Commencement / Baccalaureate 2000
J. RODIN | S. HEANEY
| L. GROSS | IMAGES
The Tipping Points
Remarks at Baccalaureate by Judith Rodin, President of
Graduates of the Class of 2000, families, friends, deans, members of
the faculty, Reverend Butts, and all honored guests: In song, in heartfelt
words, and in prayer, we express the joy we all share on this beautiful
Graduates, today and tomorrow we will give you your hard-earned diplomas
and a rousing send-off, filled with cheers, a few tears, and our wishes
for a happy journey through life.
At today's Baccalaureate Service, however, those of us who have helped
and watched you blossom into amazing young men and women feel a lot like
your parents. We know you will move on shortly to start new lives, careers,
and for many of you, eventually, families of your own.
But right now, we just want to hold on to you a little bit longer and
try to tell you how much you have meant to us, how proud we are of you,
and how much we will miss you.
I would like to share my own observations about this very special Class
of 2000, and the lasting impacts it has made on this University. These young
men and women made an immediately strong impression on me when I first met
them at the Freshmen Convocation four years ago. I knew they were bringing
superior academic credentials and an abundance of talents. That much was
clear from their applications.
I also knew they would thrive in this enriched undergraduate academic
setting that we had designed to fulfill the vision of Benjamin Franklin
to unite theory and practice, knowledge and service, teaching and research.
But it wasn't until Freshmen Convocation and the weeks that followed that
I noticed other qualities that would make this a truly special class--qualities
you don't always discern on an application: I saw students whose intellectual
curiosity and appetite for learning would take them well outside their classrooms
and individual schools to partake of the moveable feast that the Penn campus
and Philadelphia offer. I saw students whose drive and ambition would lead
them to engage their professors and their West Philadelphia neighbors as
partners in learning and problem-solving. I saw students who could be exemplars
for Dr. Franklin's ideals of "joining inclination and ability to serve
Mankind, one's Country, Friends and Family." In short, I saw students
who could have as profound an impact on this University as we hoped it would
have on them.
In a Daily Pennsylvanian profile that fall, one of your fellow
students--University Scholar Barbara Zaucer--captured this exciting sense
of fruitful reciprocity when she said, "Penn is a university becoming.
It's growing and developing now. So am I." How prophetic you were,
Against the tableau of this beautiful, vital urban campus, you and your
classmates have grown and developed into a vanguard of young women and men
who can connect what you know to real-world problem solving--because one
way or another, you have already done it.
Many of you have made the connection by completing challenging academically-based
service learning courses that enabled you to work collaboratively with your
neighbors to improve the quality of life in West Philadelphia. Many of you
have made the connection by taking the entrepreneurial skills you have learned
in the classroom to help businesses grow and thus create more private sector
jobs, which itself is a noble act of public service. Many of you have made
the connection through your clinical work in hospitals and health clinics,
or through your lab work as undergraduate research assistants. And many
of you have made the connection by contributing your time, your voices,
your ideas, your energy, and your talents to a myriad of campus organizations--from
the performing arts and athletics, to campus publications, radio and television,
to political and religious organizations. In short, you have done much more
than study at Penn and master a discipline.
You have lived the life of a University that forces you to realize and
express your fullest humanity as a citizen in our democracy. Now you are
ready to till what our Commencement speaker Seamus Heaney
refers to in the first of his Glanmore Sonnets as "opened ground."
I would like to quote a couple of lines from that poem--because I believe
they reach the heart of Penn's primary mission to prepare young men and
women for meaningful lives of leadership and service. Dr. Heaney writes:
"Now the good life could be to cross a field And art a paradigm of
earth new from the lathe of ploughs." The image of an open field that
will be shaped and reshaped by the cut of a plow is a wonderful metaphor
for the opportunity each of you has to fashion a good life.
I know from experience--and I think my fellow alumni would agree--that
Penn provides its graduates with the foundation for a good life. Our superb
faculty do not just do outstanding teaching of their disciplines. What one
student said in praise of geology professor Gomaa
Omar, a Provost Award winner, captures the essence of teaching at Penn:
"I learned as much about life as I did about rocks." Our faculty
truly do outstanding field work in life and go to great lengths to share
their findings with their students. In that context, I firmly believe that
your Penn education and Penn experiences will sustain and fortify you throughout
Indeed, your class president, Lisa Marshall, eloquently expressed how
much Penn has done for her and her fellow students. But I would like everyone
here to know how much the students have done for Penn and how so many individual
acts have collectively had a lasting impact on the University and the community.
