A Journey Toward
and on the following pages, are the Convocation addresses given by
the President and Provost on College Green, last Wednesday evening,
September 4, 2002.
members of the class of 2006 and to our new students who have
transferred from other universities.
Youave made it
through new student orientation without losing your bearings.
Youave made it
through Things Fall Apart without falling apart.
enjoyed your first Dining Services meal.
Now that youave
made it this far, I am very happy to welcome you to the University
of Pennsylvania and address you as fully fledged members of our
community of scholars.
What a wonderful
occasion this is! Convocation is my favorite ceremony at Penn, and
not just because College Green and College Hall glow so beautifully
at night. I love Convocation because you glow so beautifully with
enough exuberance and determination to light up the whole campus.
also rich in symbolism. We gather together at dusk to mark the
transition between the old part of your life and the new.
You are no
longer a prospective student or someone elseas responsibility. The
sun has set on that stage of your life.
Now, as more
distant suns appear in the eastern sky, you are beginning the
journey of discovery that will change you and the way you see the
world in ways no one can possibly predict. You could fall under the
spell of an author who inspires you to become a writer. You could
catch the bug to pursue a political career or go on an
archaeological dig. You could fall in love with your future life
Maybe you all even--dare
I say it? --stoop to recognize Princeton teams as worthy competitors.
On second thought, maybe not.
One thing is
certain: When it comes to a profession or career or life plans,
there is no sure thing.
Three years ago,
dot.com startups looked like the ticket to fast wealth to anyone
with the guts and drive to start or join one. Indeed, dot.coms were
such a sure thing that some of our students saw no need to stick
around Penn to receive their degrees. There were fast millions to
make, and no time to waste.
dot.com gold rush seems like ancient history, and most of the
students who bolted Penn prematurely wound up returning to campus
with a renewed appreciation for the value of a degree.
Likewise, many of
us--young and not-so-young--didnat envision that the rising tide
of economic prosperity and job growth could possibly
recede--forcing us to rethink our career and retirement plans.
And I am sure
none of us anticipated the events of September 11, which, to
paraphrase Yeats, drowned our ceremony of innocence.
Our illusions of
safety and invulnerability were gone, our disengagement from world
affairs exposed and tallied.
In one sense, we
cannot be faulted for seeing in the collapse of the Twin Towers, in
the demise of Enron and Worldcom, or in bloody conflicts that have
no end in sight, signs that things are falling apart all over the
world, that, as Yeats wrote in his poem "The Second Coming,"
which is quoted in the prologue to Chinua Achebeas novel, "The
center cannot hold."
We canat deny
all that is wrong with the world. But neither can we conclude that
all is wrong with the world. Every day we see role models of
excellence, goodness and courage who bring joy, beauty, justice, and
comfort to their fellow human beings.
And if the world
is moving in the wrong direction, then you have the obligation to
help turn things around. We admitted you to Penn because we believe
each of you has the potential to help put humanity back on course.
Yes, we look to
you to add to the body of knowledge in your fields of study during
your time at Penn.
Yes, we expect
you to acquire the skills, knowledge, and prowess to excel and make
important contributions in your careers and professions.
And yes, I have
no doubt that each of you will go far on whatever professional track
you choose to follow.
But we didnat
bring you to Penn only to become accomplished artists, brilliant
writers, preeminent scholars, savvy politicians, expert engineers,
nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, or scientists.
We brought you
here because we are also counting on you to pursue Benjamin
Franklinas founding mandate to focus on theory and practice, to
gain knowledge for its own sake and to use your knowledge to thrive
professionally while serving humanity.
education holistically. He understood that an education rich in
theory but short on practice would deprive graduates of the means to
make a good living as well as the tools to apply their ideals to
good purpose. But Franklin also understood that a specialized
education sealed off from arts and sciences would weaken the
capacity of graduates to lead a good life that benefits others.
describe Franklinas visionary integration of theory and practice
as a wisdom track. In a world awash in information yet parched for
wisdom, where better to pursue the wisdom track than right here at
the University he founded?
Of all the trips
youall take, none will be longer, stranger, or more rewarding than
your steep, upward journey toward wisdom.
