Judith Rodin's Baccalaureate
Address, May 16, 2004
families, friends, honored guests, and Graduates of the
Class of 2004:
I love all our
Penn traditions, ceremonies, and rituals.
two I cherish most are Convocation, where I met and addressed
you four years ago on your first
official day as Penn students, and Baccalaureate, where
we assemble today as one community of different faiths
on the eve of your graduation to reflect upon the impact
that your Penn education--both inside and outside the classroom--has
had on your minds and spirits.
As I think
about what lies ahead for you, I'm reminded of a story about two construction workers
named Sam and Bill who have lunch together every day. One
day as always they're sitting down to lunch and they both
open their lunch boxes and Bill looks inside his and says "Oh
baloney, I don't like baloney." Sam opens his, and finds
chicken which he loves and enjoys his lunch. They come
to the next day and they sit down as always having their
lunch together. Bill opens his lunch box and looks in it
and says "I can't believe baloney again, I hate baloney." Sam
opens his and finds turkey, which he loves and enjoys his
lunch and they both go back to work together. Well
now it's the third day and they sit down and they open
their lunch boxes. Bill opens his lunch box and looks in
and says, "Baloney, I have baloney again!" Sam looks in
his, has a nice roast beef sandwich and enjoys it. As they're
leaving to return to work, Sam asks Bill, "Why don't you
tell your wife to stop packing baloney sandwiches for lunch?" Bill
looks at him and replies, "But I don't have a wife."
Which reminds us that most of the baloney
in our lives we put there ourselves.
So as you leave here and think about crafting
your future, how will you make sure your lives are important,
fulfilling, and baloney-free?
The challenges are vexing.
join the leadership ranks of your chosen professions
and callings and begin to enjoy the
blessings of the education you have been privileged to
receive, one sixth of the world's population--that's one
billion people--must make do on less than one dollar a day.
Hundreds of millions of them have no drinkable water, no
access to medical care, and no educational opportunities
that might help them escape the fate of living lives that
are nasty, brutal, and short.
Even in this, the most prosperous nation
on earth, we have scores of cities in serious distress,
and millions of families living in poverty.
and perhaps connected to it all: The emergence of organized
killers who exploit
religious hatreds and exacerbate what Samuel Huntington
has famously described as "the clash of civilizations." As
victims of terrorism die around the globe, we have seen
that a sea of troubles can crash upon any shore in what
has become a shrunken world.
Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations
of the British Commonwealth,
argues persuasively that if we wish to deepen human understanding
and prevent more catastrophes, we must respect and make
space for what he calls "the dignity of difference."
"Pluralism," he writes, "is
a form of hope, because it is founded in the understanding
precisely because we are different, each of us has
something unique to contribute to the shared project of
which we are a part.
short term, our desires and needs may clash; but the
very realization that difference is
a source of blessing leads us to seek mediation, conflict
resolution, conciliation, and peace."
implicit in today's interfaith
ceremony is the recognition that while no single religion
can solve the world's problems or furnish the one true
path to enlightenment and happiness, dialogue and collaboration
among people of different religions can broaden our understanding
of others and deepen our appreciation of our own faiths
Indeed, there is nothing inherently exclusionary
about most of the world's religions.
For example, the divine commandment to
love the stranger appears in the Torah 36 times.
The Koran uses
the phrase "Banu
Adam," or "descendents of Adam," to remind Muslims of their
obligation to respect the honor and dignity of all human
of unconditional love and forgiveness--even
of one's enemies--lies at the heart of Christianity.
In Hinduism, God exists in all things,
and human beings in their essence are one with God, which
compels us to seek something good in everyone.
So, I ask each of you: Are you prepared
to build a better world by seeking and embracing your interconnectedness
to one another?
I already know the
answer is yes. Because all of you--in some way--all of
you have been affirming your identities and building
diverse communities around
shared goals from virtually the moment you left the Convention
Center after Convocation four years ago.
You took the initiative to make a difference
and have a major impact--on the quality of your own education,
on the quality of academic and extracurricular life at
Penn, and on the quality of lives of people near and far.
I observed how a diverse group of extraordinary
freshmen Nursing students founded Minorities in Nursing
to improve health care for diverse populations.
I've observed how you forged connections
across schools such as two Engineering seniors who won
this year's senior design competition for developing a
Sleep Apnea Detection System using Neural Networks --that
could help millions of people who suffer from apnea.
how you built intercultural bridges and worked hard to
open doors of opportunity to
student leader from the College writes: "My main concern coming to Penn was seeing
the word diversity' and trying to understand how an open-minded
Chicano, male, Catholic, heterosexual from California fit
in. But I wanted to explore for myself and help others
see what is underneath the surface." And he did, by developing
programs that encouraged more dialogue on diversity among
all our students, and by being a forceful advocate for
expanding the breadth of our academic programs in ethnic,
gender, and religious studies.
I've observed how you built bridges to
people thousands of miles away--like a Wharton senior who
traveled to India last summer to work with women and children
in rural villages to help them earn an independent living
and advance in their society.
Whatever you did
to build bridges--whether
you helped develop a community health center at a local
middle school in Philadelphia, or worked to improve understanding
across our differences on campus, you served as envoys
from a more just and humane future. Now the time has come
for you to shape that future.
an amazing group of men and women.
Nietzcsche's beautiful words from Thus
you "not to reject the hero
in your souls.
your highest hopes."
Together, you can prevent a wasteful
and destructive clash of religions, of races, cultures
You can even, as our faith traditions teach
us, forge bonds of kinship with strangers.
When you start imagining what you can accomplish
with others after you think you have exhausted the range
of everything and anything in your power,
the seeds of the world in which we all wish to live
from Bob Dylan, may you keep "busy
Godspeed to all of you.