September 11, 2012,
Volume 59, No. 03
Below are the remarks given by Provost Vincent Price to the Class of 2016 on September 4, 2012 at the Palestra. To see more photos and the video from the Convocation, visit www.upenn.edu/spotlights/penn-convocation-2012
A Change of Focus
As Provost, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to Penn.
This evening, you are seated in the historic Palestra, a building that dates to 1927 . . . when apparently people really liked to sweat.
It is the most storied gymnasium in the history of college athletics, and has hosted more games and visiting teams than any other facility in the country. Just steps away is Franklin Field, the oldest stadium still hosting football games. It was the nation’s first two-tiered stadium, home of the first football radio broadcast and Vince Lombardi’s first—and only—NFL playoff loss, in 1960.
So, you haven’t even been to class, and you’ve already learned something. In fact, I’m very confident each one of you knowsquite a bit more than that. The reason is obvious. You are all extremely accomplished: the best of the best. That, after all, is why you’re here. You have demonstrated your intelligence, worked hard, and earned a place in one of the world’s most selective freshman classes.
Then again, you are used to being at the top. You are achievers. Achievers are always challenged to make things happen. You’ve been encouraged to work harder, look ahead, plan better, to scale even greater heights of success. While each of you is different, here sit two thousand others who—in this one respect—are just like you. At Penn, everyone is smart and talented. Everyone is highly focused.
Which is why, tonight, I’m going to suggest that you take this opportunity to change your focus.
My vision for you is simple: Focus on this time. Not four years from now, but the here and now. By all means, keep the future in mind. But don’t peer at the horizon and obsess about it.
It sounds easy, but it’s not. You’ll hear people talk about finishing college, and the job pressures or grad school pressures that will follow. Well, as President Gutmann said, this is not a race. The prize is not waiting down the road. It’s surrounding you. The rewards—and there are many—are right here, and often in places you least expect.
So don’t look past things, focus on them. View your classes, classmates, and teachers not as steps to some other place, but as valuable destinations in their own right. Resist the temptation to weigh each new opportunity as if it might someday need to fit on a résumé. Many of the things that matter most here won’t: hanging out talking to friends, indulging in readings that are not required, attending shows and performances. . . and getting some sleep.
Now, I’m quite serious about that last one. I can assure you no employerwill care that you’ve graduated well rested. But if there is one serious mistake you are likely to make here, it is probably not getting enough rest. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’d rather not receive emails from your parents claiming that Provost Price specifically told my son or daughter to sleep all day. If that’s your defense, you’re not as smart as I thought. Unfortunately, sleep has been redefined as time wasted, time not devoted to getting ahead. Part of the refocusing process is concentrating on your health. Don’t overdo it.
My challenge to you is not to take it easy—believe me, there’s a lot about college that is far from easy. Rather, I want you to be easy on yourself. Don’t worry about the world’s lofty expectations. Don’t fret if at some point, it seems that you are the only one without a road map or a business plan. Set those worries aside.
Perhaps most important, allow yourself to be confused. Let the people and ideas and problems you encounter over the next four years surround and confound you.
For an achiever, this is a tall order. At a place dedicated to knowledge and discovery, you are bound to feel pressure to know things. And if you don’t know, you will feel pressure to appear as though you do. Giving into that pressure belies a mistaken understanding of knowledge. Nobody ever had a good idea—or grasped someone else’s—without being puzzled. And the more profound the challenge, the more satisfying the quest.
Openly embracing confusion is not easy for achievers. It is especially difficult for those who are laser-focused on the future, because confusion may appear to cloud your vision. It won’t. It will force you to slow your step, and look more carefully as things gradually take shape. When you do, you will find plenty of light to illuminate your progress, and you will find your own way forward, greeting the future with confidence and clarity.
There is no guarantee of success; there never is. And you will struggle. For some of you, it may be the first time. In those moments of confusion, when things get blurry, you may have doubts. Among all these high-performing overachievers, who seem to know exactly where they’re headed, you may wonder whether you’re cut out to be here. You are.And, by the way, they are all wondering the same thing.
One final point. You may be thinking, All this advice about focusing on the present sounds great, Provost Price, but I know my future; I’m pre-med, or pre-law. I would point out that tonight, you are all pre-everything. Nothing is declared, no job has been offered. Take this opportunity to surprise yourself. . . and your parents. In short, be unpredictable.
Ultimately, by 2016, when we gather again in Franklin Field for commencement, your horizon may be exactly what you expected. But you will be different. . . changed by a path unexpected. That sounds like a pretty great achievement to me.
Members of the Class of 2016: Welcome to Penn.