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COMMENCEMENT 2003

Commencement Remarks by Lance Donaldson-Evans, Chair of the Faculty Senate, May 19, 2003

Humility, Docility and Responsibility

I bring to you the greetings and congratulations of the faculty on this momentous day in your academic life. You have successfully run the marathon, and now you are seated together in, appropriately, Franklin Field under the proud gaze of family, friends and faculty to receive the honors due to you.

I certainly don't want to diminish your justified euphoria, but professors are like parents: we can't resist an opportunity to pass on advice, which we see as wisdom (my own children call it "nagging"). As both a professor and a parent of one of today's graduates, I am going to yield to pressure from my peers to do the same.

I will of necessity be brief (the Faculty Senate Chair is allotted 180 seconds--now there is real wisdom!). I want to remind you of three virtues, which I hope you already practice, since they are essential to your continued success in life après-Penn.

The first is humility, a quality in short supply in today's world because it is wrongly assumed that a humble person is weak and spineless. True humility is, in reality, a strength and involves acknowledging both our abilities and our limitations. You have already achieved much, but don't let people say of you what some cynics say about teenagers: "Hire a teenager now while he or she knows everything." Humility is the recognition that you don't know it all. Remember what the French writer Michel de Montaigne said, after a lifetime of learning: "Que sais-je?" (What do I know?).

The second quality I want to stress is docility, also usually given a negative spin, although it literally means: "easy to teach". You've all demonstrated docility (although with some of you, we faculty sometimes had our doubts!) but docility should be a life-long attitude and cannot end when you leave Penn. Remember that today marks, not the end of your education, but merely the end of the beginning.

The final word du jour is responsibility. "Of those to whom much is given, much will be required." You have received one of the finest educations available today. But this privilege involves responsibility, responsibility to those less fortunate than you, responsibility to your community, to your country, to the world. You all know Penn's motto: "Leges sine moribus vanae" (Laws or learning without morals are empty or vain). Did you know that, until 1900, our motto was simply: "Sine moribus vanae"?1 Then someone realized that it was ambiguous and could also be translated: "Loose women without morals," not quite what Benjamin Franklin had in mind when he founded Penn! In this era of often frightening challenges, but also of extraordinary opportunities, we desperately need what Penn is producing: women and men "cum moribus," with a sense of moral responsibility, striving to make the world a better, more peaceful place.

You are these women and men. If you practice humility, docility and responsibility, you can make a difference. Indeed as graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, you must make a difference. Congratulations, and Godspeed.

 

1 See Samuel Hughes, "Whiskey, Loose Women, and Fig Leaves", Pennsylvania Gazette, Jan/Feb 2002.

 


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 34, May 27, 2003

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