Below, and on the following pages, are the
addresses given by President Rodin and Provost Barchi
to the Class
of 2007 on
College Green last Tuesday evening, September 2,
Becoming an Action
Deans, Faculty, University Officers, Trustees:
Welcome to members of the Class of 2007 and
to our new students who have transferred from other universities.
Convocation is a special, almost magical moment.
It marks your official passage into a community of scholars
unlike any other in the world.
For us, Convocation
night of a new academic season. We've looked forward to your arrival all
summer, and we couldn't be more delighted or energized to
greet you--not only as our newest students, but as active
partners and players in this
great and wonderful enterprise
known as Penn.
We're counting on you to have a huge impact
on our teaching and research, and perhaps, help us save the
world. Not that you should feel any pressure. But,
you are an amazing group of young
women and men who come from all
over the country and all over the world.
Seated among you this evening are scientists
and inventors with patents pending, including a student who
designed what might prove to be a great device for those
of you who might have trouble waking up before the crack
of noon: a mechanism that elevates the upper half of the
bed when the alarm clock goes off.
We have a dancer who has performed with the
American Ballet Theatre, a Grammy Award-winning singer, and
more than a few published playwrights and authors.
We have a champion female weightlifter from
Florida who has mastered the Japanese language and Japanese
We are especially fortunate to welcome our
international students who bring so much to Penn. One example
is an Iraqi woman who, like so many others, found herself
trapped in Baghdad as bullets flew and bombs fell.
Facing the possibility each day of losing her
family, friends, and her life, this young woman began to
record her observations and impressions in a diary. She hoped
the diary would find its way into publication, with or without
her, to give the world an uncensored, unmediated perspective
on the war that did not conform to any ideological agenda.
Her story received
media coverage and fortunately has a happy ending. This young
will be published next month. Best of all, she has made it
through the war OK. She's free, now, to pursue her dream
of studying abroad as a pre-med
major. And we could not be happier
that she has chosen to come to Penn.
Now, it is natural to feel awed and maybe even
a little intimidated by any of these accomplished men and
women. You may not have met anyone like them. But remember:
they have not met anyone like you, either. Cultivate that.
Let others discover you and learn from you as you learn from
Each of you is exceptional in some way, or
you would not be here. We know you have what it takes to
begin translating your talents, passions, and dreams into
a life filled with personal meaning, leadership, and the
pursuit of knowledge.
Each of you will spend your time here figuratively,
at least, writing the first drafts of your own stories, based
on experiences that will surely change your lives, and more
than likely, enrich the community and world in ways you cannot
possibly foresee tonight.
You've come to an incredibly stimulating University
that will stand you in good stead on your journey. We're
a community that thrives on
Yet, we also
work is only one part of the good, full, and well-rounded
life that we all
seek. Whether we're cheering a Penn victory over Princeton--which,
happily, happens regularly--whether we're playing on a team, or
just working out, we embrace
athletics to strengthen our bodies
At the same time, we immerse ourselves in arts
and culture to feed our souls. In classrooms, studios, theaters,
galleries and museums, arts and culture are embedded in the
life of the University.
our neighbors in the community, whom I hope you will get
to know, and with
the great, cosmopolitan city
of Philadelphia, which I urge
you to explore.
And when it comes to academics, we are fiercely
dedicated to our mission, first conceived by our founder
Benjamin Franklin, to join theory and practice in service
Throughout the University you will find a healthy
respect for the past and a passion for ideas and learning
for their own sake.
But to borrow
words of 20th century thinker Mordecai Kaplan, at Penn, the
past has a vote, not
a veto. We're not afraid to challenge the status quo. Nor
do we shrink from our responsibility
to lead society into the future.
Many of you are familiar with Extreme Sports
like wakeboarding, speed climbing, and vertical skateboarding,
and like me, perhaps a few of you dream of competing in an
X Games Olympiad.
In fact, the other evening, I executed a flawless
whirlybird on my wakeboard.
Then I woke up.
While we discourage and actually prohibit skateboarding
on campus, we at Penn are very much into extreme academics and
action learning. Faculty and
students are constantly challenging
conventional thinking --and pushing each other higher and
higher. And we're always putting our learning and ourselves
to the test wherever there is
a chance to save lives, promote
justice, and lead humanity toward a more prosperous and more
Now it's your
turn to become an action learner
Do you have
for upgrading North America's power grids? Great. Go
Think you can
come up with
a formula to bring peace to the Middle East? Start
working on it.
Feel you can outdo F. Scott Fitzgerald and
write a novel that records the struggles, joys, and aspirations
of your generation? Do it.
Eager to launch
a business? Move on it.
quality health care and cleaner drinking water to distressed
Dreaming of making a movie? Start shooting.
That's what 11 Digital Media Design
students from Penn did last year--right after they learned
Film Contest only
16 days before the submissions
Now, these students had neither the luxury
of time nor the benefit of fluency in the ways of Ninja.
