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Penn Commencement 2011

May 24, 2011, Volume 57, No. 34

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Remarks given Monday, May 16, 2011 by Camille Z. Charles, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology and Education, Director, Center for Africana Studies, and Incoming Chair of the Faculty Senate.

Changing the World


As Chair of the University of Pennsylvania Faculty Senate, I offer greetings and congratulations on behalf of the nearly 4,000 members of the faculty at this extraordinary university. We are extremely proud of all that you have achieved during your tenure at Penn, leading up to and including this momentous occasion.

This is my first official duty as Chair of the Faculty Senate, and I have been carefully instructed that I have three responsibilities. First, it is tradition to reference our founder, Benjamin Franklin in some way; second, to offer words of wisdom and encouragement as you move out into the world; and third, to keep it short! So, let’s get this party started.

Recently, I was asked what makes Penn students so exceptional. I reflected for a moment, trying to appropriately articulate what we know instinctively, and what we as faculty have had the great fortune and opportunity to experience over the last four years as your professors, mentors, advisors, and collaborators. In the tradition of our founder, Benjamin Franklin, you are industrious, entrepreneurial, and committed to service; in fact, the descriptor I chose, with affection and great admiration, is scrappy. 

You are disinclined to sit back and wait for things to happen, or to expect that things will be easy; nor are you going to allow obstacles to stand in the way of accomplishing your goals. You are not likely to let doubters detract you from whatever it is that you set out to achieve, whether your goal is academic or civic, personal or public. And, you are committed to helping others, making your world a better place than it was when you arrived. Penn students, Penn graduates, make things happen. You create opportunities; you evaluate and improve existing paths when it’s called for, and you are unafraid to chart new territory when innovation is required.  Equally impressive, you embrace any and all challenges with the full confidence that, ultimately, you will not only persevere, you will succeed.  Most importantly, however, you accomplish all of this with compassion, humility, and decency, in service to your communities, be they local, national, or global. 

In the spirit of Ben Franklin, you make your education work for you; assisting you in your efforts to make your world—however you conceive of it—a better place. The world has changed a lot since you arrived four years ago, and the challenges you face as you go out into the world are great. But you already know that because you are already actively engaged with the world. What I know for sure, and what all of us who have watched you make the most of your experiences and do great things know for sure, is that you have already begun to change the world and the best is yet to come.

On behalf of the Faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, I thank you for the opportunities you have given us to facilitate and share in your education and for teaching us a few things along the way. You are an inspiration to us all. We congratulate you and all of the family and friends who love and support you. Thank you.


Almanac - May 24, 2011, Volume 57, No. 34