“Your Future Depends
Commencement | Strains of Elgar’s magisterial “Pomp and Circumstance” drifted across the stadium on the warm air. Medieval black robes and red-and-blue satin hoods fluttered in the breeze. And the dazzle of the sun on the bleachers was rivaled only by the smiles of proud parents as Penn’s Class of 2005 filed onto the field for the University’s 249th Commencement.
For Dr. Amy Gutmann, the day had a special significance. “You are my first Penn graduating class as president,” she told the 6,000 graduates assembled before her. (Those numbers included graduate and professional students as well as undergraduates.) “Our time together, I regret, was too briefbut apparently it was long enough for me to make it onto the Senior Crush Matchmaking List.”
All joking aside, Gutmann told the graduates that they were “about to enter a world that your fellow alumni from the Class of 1955 or the Class of 1980 could not have foreseen,” adding, “New ideas, technological breakthroughs, and cultural trends travel at the speed of light without passing through customs.”
Global engagement is the key to this new world, Gutmann stressed. “The past several years have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that we cannot seal ourselves off from the world’s blessings or the world’s curses.”
In order to thrive on such an interconnected planet, she said, graduates need to “acknowledge and act upon two fundamental truths,” the first being that constructive global engagement “always, always occurs locally among individuals who know how to make a positive difference in people’s lives.” It’s not only large organizations and governments that can affect the world, she said.
Second, “constructive global engagement is a two-way street” to which “our approach must be the opposite of noblesse oblige, where governments and major institutions bestowed their largesse and enlightenments on communities and countries,” Gutmann added.
The theme of global engagement was echoed by Kofi Annan Hon’05, the secretary-general of the United Nations and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, who gave this year’s Commencement Address.
Annan, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony, stressed that “we live on a small planet, and our safety, our prosperity, our rights, indeed, our freedoms are indivisible.” He spoke of the U.N.’s role in pursuing and preserving these freedoms for all, exhorting the graduating class to “put into practice” the ideas they had gained from their time at Penn“ideas about what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong, what works and what does not.” The story of their lives, he said, “will be the story of your struggle to be true to the ideas you believe in.”
Annan’s appointment as Commencement speaker initially met mixed opinions from some members of the University, including a group called Kofi Off Campus, which formed a petition to protest his selection. Although the petition garnered over 200 online and 500 paper signatures, according to the group’s website, Annan’s speech regarding the role of the U.N. in world politicsand his reform agenda for the organization, which he recently presented to the U.N. General Assemblywas warmly applauded.
“The reform agenda includes a clear stand against terrorism, a tighter regime to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, more support for democracies, and better peacekeeping and humanitarian capacities,” he said. “If [world leaders] can work together to make these far-reaching reforms, they will help bequeath to your generation a U.N. that can carry forth the ideals for which your grandparents sacrificed so much …
“And I trust that when it comes to your turn to lead, you will improve on what my generation has done,” Annan added. “Do not think you can look away from the injustice, the suffering, or the lack of true freedoms that is the lot of so many people in the world today. Your future depends on their future. The cause of larger freedom should be your cause. As I look at you today, with all your talent, your diversity, and your optimism, I have no doubt that you will do your part to make it come about.”
Gutmann also saluted the graduates on their accomplishments and promising futures. “Who better to lead than you, the graduating class of 2005?” she asked rhetorically. “This is not the world you anticipated when you arrived at Penn, nor the future you bargained for. Instead, I hope that you and your future will be so much better and brighter, as good and bright as this fair day.”Alison Stoltzfus C’05
Annan: “The cause of larger freedom should be your cause”