Address by President Judith Rodin,
May 18, 2003
to all families, friends, faculty
and honored guests. Graduates of the
Class of 2003, tomorrow, you extraordinary
young men and women will take the
field named for our founder Benjamin
Franklin to claim the prize and honor
you have worked so hard to earn: a
degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
years past, I have saluted each graduating
class for clearing academic hurdles
that only get higher. And you deserve
that praise. I have noted contributions
to Penn's intellectual vitality
and social fabric. And you deserve
that praise. And I have marveled at
the myriad ways our graduates began
making a real difference in the world
during their years at Penn. And you
deserve that praise as well.
today I would like to reflect on another
quality that permeates the Class of
2003. It is a characteristic that
you will need to succeed in all climates,
be they economic, political, or cultural.
It is a virtue that the world will
need to survive and perhaps, someday,
flourish. And that is courage.
am not talking about the kind of daredevil
bravado or recklessness that is fuelled
by the destructive hate and vengeance
of Ahab. The courage I have in mind
and the courage I believe you possess
in abundance is the measured, reflective,
mature courage of Starbuck's--not
the coffee, which is ubiquitous here,
but Captain Ahab's wise and sensitive
first mate in Herman Melville's
great American novel Moby Dick.
Melville introduces Starbuck as a "Quaker
by descent" and a man possessed
of "inner health and strength." Starbuck
serves notice that, "I will
have no man in my boat who is not
afraid of a whale." The narrator
interprets that declaration "to
mean, not only that the most reliable
and useful courage is that which arises
from the fair estimation of the encountered
peril, but that an utterly fearless man
is a far more dangerous comrade than
there is no question that the world
today contains far more danger and
uncertainty than it seemed to have
when you began at Penn four years
ago. Today, borders and buffers have
dissolved. Like the great white whale,
a world that is vast and beautiful,
but also dangerous and inscrutable
looms large before us. Out of fear,
some will duck under the covers. Like
Ahab, others will lash out in hatred
against what is unknowable. However,
for you, neither retreat nor blind
fury is an option. We have taught
you to engage the world with courage
born of the skills, compassion, and
habits of critical thinking that you
acquired here and that you will need
to confront crisis, challenge, and
reversal. We have also taught you
to be ready to cross many borders.
Salman Rushdie writes, "To cross
a frontier is to be transformed. Alice
at the gates of Wonderland, the key
to that miniature world in her grasp,
cannot pass through the tiny door
beyond which she can glimpse marvelous
things until she has altered herself
to fit into her new world."
the same time, Rushdie suggests that
the "successful frontierswoman
is also in the business of surpassing.
She changes the rules of her newfound
your education at Penn has been the
alteration process that's prepared
you for many border crossings.
You have learned the meaning of collaboration
in the service of humanity at a very
complex moment in history. You learned
to live skillfully at Penn by forming
alliances with your colleagues and
making common cause with each other,
harnessing and harmonizing your different
skills and beliefs to pursue common goals.
and again, you pulled together, even
when the grind of coursework and force
of events could have driven you apart.
And you have done many things that
reveal your courage.
had an Engineering student go to Africa
to create a multimedia documentary
that explores the AIDS epidemic through
the eyes of five heroic health workers.
had Wharton students launching a Social
Impact Management Initiative in West
Philadelphia to improve the quality
of life for our neighbors.
had a team of College students launch
an Empowerment Initiative that strengthens
communications skills among high school
students with high potential but few
had two Nursing students prepare to
become Navy pilots. And these are
just a few examples.
of you have been incredible during
your time here. Now you must have
the courage to continue to engage
others with a compassionate heart.
Bertrand Russell wrote, "The
human heart in modern civilization
more prone to hatred than to friendship.
And it is prone to hatred because
it is dissatisfied, because it feels
deeply, perhaps even unconsciously,
that it has somehow missed the meaning
of life. To find the right road out
of this despair civilized man must
enlarge his heart as he has enlarged
his mind. He must learn to transcend self,
and in so doing to acquire the freedom
of the Universe."
Bertrand Russell were writing today,
he might have diagnosed fear and suspicion
as sources of modern despair.
We are seeing how fear and suspicion
can diminish our capacity to enjoy
the freedom that is the birthright
of all people. Yet, Russell's
prescription remains timely. Enlarging
our hearts is liberating. It
leads to respect for humanity and
reverence for the source of all blessings
bestowed upon us.
great theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel
wrote that the true person of faith
is one who "holds God and man
in one thought in one time, at all
times, who suffers in himself harms
done to others, whose greatest passion
is compassion, whose greatest strength
is love and defiance of despair."
my prayer for you is that you are
always imbued with the love and reverence
that we share today in this place.
And may you gain the freedom and strength
to bring to the world the gifts of
your knowledge and learning. Godspeed
to all of you