But they did have a wealth of interdisciplinary learning
experiences on which to draw for creative inspiration and
practical solutions. They had the ability to adapt quickly
to a new challenge. They had an opportunity to show their
work to a famous action film director and producer and perhaps
win the $15,000 grand prize. And they had one another.
a beat, these
remarkable students wrote the script, found a film location,
rented Ninja costumes,
swords, and weapons, shot the film in two feet of snow,
and worked their digital design
magic to produce a short film
about battle between grave robbers and Ninja that takes
place on a snowy Philadelphia
And, oh yes. The film won the contest and the
15 grand. Not bad for a little more than two weeks work.
And if you have patience, perseverance, and
the desire to expand knowledge, nothing will stop you from
participating in the extreme academic world of research at
Take the example
Penn grad Ana Maria Gomez Lopez. Ana Maria took advantage
of our Center for Undergraduate
Research and Fellowships to follow
a hunch that
would lead her to begin earning a graduate degree in anthropology
she was an undergrad.
She spent several summers living in a remote
section of Colombia among the indigenous Nasa people, who
have been tragically caught in the crossfire among government
security forces, left-wing guerillas, and right-wing paramilitary
forces. Ana Maria accompanied the Nasa as they attempted
to recover and identify the remains of loved ones massacred
and buried in mass graves.
between government officials and the Nasa, Ana Maria's work put her frequently
in harm's way. But she persevered to forge an entirely new
field of inquiry in forensic anthropology --one that could
profoundly change the relationship
between individual national governments
and more than 350 million indigenous peoples
throughout the world.
Now, like Ana
you write your story, you should know that you'll never write
alone. Collegiality and collaboration are critical
to life at
Penn. You will engage your peers and professors as colleagues,
By the same token, you can count on your professors
and classmates to challenge your views and proposals aggressively
and vigorously. In fact, you should want that to happen,
because that is how we all learn.
These are very different kinds of relationships
than what most of you are accustomed to. Think of some of
the recurring questions you might have asked your teachers
in high school:
"What is going
to be on the test? "
will I need to do or know to
get an A on this paper?"
any way I can get you to change
my B+ to an A?"
You might feel inclined to ask the same questions
But they are the wrong questions. Treating
your professors only as grade dispensers will lessen your
collaborators who will help you create the table of contents
of the great life stories you
will be crafting.
matter what school you're in, where you come from, whose
god you worship, or which candidate you will vote for in
the next presidential election. If you're itching to work
with our faculty to stretch your
intellectual horizons, our faculty
will give you many opportunities to scratch and serve.
In one of our
labs run by Dr. Barbara Weber, for example, you'll find medical investigators,
undergraduates and grad students all working side by side,
on the leading edge of science to find effective treatments
for breast and ovarian cancer. In fact, it was a Wharton
undergrad who designed the lab's computer program and algorithms
to analyze cancerous tissues.
You're so caught up in the close camaraderie
among the students and faculty and in the amazing work they're
doing, that you almost forget how heterogeneous this group
is. Just like our Ninja filmmakers, these are students
and faculty of many cultures
and colors who are working together
toward a common goal, and writing a great story.
to give your story life, purpose, an authentic sense of place,
and a fabulous cast
of characters, draw upon Penn's rich diversity, which reflects
the world you will be expected
In the latest edition of Atlantic Monthly magazine,
columnist David Brooks ends his
of diversity in America by posing these questions. "Look around at your daily
life," he writes. "Are you really in touch with the
broad diversity of American life?
Do you care?"
of 2007, you should care. To identify with people of similar
and values is natural and healthy. College is a time
to find out who you are, and
Penn will furnish many opportunities
and resources for you to explore and celebrate your heritage.
But to interact only with those with whom you
feel you have much in common is to waste the opportunity
that Penn affords you.
Oliver Chu grasped this wisdom earlier than
most. Oliver was en route to graduate last spring with dual
degrees in Penn Nursing and Wharton when he was called to
serve with his Pennsylvania National Guard unit in peacekeeping
operations in war-torn Bosnia.
He told the Daily Pennsylvanian, "It
was eye-opening for the Bosnians
to see people
of different races and ethnicities in our military working
a common good."
imagine how mind-opening
it is to study with, play with, and yes, argue with those
with whom you might not be naturally inclined to interact.
We want you
to be safe,
but we prefer that you not get too comfortable. You'll learn
much more by mixing it up with your peers across
Remember: You're not in an ivory tower. You're
part of the real world that you soon will be called on to
lead. Penn gives you the best chance you'll ever have--and
a much better chance than my generation had--to know this
world in its many racial, ethnic,
religious, and cultural dimensions.
Seize it while you are here.
Members of the class of 2007: I can only imagine
the incredible stories that each of you will write over the
next four years.
Not after 2007.
But starting now, here tonight.
As I eagerly
first drafts, I call to mind a poet's wise