President Judith Rodin's Commencement address
May 21, 2001
Pursuing the Next Crazy Venture
Chairman Riepe, trustees, colleagues, honored guests, families and friends: Welcome to the 245th Commencement of the University of Pennsylvania!
To all alumni who have joined us on this glorious occasion, welcome back! We take pride in your achievements, your leadership, and your loyalty to Penn.
I particularly wish to acknowledge members of the Class of 1976, celebrating their 25th reunion, and led by Lisa Mcallister Brinton; and members of the Class of 1951, celebrating their 50th reunion, and led by Bernard Lemonick. All of you uphold Penn's honor and project Penn's ideals onto the world, and we treasure your continuing support of your alma mater.
I think the time has come to send in some reinforcements and turn loose our newest edition of battle-tested Penn alumni. I believe they're ready to take their place on the world's stage. In fact, I am quite certain they're raring to go. Congratulations to Penn's millennial Class of 2001!
I can well imagine the kinds of thoughts racing through your heads as you reflect on the sheer magnitude of your accomplishments. I also can imagine the kinds of emotions stirring in the hearts of the people whose love, devotion, and sacrifice have nourished and sustained you throughout your lives. Graduates, how about a big round of applause for your heroes for all seasons--your proud parents?
We would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge another group of heroes whose encouragement, support, and infinite patience helped push our graduate and professional students across the finish line. How about a big hand for the spouses, partners, and children of our graduates? And graduates, please join me in a rousing show of appreciation for the truly extraordinary University of Pennsylvania faculty. They helped you to fulfill Benjamin Franklin's mandate, to focus on theory and practice, on learning for its own sake as well as service to humanity. They also opened your minds to the ideas and fields of research that fired your imaginations and, perhaps, changed your lives.
As important, you inspired your professors by challenging them with your questions, your insights, and your passion to make a difference at Penn and in the world.
With apologies to Ben Franklin, another great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, also exhorted us on theory and practice.
He said, "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.
"In practice, there is."
So now you must go out and do it. But this won't be a stretch for you. You have already changed the world during your time at Penn.
As you graduate, you leave behind important legacies. First, you have boosted the intellectual wattage of Penn to create a powerful electrical charge on campus: Whether you helped run the student-run community arts initiative called the Foundation, gave a reading at the Kelly Writers House, or participated in Wharton's Leadership, Education and Development Program in Business aimed at minority youngsters--whether you conducted cutting-edge scholarly research of your own, or built an award-winning simulator of a quantum computer--however you contributed or performed, you generated a buzz of excitement, fascination, and enjoyment that has electrified the campus.
Second, you have learned another kind of "charge" that points to the duty of every Penn student to become worthy stewards of our democracy and environment, and responsible guardians of your own lives.
So many of you have taken charge to leave the campus and the West Philadelphia community better places to live and learn than you found them.
Future generations of Penn students will appreciate the convenience of a 24-hour diner, library renovations and Ethernet connections, a PennCash debit system, and the new recreational facilities that you helped bring to campus. They will relish strolling down our magnificent Locust Walk, which you helped revitalize. They will find comfort under the shade of trees you planted throughout the neighborhood, and intellectual stimulation in preceptorials you launched. They will celebrate traditions like Unity Week that you started. And teaching assistants will welcome the respect for their work garnered by their predecessors. In short, you have sweated the tiniest details to produce a hugely beneficial impact on the quality of life and learning at Penn.
You have done it all here, and you are extraordinary men and women.
Now, we expect you to leverage that energy, experience, and knowledge to make the world your own-- and better off for it.
Be the one who discovers the cure for cancer or AIDS.
Translate your ideas into business ventures that create jobs and drive the economy.
Develop new technologies that promote the sustainable growth of the planet.
Create that masterpiece of prose, poetry, or music that is blooming inside of you.
Design buildings that are ornamental and functional.
Find a way to give to your community and to serve your country.
Open up your hearts to your fellow human beings and coin a lasting legacy of peace and understanding.
There's an old saying that serves as a code of conduct for visitors to nature preserves and trails: Take pictures and memories, but leave only footprints.
Members of the Class of 2001, Penn honors you today for the magnificent footprints you have left on the trails you have blazed here.
But great as your accomplishments are, I am certain that they are merely a prelude for what lies ahead.
A little more than two centuries ago, Americans gathered in this city to figure out how to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity."
Asked what kind of government our Founders had designed, Benjamin Franklin replied with his famous admonition: "A republic, if you can keep it."
Your Penn degree, graduates, and the education for which it stands, is not something to hang on the wall. It is a summons to serve a cause greater than yourselves. It is, in the fullest sense, your charge to keep.
I close with a passage from Jack Kerouac's On the Road. "What is that feeling," he writes, "when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? --"it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye.
"But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."
As each of you hits the road to pursue the next crazy venture, do it well, and remember what you did so beautifully while you were here: You have gained knowledge. You have had impact. You have made a difference. And you have cultivated great and lasting friendships.
I am so very proud of all of you. Congratulations!
Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 35, May 29, 2001