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Crossing Boundaries

Toward the end of his eloquent, thoughtful—and rain-shortened —Commencement address, the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney Hon’00 paid tribute to the University’s tradition of “the expansion of horizons and the transcending of boundaries,” which he traced back to Founder Benjamin Franklin’s “refusal to acknowledge the boundary presumed to exist in the field of education between everything that is useful and everything that is ornamental” in his famous formulation of the University’s purpose. “No wonder then that student volunteerism and service-learning play such a large part in the work that is done here,” Heaney continued. “And no wonder that there has been such a commitment by the graduates and faculty to the larger Philadelphia community.”
    Though we didn’t plan it—our table of contents was set well before the May 20 Commencement ceremonies—this issue of the Gazette offers a good demonstration of what he was talking about.
    In our cover story, Phil Leggiere C’79 profiles the artist Lily Yeh FA’66, who has spent the last decade-and-a-half as the moving force behind the Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia. Yeh was initially concerned about her reception as an Asian-American woman in the mostly African-American, impoverished neighborhood, but instead found ready acceptance and eager allies in her work transforming a series of abandoned lots into spaces that are both works of art and people’s parks.
    In “Class Acts,” assistant editor Susan Lonkevich reports on the growing trend, at Penn and a number of other schools, toward providing community-service opportunities as part of alumni-relations programming. For example, alumni clubs in several cities have organized a variety of events through PennCares, a program led by volunteer Joel Nied C’90. And this year, for the first time, the Class of 1960 partnered with Civic House, a community-service “hub” on the model of Kelly Writers House, to take on several neighborhood improvement projects in West Philadelphia as part of its 40th Reunion activities.
    (While programs like these are seen as a way to involve a more diverse group of alumni, the more traditional attractions of Alumni Weekend—food, drink and the company of old classmates—are still going strong. See Alumni Weekend 2000 for some damp but undeterred Reunion revelers.)
    Also in this issue is an interview with the writer John Edgar Wideman C’63 Hon’86, who was on campus in April as a Writers House Visiting Fellow. As it happens, Wideman’s work is much occupied with the breaking or blurring of conventional boundaries—between fiction and nonfiction, for instance. The interview was originally broadcast live on the World Wide Web (thus breaking the boundaries of geography). We offer what Wideman, who reviewed the text, describes as an “edited, revised and expanded” version on page 40.
    The 2000 observance of Alumni Weekend and Commencement also set me thinking about a couple of personal anniversaries. This year marked my 20th Reunion and my fourth year as Gazette editor. The students with whom I arrived on campus are alumni now—the Class of 2000.
    I wrote about several members of the Class in the October 1996 Gazette, my first issue as editor. Curious about how they had fared at the University, I sent all those whose e-mail addresses we could find a series of questions. The responses appear (also somewhat edited) in “Notes from the Undergrad” on page 8.
    While the 1996 article made much of their membership in the millennial class, not included here are their answers as to what, if any, significance there ultimately was in the 2000 designation. Most, to be honest, ignored the question. Of those who did respond, Tafari Smith W’00 put it in terms easily grasped by those alumni (like me) who wonder whether they’d be admitted to Penn today: “We really were the most selective class … until the Class of 2001 showed up.”

—John Prendergast C’80


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