To this group of standouts, the class of 2004: It is a pleasure
to welcome you to Penn as you begin a challenging journey that--contrary
to rumor--will not resemble a four-year run of Survivor.
True, your professors will push you to the outer limits of your intellectual
capacities and beyond.
True, your mastery of your coursework will be tested early and often.
True, you might be encouraged (but never forced) to help build a Habitat
for Humanity House or solve a mind-bending problem.
And undoubtedly you will form alliances with classmates who will help
you make it through those rough passages.
But there is no need for alarm.
There are no totem pole contests, immunity challenges, or rewards for
No tribal peers will band together to summarily vote you off campus.
And as far as I know, no one will force you to eat a rat.
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, we at Penn are not looking to take you out,
shake you out, or fake you out. We want you to survive and thrive for the
next four years.
Our goal is to provide a transformational life experience, one in which
each of you grows intellectually, socially, and morally into outstanding
men and women who will make Penn and the world better than you found them.
Of course, transformation is a major theme of The Metamorphosis,
the book we all discussed this afternoon.
If Franz Kafka were living among us in Philadelphia, he might have penned
a variation of the transformation theme. It might begin something like
"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from anxious dreams of proseminars,
orientation sessions and convocations, he found himself transformed into
a giant Penn student.
He was lying on his back in his College House dorm, and when he lifted
his head a little he could see a tall stack of books, his first checkbook
to balance, and a huge load of laundry.
What has happened to me? he thought.
It was no dream.
Gregor had entered a new world --The world of Penn, an undiscovered
country from which no traveler returns unchanged.
The discoveries and friends he would make, and the classes he would
take, would transform him forever.
He would grow to enrich the legacy of Penn alumni who had risen to the
pinnacle of every profession and life's calling: Alumni who included framers
of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; Supreme Court
Justices; Nobel Prize winners; and Olympic medalists.
Gregor stretched his limbs, which, much to his relief, still consisted
of two arms and two legs.
He felt a jolt of excitement he had never felt before.
Amazing! he thought, what an incredible University I have picked!"
Yes, what an incredible University all of you have picked, a place to
pursue your dreams, make new friends, and develop your unique talents and
capacities for original thinking and critical problem-solving.
As a Penn undergraduate, I sat in your place some 30-odd years ago--and
fantasized about the future as you probably are now.
I can confidently say that you were both wise and courageous to use
your passport to come to this undiscovered country from which no traveler
Those who know their Shakespeare no doubt recognize the allusion to
the "undiscovered country." It comes from Hamlet's "To be
or not to be" soliloquy.
But in this case, that is not the question that each of you will answer
during the next four years. "To become or not to become." That
is the question.
Whether you become a young woman or man who uses the skills and knowledge
you acquire at Penn to help make the world what it ought to be--or become
someone who believes that improving the world is not your business.
Whether you become men and women who look out for one another, academically
and socially --or become someone who looks out only for number 1.
Whether you become someone who takes the time to enjoy the history,
culture and beauty that surrounds you --or become blinkered by a tunnel-vision
pursuit of only the degree.
And finally, whether you become noble exemplars of academic integrity,
honesty and dignity--or become someone who violates those values that bind
a community of scholars together.
And how will you become what you become?
Penn is richly endowed with world-class faculty who do outstanding work
in their disciplines, and go many extra miles to share their findings with
You will learn about groundbreaking new ideas pushing the envelope of
new thinking in every field of knowledge imaginable.
Some of the faculty teach what are called academic-based service learning
courses, in which students apply what they learn in the lab and classroom
to solve real-world problems and challenges in our public schools, our
local businesses, and our neighborhood.
These courses will provide a valuable experience that not only could
change your life, but will put you in the habit of serving society, which
Benjamin Franklin called "the great aim and end of all learning."
You will be equally inspired and challenged by your classmates. They
have come from all over the country and all over the world. And they bring
a dazzling array of talents, achievements, and experiences to campus.
Michael has already published an investment book and founded his own
Tai is a professional solo ballerina.
Sith spent a full year living the contemplative, ascetic life of a Buddhist
monk in Thailand.
Owusu is a TV talk show host and screenwriter from Ghana.
Emily started a national newsletter and network for teenagers with Turner
Rory has biked 4,500 miles across Canada--twice.
And those of you who don't know yet what a Mummer is should meet Dan,
who will be marching in the Mummers' Parade on New Year's Day.
It is natural to feel awed and maybe even a little intimidated by any
of these accomplished men and women. You may not have met anyone like them.
But remember: They have not met anyone like you, either. Cultivate that.
Let others discover you and learn from you as you learn from them. I also
urge you to soak up as much knowledge, history, and culture as you can
in this great University and city.
If you are a Wharton, Engineering, or Nursing student, drop in on an
author's reading or a poetry slam at Writers' House.
If you are pursuing a humanities track, attend a lecture or symposium
on the leading scientific and medical issues of the day.
And all of you should avail yourself of the rich history and cultural
offerings in Philadelphia. Orientation has given you a taste of Philadelphia,
whether it is the Italian Market in South Philadelphia, the spectacular
Museum of Art, or Penn's own Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill. It would
be a shame for you to pass the next four years here without spending time
at these places and hundreds of others in Philadelphia.
I would like to close with a reminder that as of today, you have become
part of the Penn family, and we believe in helping each other out.
If you find yourself falling behind in your coursework, if you are close
to hitting the wall on a difficult assignment, or if you just need someone
to talk to, do yourself a favor: Grab a lifeline.
Go directly to your resident advisor, graduate advisor, or College House
Dean. One of them will make sure you get the academic and counseling support
you need to adjust and succeed at Penn.
And please remember to be safe, be smart, and take care of one another.
For the next four years, this will be your home. And take it from one
who made this campus her home during the 1960s and who feels blessed to
live and work here now: There's absolutely no place like Penn!
There is no place like Penn that can claim so many "firsts"
in America --the first University, the first medical school, the first
business school. There is no university more engaged with, or enriched
by, its neighbors and the great City of Philadelphia--than Penn.
There is no place like Penn that offers the setting, the resources,
and the supports to inspire and help students on their personal and intellectual
And there is no place like Penn because Penn has the most valuable treasure
of all: you!
I cannot wait to watch you grow and make your own special mark on Penn.
Good luck! We are pulling for each of you! And welcome again.