mutual, joint-stock world in all meridians*":
The Baccalaureate Address by James
J. O'Donnell, Professor of Classical Studies and Vice
Provost for Information Systems and Computing.
the Baccalaureate addresses in streaming
Address by President Judith Rodin, May 12, 2002
of Life Beyond Self
of the Class of 2002, families, friends, deans, members of the
faculty, Provost-elect O'Donnell, and all honored guests:
1723, a very young man arrived in Philadelphia, jobless with no
more than a Dutch dollar in his pocket and two years of formal
schooling under his belt. In fact, he was about the same age as
tomorrow's graduates were when they came to the University of
Pennsylvania four years ago. As a rule, the world did not hold
out great expectations, let alone, hope, for penniless teen-age
Benjamin Franklin was an exception who set even greater expectations
for himself and went on to surpass them. Drawing upon his wits,
pluck, and insatiable curiosity about everything, Franklin founded
the University of Pennsylvania. He also founded the nation's first
free library system, the first insurance company, and the American
Philosophical Society, the first scholarly organization to encourage
accomplished intellectuals to advance practical knowledge in the
sciences and humanities. Franklin became a writer, scientist,
inventor, philanthropist, statesman, diplomat, philosopher, and
engaged citizen--all of world-class rank and stature.
he had faith in himself, Franklin lived the fullest life
imaginable. Imagine what he could have accomplished with a Penn
imagine what you can accomplish with your Penn education,
which has never held greater value or importance than now.
are living in exciting and perilous times. America is at war against
a global network of terror. The economy might not be as robust
as it was two years ago, but, like our graduates, it has proved
to be more resilient and shock-absorbent than many might have
whatever challenges lie ahead, you hold the trump card: your Penn
degree. A degree that says you have acquired the knowledge, expertise,
and habit of thinking that empowers you to solve any problem,
adapt to change, and face any challenge, however daunting. That
degree reminds you as well of the personal growth you have
experienced, all those inspiring conversations you have held on
the meaning of life, and all the friendships you have formed in
this most diverse of communities and nurturing of environments.
your Penn education has given you a raft of career options,
your Penn experience has given you an intimation, a foretaste,
of a fully lived life. You've had four years to find your voice,
hear your calling, and develop what George Eliot called a "rapturous
consciousness of life beyond self."
the wings of rapturous consciousness, many of you have done some
miraculous work at Penn and for Penn.
recall, for example, how a group of Penn Engineering students
pooled their talents and their passion for community service to
launch "Puente," a non-profit venture that, as its name suggests,
aimed to "bridge" the digital divide in low-income areas locally
and throughout the world. In just three years, Puente, which is
now merged with CommuniTech, has brought the liberating wonders
of computing and the internet to classrooms in Ecuador, India,
Mali, Ghana, and West and North Philadelphia. All told, CommuniTech
has delivered the benefits of technology to more than a thousand
underprivileged people worldwide.
recall how two Wharton students spearheaded the effort to create
an academic concentration in entrepreneurship. By all accounts,
they did a masterful job rallying support among faculty and peers
to push this innovative concept through, And today, the Entrepreneurial
Program is one of the more popular and successful concentrations
have seen our Nursing students apply a rapturous consciousness
of life beyond the self to bring renewal and hope to those most
in need of healing. One of our Nursing graduates won a Fulbright
scholarship to study in Mexico and design strategies to deliver
better health care to Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants
have also seen students in the College express a rapturous consciousness
of life through art. Last month's Senior Thesis Exhibition at
Charles Addams Hall, for example, featured a stunning display
of paintings, photographs, films, and ceramics. Some were beautiful.
Some were necessarily disturbing. All brimmed with creative genius
in full flower, and radiated a kind of restless energy.
one of the artists wrote in the exhibition catalogue, "I am never
satisfied. Ever. Not with one academic field, a single subject,
or a solitary method of art-making. My work is about discovery,
about the constant pursuit of a new solution, a better way out,
a more interesting conclusion. The result is simply a record,
a cherished souvenir of the paths I took to find it."
all of you have collected your own share of souvenirs, reminders
of perhaps the most transformative period in your lives. As you
leave the scene of this incredible transformation, the greater
challenge for you is not finding a job and fashioning successful
careers. Rather, the greater challenge is preserving and cultivating
that rapturous consciousness of life beyond your Penn years,
especially as you struggle with obligations that absorb so much
time and with mundane annoyances that test your patience.
problem is, the outside world will be less nurturing and accommodating
than Penn, and repeating the past four years is only an option
if you are determined to send your parents off the deep end.
you can translate your Penn experience into a meaningful
program of continuing intellectual and personal growth.
can push your budding consciousness to the ultimate expression
of rapture: a fully lived life.
trying to live a full life, try to emulate Benjamin Franklin by
following a checklist.
try to carve out a space in time each week for reflection, rest,
and renewal, where the noise and distractions of the outside world
cultivate ties and friendships with others who will encourage
you, challenge you, and inspire you in your professional aspirations
and personal life. Beginning with family and radiating outward
into a community of friends and colleagues that extends down the
block and around the world, this circle of humanity will enrich
your life in every way. These networks can't quite recapture the
frequency of soulful exchanges you had as students at Penn. But
they will provide a circle of companions and friends who will
be there with you through all your professional and personal
growth spurts, as well as be there for you through times
of difficulty and distress.
course, no one has had more experience in overseeing your growth
spurts and binding your wounds more than your mothers. On this
Mothers' Day, let's take a moment to thank all the moms for always
being there for their children.
I ask you to keep faith and hope in life itself, and in the notion
of an ultimately redeemed world--regardless of the dangers and
challenges lurking ahead.
see miraculous transformations and progress taking place all the
time--beginning right here with the progress we have made at Penn
and throughout West Philadelphia.
also am reminded of a dissident playwright who, writing 20 years
ago to his wife from a prison in Prague, remarked that "anyone
who loses [hope and faith] is lost, regardless of what good fortune
may befall him," whereas "those who do not lose it can never come
to a bad end."
the playwright said, "doesn't mean closing one's eyes to the horrors
of the world. Quite the contrary in fact: Only those who have
not lost faith and hope can see the horrors of the world with
genuine clarity." This playwright later expanded on this paradox.
"nothingness wins out," he wrote, "dramatic tension vanishes,
man surrenders to apathy, and faith and meaning exist only as
a backdrop against which others become aware of his fall."
the political prisoner who penned those words was Vaclav Havel,
who a decade later would be elected president of a free Czechoslovakia.
I certainly don't believe any of you needs a prison term to gain
the liberating insights Havel expressed. You've already done time
in the study carrels of Van Pelt. Many of you have even ridden
the elevators in the high rises.
I would hope your Penn experience has given you the faith and
hope to see the world more clearly and to appreciate your incredible
capacity to live a life rewarding to yourself and beneficial to
18th century mystic wrote that "From every human being there rises
a light that reaches straight to heaven." Make that light a visible
reality for us all.
in hot pursuit of that rapturous consciousness of life within
have a job to do. But you also have a life to live. May you live
it to the fullest.