While most, if
not all, of you will earn a degree in four years, you can only
advance toward wisdom in small degrees over the course of a
You might be
wondering when you will reach wisdomas gate. If you think youave
already made it, chances are you still have a long way to go. But if
you are thinking deeply and critically and acting accordingly,
itas safe to say you are definitely on track.
There is no
simple answer to the question, "What is wisdom?" Brilliant
thinkers, artists, and theologians have wrestled with this question
for thousands of years.
captivated by this description offered by the late philosopher
Robert Nozick. He wrote, "wisdom is not simply knowing how to
steer oneas way through life and cope with difficulties. It is
also knowing the deepest story, being able to see and
appreciate the deepest significance of whatever occurs; this
includes appreciating the ramifications of each thing or event for
the various dimensions of reality, knowing and understanding not
merely the proximate goods but the ultimate ones, and seeing the
world in this light."
Now, I would
suggest that time and again, the failure to know the deepest story
or appreciate the ramifications of oneas choices has led to
calamity, tragic misunderstandings, and sometimes bloodshed.
corporate executives who looted their companies stop to think about
the domino-like harm they would bring to employees, shareholders,
and the general public? Are Israelis and Palestinians any longer
trying to understand each otheras story? On the deepest path to
wisdom, we must open our minds to many different perspectives.
It is all too
tempting to associate only with others who share your background,
political philosophy, musical tastes, and major--or to hear, read,
and see speakers, books, and programs that only echo your views.
At Penn, you will
have the precious opportunity to live with and learn from
extraordinary men and women from every conceivable background. Open
your minds, and you will open each otheras eyes.
Take advantage of
your time at Penn to engage with your classmates across the
boundaries of school and discipline.
If youare not a
Penn Engineering student, visit the Weiss Technology Hub and
youall appreciate how much the dramatic advances in technology are
reshaping the way we learn, work, and live.
Get to know the
women and men in the Nursing School who are studying to join the
largest health care profession in the world. As Suzanne Gordon
eloquently writes, nurses "weave a tapestry of care, knowledge,
and trust that is critical to patientsa survival."
Over the next
four years, all of you will take courses and meet classmates from
the College. Use those encounters not only to tap into the
accumulated wisdom of world civilization, as it is embedded in the
liberal arts, but also to understand the deeper stories behind the
people whose lives will be touched by your work.
And if you are
not a member of that academic tribe known as Wharton, recognize that
these women and men must cure todayas corporate ills, work out the
kinks in the global economy, and put your retirement accounts in
better shape than mine.
Everyone at every
school at Penn has one thing in common. Each of you is terrific and
has something special to offer. You are entering a community of
scholars that likes to mix it up. Our extraordinary faculty, our
dedicated staff, and other students will look to you to challenge
them to keep them on their own wisdom paths.
The stakes could
not be higher. We are undergoing rapid changes in technology, in
health care, in world affairs, and in our increasingly unstable
global economy. How all of us think and act over the next four years
could help determine whether we come together to make our
communities and our world freer, safer, and healthier, or whether we
allow things to fall apart.
You are now a
part of our vital center.
Let me conclude
with a brief historical anecdote about our founder: As you know, the
Constitutional Convention was held in this city, and an elderly
Benjamin Franklin lent his own wisdom and calming presence to the
As the convention
was closing, James Madison recorded that Franklin, while gazing
at a painting of a sun on the back of the president's chair, remarked
that painters often had trouble distinguishing between a rising
and setting sun.
Franklin said "I
have often in the course of this session, and the vicissitudes of
my own hopes and fears as to its outcome, looked at that [rendering
of the sun] ... without being able to tell whether the sun was rising
"But now at
length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising
Members of the
Class of 2006 and other new students, I have the confidence to know
that gathered before me is a constellation of rising stars. I have
no doubt that years from now, you will take your place in the
firmament of illustrious Penn alumni who include:
of the Declaration of Independence;
of the Constitution;
Supreme Court justices;
seventy Olympic medallists;
upon thousands of distinguished leaders and scholars throughout
As you chart and
follow your own unique path to all you hope to be and achieve, may
this great University help to guide you toward wisdom in the years
Welcome to Penn.
Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 3, September 10, 2002