Happy New Year! I hope you all have returned from your vacation refreshed and energized for a great 2006.
I had the honor of traveling to India to meet with Penn’s Asian alumni and their families. The experience filled me with awe and pride: awe at a country that in 15 years has transformed itself into a flourishing economic and technological power; and pride in Penn’s global family, whose enthusiastic engagement with their alma mater confirmed my faith in the power of our Penn fellowship.
This month we celebrate the birthdays of two leaders who understood the power of fellowship to benefit society and uplift individual lives: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who would have been 77 years old on January 15, and Benjamin Franklin, whose 300th birthday falls two days later.
Franklin, who believed that the aim of all learning is to serve humanity, used his knowledge to contribute to scientific progress and strengthen civic life. But rather than imposing his ideas on others, he introduced them avidly among friends and colleagues. Whether he was devising new street lamps, proposing a firefighting association, founding a university, or hammering out the specifics of a new government, Franklin mobilized group support and action to fulfill his vision for positive change.
Dr. King’s inspiring words and courageous deeds stirred many to join him in risking their livelihoods and lives for justice and a new world order. The admirably diverse coalition that banded together during the Civil Rights movement took the first steps toward becoming what Dr. King described as a “beloved community.” Although his life was tragically cut short, he saw the seeds of this fellowship take root in action. We all are better for that fellowship and for the opportunity to carry Dr. King’s spirit forward in our actions.
We at Penn have been planting the seeds of global fellowship for many years. Penn was among the earliest of our Ivy peers to enroll international students. Today, we are proud to say, Penn boasts the largest percentage of such students. Our freshman class includes 281 students from 63 countries. Many of our schools and centers are engaged in vital research in Asia, Africa and Latin America and are collaborating with partner institutions, NGOs, and governments to solve problems in communities all over the world.
Tending and feeding these growing bonds of global fellowship strengthens Penn’s ability to share knowledge, solve problems, and promote positive change on an international scale. I am proud that Penn is moving forward toward fostering what Dr. King envisioned as a “worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation.”
As we begin this New Year, let us all do our part to nurture this spirit of fellowship. How may we begin?
First, we could reach out to those who might need support, or even just a sympathetic ear during this time of year when anxiety and post-holiday depression are more likely to strike. And please do not overlook your own personal needs.
Second, we could engage each other intellectually and socially across racial, religious and ethnic lines. Let’s make a point of expanding our horizons by inviting someone new to our circle of friends and colleagues.
Third, we have a great opportunity to learn more about Dr. King’s “beloved community” during “Making a Difference By Living The Dream,” this year’s annual commemoration of Dr. King’s legacy, observed from January 16 through 27.
Fourth, we could consider new ways to actively participate in Penn’s community, artistic and cultural life.
Fifth and finally, we can embrace Penn’s international mission. I enjoy deepening my knowledge of other cultures by experiencing their cinematic and literary output, by visiting other countries, and by immersing myself in the cosmopolitan ambience that enriches our great University. Later this month the Task Force on Global Engagement will recommend a set of initiatives designed to enhance Penn’s “global campus.” As we cultivate our global perspective in 2006, let us be guided by Dr. King’s spirit of fellowship and Dr. Franklin’s knack for inventing just the right tools. If we follow their models, our seeds are sure to flourish.