September 12, 2006, Volume 53, No. 3
Below is the Convocation address given by Provost Ronald Daniels to the Class of 2010 on College Green, Tuesday evening, September 5, 2006.
President's Convocation Address
The Frontiers of Knowledge
by Ronald Daniels
Members of the Class of 2010: I am delighted to join President Gutmann in welcoming you to the University of Pennsylvania, your newest frontier.
Though you are still settling in, I see that you have already begun to explore this only temporarily rain-soaked campus. That’s frontier number one.
I remember the excitement I felt when I first explored Penn last summer. Allow me, then, to speak to you as a sophomore—as someone who knows the ropes.
In the weeks and years to come, many in our community will want to advise you. Best Falafel Truck. Best College House. Best History TA. I’ll bet your parents will even call to weigh in.
While a few of these people will be invaluably wise—and parents are always wise—at the end of the day, you will make your own decisions.
And not just between falafel trucks, college houses, or history TA’s. Often, as you chart your Penn path, you will be deciding how to expand that second, larger frontier: the frontier of your knowledge.
On top of that, you will be deciding when, where, and how to act, who you want to be in the world, and why.
You actually can’t avoid those questions and challenges here. And as you explore them, wonderful things will happen.
An example: In 1902, one Penn poet met another. William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound hit it off right away. At Penn, they were just students, hanging out, meeting girls, and arguing about books. But the friendship they formed here would become one of the great friendships in literary history, paving the way for the birth of modern poetry.
Class of 2010, you have a lot going for you here. You have a brilliant and supportive community of teachers and friends who will share in your adventures and revel in your successes, just as you will share and revel in theirs.
You have the large home base of this campus and the smaller communities of your schools: Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Nursing, and Wharton.
This campus will always be your home, but your mission is to harness your intellectual gifts, your creative and moral energies, and to reach beyond its walls.
Volunteer in our West Philadelphia community. Study abroad before your graduate. Your experiences in the world and the boundaries you cross will become vital components of your Penn education. They will challenge and fortify the essential kernel of your self.
And while you are here, I urge you to engage with one another; try your best to cross smaller boundaries every day. Explore subjects outside of your safety zone, whether it’s engineering or studio art. Seek out a fellow student who will thoughtfully disagree with you on the ethics of rebuilding New Orleans, or the next step for the U.S. in Iraq.
You have each come to this campus with a unique set of beliefs and values, and in four years, you will leave it with many of them intact.
But in between, your experiences will be enriched, your critical thinking skills sharpened, and your ideas challenged and refined from your studies in this vibrant intellectual community.
You will be amazed at what grows out of your own initiative.
Hundreds of Penn students made us proud when they participated in fundraisers for the victims of Hurricane Katrina last fall. Dozens more volunteered in the rebuilding effort.
This pragmatic activism lies at the very core of the Penn ethos. What can we do, we ask ourselves, in light of what we have learned?
Next month, we will host 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan scholar, conservationist, and human rights advocate whose Green Belt Movement has spearheaded a sustainable growth revolution in Africa.
As she will tell you, true frontiering requires integrity: The moral courage to do what you believe is right, without taking shortcuts, academic or otherwise.
It requires you to argue with the world of knowledge around you. Seek truth wherever you can, and along the way, make sure you have those difficult, unsettling discussions.
Henry David Thoreau has some wisdom for us here: “The frontiers are not east or west, north or south, but wherever a man ‘fronts’ a fact.”
Our knowledge of the world is forever expanding, and so is each of yours. Your undergraduate years are both a vehicle for that expansion and a celebration of it. Front the facts, and you will revel in your discoveries.
Members of the Class of 2010: I urge you to begin with the falafel trucks and the history TAs. And then I urge you to take on the world.