I think Malcolm Gladwell describes this phenomenon perfectly in his best-selling
book, The Tipping Point. Gladwell defines "the tipping point"
as "one dramatic moment when everything can change all at once,"
where new ideas, messages, and behaviors supplant old ones. Gladwell dismisses
the notion that the world is an immovable, implacable place whose problems
are insolvable. "With the slightest push--in just the right place,"
he writes, the world "can be tipped."
Over the past four years, I have seen a lot of tipping going on at Penn
and throughout West Philadelphia. And we have tipped for the better.
Drawing on Barbara Zaucer's remark, Penn could not have grown and developed
into the nation's preeminent urban research university without the creativity,
the energy, and devotion to community that come from our students.
When students engaged their professors to blaze new trails of inquiry
or reform the curriculum, that was a tipping point.
When students contributed their time and ideas toward enhancing all aspects
of campus life, that was a tipping point.
When students in Professor Daniel Bogen's bioengineering seminar started
inventing toys for disabled children, that was a tipping point.
When our men's basketball team won their second straight Ivy League title
and our women's squash team won the national championship with an uncommon
blend of athletic grace and class, those were big-time tipping points.
When students from all walks of life, disciplines and backgrounds came
together to learn and grow at the Civic House or Writers' House, those were
tipping points toward creating more dynamic communities at Penn.
Together, these tipping points illuminate a deeper truth: At any moment,
an individual word or deed that is energized with love, thoughtfulness,
compassion, and respect for others can do wonders. At any moment, you can
be a decisive force for change because you can inspire others to accomplish
great things. At any moment, you can bring people closer together to build
and nourish beloved communities.
Penn is meeting its goal and obligation to be of West Philadelphia
because our students have engaged that community in a spirit of mutually
respectful listening and learning. Penn's campus has an energy and vitality
unsurpassed anywhere because our students really have loved being here and
treated their time here as a privilege and a blessing.
Perhaps the most profound truth of all is this: What makes Penn not only
great but truly distinct is the loyalty and responsibility our students
show to the future.
Think about it: Graduating seniors will not see or enjoy the fruits of
many of their labors--such as an enhanced curriculum, campus life improvements,
and a new wave of growth and hope in West Philadelphia. Nor will they be
here to see the completion of the Class of 2000 walk through Perelman Quad,
which will be funded with a class gift that shattered the previous records
for generosity and participation. But future classes will.
Yet none of this seems to have diminished the pride and joy our seniors
derived from their efforts. They knew they were serving future generations,
including perhaps their own children. They knew they were giving back.
That kind of devotion, which every parent and grandparent here can understand,
reminds me of something Mother Theresa said. She had taken her witness of
love and healing to help the victims of famine in Ethiopia during the 1980s.
A journalist asked her, "How can you tend to the sick and dying knowing
you will not be successful with everyone?"
"We are not here to be successful," Mother Theresa replied.
"We are here to be faithful."
That is what our Penn parents instilled in their children, and what we
have tried to cultivate on campus: Faith in a vision of a better world that
is based on a keen awareness of our universal responsibility and interdependency.
Graduates, I urge you to keep that faith and to conduct your lives with
love, compassion, and respect for others. Keep on tipping and pushing the
world toward a better tomorrow. God bless you all.
J. RODIN | S. HEANEY | L. GROSS | IMAGES
The following remarks are those that Commencement Speaker Seamus Heaney
intended to deliver, but due to the inclement weather he delivered a shortened
version of his prepared speech.
The Commencement Address by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney
The invitation to be your commencement speaker was a great honor but
it made me anxious as well. How, I asked myself, can one person address
a crowd of 25,000 and hope to establish any kind of worthwhile contact?
