take for granted: man on the moon; personal computers with gigabytes of storage. Others have probably surprised even you: cloning sheep and genes that improve memory. And the pace of discovery continues to build; each year bringing even more exciting advances than the last.

Of course, each new answer raises a dozen new questions, and the opportunities for intellectual discovery have never been richer than they are right now.

I would love to be starting my own academic adventure over again. But the time is yours: embrace this opportunity to grow and to learn, as you begin your intellectual journey with us tonight.

You've all heard those stories about bootcamp training where new recruits are told to look to their right and look to their left and know that of every three individuals who start, only one will make it through the program.

Your experience here will be very different. We know that we have already selected the very best and the very brightest students in the world. Of the students who surround each of you now, more than 90 percent will march onto Franklin Field for graduation. Our job is to help you grow, not to "weed you out."

We want you to succeed here, just as you did in high school. Each of you was among the intellectual elite of your class. At Penn, you will be surrounded by peers who are equally talented, and who will greatly enrich your experience here. However, expectations within this unique community of scholars will be high; you will have to stretch. We are committed to assisting each of you so that you can meet the intellectual challenges that lay ahead.

In this university, with its world-class faculty, with its twelve schools and with its wealth of graduate programs, you will have access to a remarkable spectrum of opportunities.

However, at this critical stage in your educational journey the initiative shifts largely to you: you must seek out challenge, seize opportunity and create your own path. This is a defining moment for you; a transition between a world that is familiar and was created for you and one that is for now largely unknown and will be created by you.

Penn is constantly humming with intellectual discovery. It is also abuzz with social, recreational and cultural opportunities that will help make your undergraduate years unforgettable. During the next four years you will form close and lasting bonds with your classmates. Many of these new friendships will endure; one may turn into a marriage; another, a best friend for life.

As you become a member of this new family, this community of scholars, I urge you to consider the responsibility that each of you has to one another. Look out for your friends; take a moment to be sure that your roommate or classmate is okay. Contribute to our community in as many ways as you can--certainly academically. But also consider giving a bit more of yourself to this new and treasured place; take your civic responsibilities seriously. Be aware; think fun, but think smart.

You will define Penn during your four years here. It is your energy and enthusiasm that will carry this campus through its joys and through its difficult times.

Members of the Class of 2003, you are a very special group to me.

Although I am practically a Penn lifer, I became Provost just last January; and you are the first class I've had the opportunity to welcome. So in a sense we will go through these four full years together, learning as we go and I am sure, sharing many of the same triumphs and tribulations.

As we begin our time together, what I wish for you is this: That in four years you will say that you have learned and grown beyond your wildest expectations; that you felt a true sense of community and brotherhood with your peers and with your faculty mentors. That you stretched your minds to new levels of knowledge and insight.

That your intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge reached new heights. That you felt supported and secure. That you made lasting memories. That you are eager to start your new life but will sorely miss the Red and Blue.

In your four years at Penn, I wish for you endless discovery, unlimited imagination, enduring friendships and satisfying achievements. Grow wisely. And enjoy every possible minute you can in this extraordinary place and in this exceptional time of learning and discovery.


Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 3, September 14, 1999