The Challenge: Excellence and Leadership
by Peter Conn
Penn has been a center of advanced study for over two centuries. The
earliest professional degrees conferred by the university--which were awarded
before the American Revolution--were in medicine. Embodying that long history,
and the continuing excellence of our medical education, let me salute Dr.
Robert Barchi, Penn's provost, a graduate of Penn's medical school and now
the university's chief academic officer.
Over the course of our two hundred and fifty year history, the topics
of study in graduate and professional education have changed, and the methodologies
we use have changed as well. Those earlier generations of students would
have had considerable trouble predicting that some of you would come to
Penn to do research in areas from computer science and genomics to gender
studies and ethnomusicology.
Furthermore, along with our subjects and techniques, the profile of our
students and faculty has also changed. Those changes are to be celebrated.
Consider: you were just welcomed to Penn by Judith Rodin, the first woman
president of an Ivy League university. Dr. Rodin is also a world-class psychologist
and a member of our faculty. A career such as hers would have been unlikely
in the past, and all of us are enriched by the widened opportunities that
the university now offers.
At the same time, in the midst of all these intellectual and human transformations,
certain values persist. Let me emphasize just two.
The first is excellence. You have chosen to study at Penn because you
know what every survey confirms: this is one of the finest institutions
of higher education in the country--indeed, in the world.
Penn's faculty exemplifies luminous accomplishment across an immense
range of disciplines. Measured by whatever yardstick is relevant--number
and influence of publications, academy memberships, prizes and fellowships--our
faculty includes many of the women and men whose work is defining and re-defining
Along with our faculty, Penn's excellence is based on its students--and
here I salute all of you. You are, in a word, exceptional: drawn from around
the country and from around the world, you and your peers have presented
records of superlative accomplishment, and your presence here ensures that
our work will endure, as your own achievements make their contribution to
our collective enterprise.
The second durable value that guides our work is leadership. Some of
you in this room are destined to play significant and perhaps even decisive
roles in the professions, in business, in academia. As alumni of our programs,
you will join a roster of leaders who have, in some cases, quite literally
changed the world.
I hope you will understand your opportunity as a challenge. This is Benjamin
Franklin's university, committed to an ideal that joins theory and practice,
and dedicated to the idea that knowledge should make a difference.
This is also Benjamin Franklin's town, and I want to close with a word
about Philadelphia. As many of you already know, and as the rest will soon
discover, this is a wonderful city, offering a combination of history, architecture,
culture, and entertainment that few other metropolitan areas can match.
As a habitual walker, I also claim that this is quite simply the most walkable
city in the country. I hope you will take the fullest advantage of what
Philadelphia has to offer during the course of your years here.
Congratulations on your achievements; good luck on the tasks that lie
ahead; and welcome.