The odds against it would seem to be high. As a poet, as a member of a large
family, as the native of a small country, I know that shared historical
experience and shared personal memories and even indeed a shared accent
may be necessary before any really credible exchange can take place. I have
always loved, for example, the story of the anthropologist who was doing
field work in a community of the Inuit people living up close to the Arctic
circle. Why, the anthropologist asked a wise woman of the tribe, why are
all your songs so short? And the wise woman replied, our songs are all so
short because we know so much. In other words, the experience of living
as a single people in a single place, where each new generation follows
the same old paths--such an experience produced a wonderful, enviable confidence
about the reliability and the knowability of the world.
But that experience of living in a closely knit, ethnically homogeneous,
hermetically sealed culture is everywhere a thing of the past. The Amish
carriage now shares the highway with the Mercedes car; the Australian bushman
may still go walkabout, but he goes connected up to his Walkman; the recluse
in the beach-hut north of Sausalito may look like a beach-comber, but he
is probably an internet millionaire, scouting his next coup, on his way
home to cross the Silicon. Living in the world of the year two thousand
means that you inhabit several different psychic and cultural levels at
the same time. And the marvelous thing about us as human beings is that
we have been provided with a whole system of intellectual and imaginative
elevators that whisk us from floor to floor, at will and on whim.
In the nineteenth century, it was still possible for poets and visionaries
to dream that the complications and distractions of modernity could be avoided.
Matthew Arnold deplored what he called "the strange disease of modern
life/With its sick hurry, its divided aims" and wanted to retreat into
the rural beauty of the English countryside. In a similar mood, Henry David
Thoreau was drawn to Walden Pond and William Butler Yeats to the Lake Isle
of Innisfree. But nowadays, such retreat is hardly possible.
You can think about the change positively, of course. If retreat is no
longer possible, its loss has been compensated for by boundless opportunities
for access. Dreams of unlocking the sites of knowledge and power--dreams
that used to be enshrined in the words "Open Sesame"--these have
to a large extent been realized in the magic formula that goes www. dot.com.
This is the world of globalization where one thing can impinge unexpectedly
and often drastically upon another; so much so that we no longer have any
difficulty in entertaining the theory that the shake of a butterfly's wing
in one part of the world is going to produce a tornado in another. And this
is the world that commences for you in earnest after this commencement.
Today is the moment of ritual separation from what was for a while a reliable
and relatively knowable world. We can think of it as a rite of passage from
the nest to the sky, from the dens where you were fended for into the fields
where you will have to fend for yourself. No wonder there is an out of the
ordinariness about this morning's ceremonies.
There is a dream-like quality to every commencement day. But the veil
trembles more mysteriously if you are graduating in the year 2000. It makes
you wonder if the date is a destiny or an accident. A turning point in your
life has coincided with a turning point in our era. It is like the moment
when a tide has risen to its highest and then rests: everything is at the
full and yet everything is volatile. And for the duration of this moment,
you are held between two worlds. It's like those few seconds when you pause
and hold the pose, and are photographed standing between your parents and
Today, inevitably, many of you will experience this in-between condition.
You stand at a boundary. Behind you is your natural habitat, as it were,
the grounds of your creaturely being, the old haunts where you were nurtured;
in front of you is a less knowable prospect of invitation and challenge,
the testing ground of your possibilities. You stand between whatever binds
you to your past and whatever might be unbounded in your future.
One kind of wisdom says, keep your feet on the ground. Be faithful to
the ancestors. Remember the short songs of the wise woman. Another says
lift up your eyes. Spread your wings. Don't renege on the other world you
have been shown. One kind of wisdom says if you change your language, you
betray your origins. Another kind says all language is preparation for further
language. All of you are likely to be caught between these conflicting wisdoms
and indeed you are unlikely ever to be able to choose confidently between
them, now or in the future. And so my advice to you is to understand that
this inbetween condition is not to be regarded as a disabling confusion
but that it is rather a necessary state, a consequence of our situation
between earthy origin and angelic potential. And I want to give you two
images and then one question and one answer, in order to fix my advice in
The first image comes from Rome in classical times, and it has to do
with the figure of Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries. Because I myself
am from Northern Ireland, from an island where the border between the north
and south of the country has created divisions, not only within the national
territory, but within the national psyche as well, and because moreover
there is a second, inner border in Northern Ireland between Nationalists
and Unionists, I have always been interested in this god of the borderline.
And in the Oxford Dictionary of Classical Mythology I once read--by
sheer accident--that the image of the god Terminus was kept in the Temple
of Jupiter, at a point where the temple was unroofed, open constantly to
the sky. In other words, even Terminus, the god of limits, refused to recognize
that limits are everything. The open sky above his head testified to his
yearning to escape the ground beneath his feet. As Hamlet said, you can
be bounded in a nutshell and yet count yourself king of infinite space.
So that is my first image for the way we are placed, as individuals and
as a species, between a given history and habitat and any imaginable future.
And the second image is as enigmatic and yet as readable as the first. This
time it is an image of a boat in the sky, an image which I once put into
a poem. The original story is told in the medieval annals of the monastery
of Clonmacnois in Ireland and it goes like this:
One day the monks of Clonmacnois were holding a meeting in the church,
and as they were deliberating they saw a ship sailing over them in the
air, going as if it were on the sea. When the crew of the ship saw the
meeting and the inhabited place below them, they dropped anchor and the
anchor came right down to the floor of the church and the priests seized
it. A man came down out of the ship after the anchor and he was swimming
as if he were in water, till he reached the anchor; and they were dragging
him down then. "For God's sake, let me go," said he, "for
you are drowning me." Then he left them, swimming in the air as before,
taking his anchor with him.
I have been entranced with this story ever since I first read it, and
I take it to be a kind of dream instruction, a parable about the necessity
of keeping the lines open between the two levels of our being, the level
where we proceed with the usual life of the meeting and the decision, and
the other level where the visionary and the marvelous present themselves
suddenly and bewilderingly. We must, in other words, be ready for both the
routine and the revelation. Never be so canny as to ignore the uncanny.
And finally, the question and the answer. This question and answer are
my equivalent of a short song inherited from the ancestors. I learnt them
when I was a boy at school, when I had to get my catechism by heart for
the religious knowledge class. Question: Who is my neighbor? Answer: My
neighbor is all mankind. I could comment on the significance of this, but
I don't think there's much need to. So let me instead just repeat my two
line poem entitled "The Catechism":
Q. and A. come back. They formed my mind.
"Who is my neighbor?" "My neighbor is all mankind."
These two images, and this question and answer, have a definite universal
appeal, and are vehicles of enduring truths. And I have shared them with
you this morning because of something I know and admire about the traditions
and achievements of the University of Pennsylvania. It seems to me that
the expansion of horizons and the transcending of boundaries are fundamental
to the vision of a university like yours, a university where the students
come from fifty different states and 118 different countries, where the
countries to inter-disciplinary studies has been of long-standing, and where
the founder Ben Franklin refused to acknowledge the boundary that is presumed
to exist in the field of education between everything that is useful and
everything that is ornamental. No wonder then that student volunteerism
and service-learning play such a large part in the work that is done here.
And no wonder that there has been such a commitment by the graduates and
faculty to the larger Philadelphia community, a commitment which was recently
praised by the School District Superintendent, David Hornbeck, when he said:
"What you see in service-learning is the walls falling away as the
classroom becomes the wider community."
Class of the year two thousand, the walls now fall away in earnest and
the classroom becomes the workroom of the wider world. Move about it confidently
and freely. Remember that the anchor of your being lies in human affection
and human responsibility, but remember also to keep swimming up into the
air of envisaged possibilities; and to keep on finding new answers to the
question that Franklin said was the noblest in the world, the question which
he himself framed and which asks, "What good may I do in the world?"
J. RODIN | S. HEANEY | L. GROSS | IMAGES
The Imaginative Consideration of Learning
Remarks at Commencement by Larry Gross, Chair of the
Graduates of the University of Pennsylvania's first class of the 21st
century, I bring the congratulations of the Faculty to you and to your family
and friends who have joined this happy occasion. You have earned a moment
of celebration as you cross a threshold and commence a new stage in your
Behind us is a century adorned by progress and marred by barbarism, and
much of both can be traced to the human capacity for combining farsightedness
and short-sightedness. The 20th century was the era of antibiotics but also
of the atom bomb; of astounding technological invention but also of global
pollution and ecological destruction. And the next century promises even
more dangers and challenges.
The terra incognita of the human genome is being mapped as we
speak. We stand at the threshold of a scientific gold-rush, but this is
not only a matter of interest to scientists and venture capitalists eager
to profit from their discoveries. We all have cause to be concerned because
the territory that may be fenced off or despoiled lies at the core of human
Universities are the crucibles in which the key discoveries of the past
century have been shaped, and those of us who have made our lives within
the academy, as well as those of you who have been passing through, must
remain at all times alert to the moral dimension of the academic enterprise.
The pursuit of knowledge is not a democratic enterprise, but the uses of
that knowledge must be open to democratic deliberation. Knowledge, we are
often reminded, is power, but we also know that power can corrupt, and it
corrupts most when we forget that knowledge without accountability is morally
If we have been successful in our task as educators it is not because
we have given you the knowledge you will need to confront the challenges
of the new century, but because we will have encouraged you to ask tough
questions, to treat conventional wisdom with suspicion, and never to accept
a Final Answer.
Alfred North Whitehead wrote that "the justification for a university
is that preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life,
by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning.
The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively."
And, he continued, "Youth is imaginative, and if the imagination be
strengthened by discipline this energy of imagination can in great measure
be preserved through life." If we have been successful we have exposed
you to the contagious disease of imagination, but inoculated you as well
I hope that you will never again speak the six words dreaded by teachers
everywhere: "Will this be on the final?" For one thing, as Franz
Kafka wrote in one of his notebooks, "it is only our conception of
time that permits us to speak of the Day of Judgment by that name, when
in reality it is a court in perpetual session." As you depart the protected
groves in which you have spent these past few years, you are likely entering
a world that does not measure time in semesters, nor accomplishments in
credit units. You will have to grade your own work--and not on a curve--and
you will have to set the standards that you will be judged by. If we have
been successful, then these standards will include a commitment to concerns
larger than the size of your paycheck or your office.
The philosopher Simone Weil wrote that, "If we know in what way
society is unbalanced, we must do what we can to add weight to the lighter
scale." This is a moral imperative that should be affixed to every
university diploma, because you all--because we all--are the beneficiaries
of such amazing and, frankly, such undeserved luck, in a world that contains
so much suffering and so much injustice. I do not think that it diminishes
in any way your accomplishments in arriving at this happy day, nor does
it denigrate the support and sacrifices of your families and friends, to
confess that we are among the lucky few to have the opportunity to pursue
the imaginative consideration of learning. And our debt can only be repaid
by our willingness to take stands--even occasionally by sitting in--to add
weight to the lighter scale.
J. RODIN | S. HEANEY | L. GROSS
Photos by Stuart Watson
The Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III, gave the 2000 Baccalaureate Address
in Irvine Auditorium after inclement weather prompted the need to opt for
an indoor venue rather than outside on College Green.
Ed Note: The Address given by The Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III,
was not available in written form at press time. We will post it to Almanac's
when it is available.
As the procession of some 5,000 Penn graduates passed the reviewing
stand in front of College Hall, the Penn Quaker joined the dignitaries and
others in applauding Dan Harrell, the decorated mop-toting, Palestra custodian
who earned his degree this year. His tenacity and determination did not
go unnoticed as he gained sudden notoriety on a nationally syndicated morning
television show and in newpapers. During the past decade he has not only
cleaned up the Palestra but has helped coach the Penn sprint football team
in addition to taking night classes toward his bachelor's degree in American
A number of other Penn staff also marched in the procession and earned
an assortment of degrees through CGS, Wharton Evening, GSE, and the Center
for Organizational Dynamics while holding down their full-time positions
throughout the University.
Franklin and Friends:
Carrying on the annual tradition of visiting Ben on the Bench, early
on Commencement morning, the honorary degree recipients joined their hosts
near the popular, seated life-sized bronze of Penn's founder.
President Judith Rodin was alongside Ben Franklin while Provost Robert
Barchi was flanked by the six honorary degree recipients for 2000.
From left to right:
Seamus Heaney, Ronald Dworkin, John Bahcall, Robert Barchi, Edward
Rendell, Mary Douglas, and Wynton Marsalis, who were accompanied by Trustees
Chairman James Riepe, far right.
J. RODIN | S. HEANEY | L. GROSS
Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 34, May 30, 2000
Awards | CONTENTS
& Promotions | Commencement
/ Baccalaureate 2000 | TALK
ABOUT TEACHING ARCHIVE | BETWEEN
ISSUES | SUMMER at PENN |