Foster to Grads:
Ben Franklin and Eminem may be separated by centuries and musical sensibilities, but both the statesman and the rapper were invoked as sources of inspiration during Penn’s 250th commencement ceremony.
President Amy Gutmann invited the Class of 2006 to join her in “channeling the inventive spirit” of Franklin, which has inspired Penn graduates since the first class“all six of them”graduated in 1757.
After urging graduates to fill their new lives with their passions, Commencement speaker Jodie Foster borrowed some rap lyrics from Eminem:
You better lose yourself in
You own it. You better never
One shot! Do not miss your chance to blow.
This opportunity comes once
A morning of intermittent rain didn’t keep graduates from processing down Locust Walk, their caps and gowns accessorized by the occasional wizard’s cape, 3-D glasses, and star-spangled or polka-dotted umbrella.
Many of them took the opportunity to snap photos of Foster as they passed the reviewing stand where the award-winning actor, producer, and director sat with other honored guests.
Outside Franklin Field, vendors hawked roses and rain ponchos, shouting: “Two for five dollars! You’re gonna need ’em!”
No lightning rod was needed for the occasion, but Gutmann upheld the example of its inventor, noting that Franklin, among many other attributes, “had a talent for creating something out of nothing more than the play of his unusual mind.
“Each of you has the imagination, talent, courage, and heaven knows, the playfulness to become an exemplar of Franklin’s inventive spirit,” she told the 6,000 graduates of Penn’s 12 schools. “And I know that each and every one of you has the power to solve a problem, create a daring work of art, unlock a mystery of the human mind, break new ground, and improve the world in bold and unpredictable ways.
“You [already] have invented more durable prosthetic hip implants, organized effective anti-hunger campaigns, launched the first national peer-reviewed bioethics
Foster, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts degree, began her remarks by mocking graduation-speech clichés, such as “the hope for this country’s future.”
“If you’re anything like I was at my Yale graduation in 1984, you’ll think, ‘What a load of elitist crap.’ You’ll look around you, at your friends still bleary eyed and silly from last night’s concoctions, the buddies you curl up with, sing stupid songs with, make faces with. ‘These guys? We can’t possibly be the ones they’re talking about.’” In fact, she said, “If you’re anything like I was, you’ll spend the next six months in bed watching re-runs, feeling like a complete idiot.
“But somewhere in the middle of free-form post-graduation survival, the journey of your life has a way of sneaking off the starting line,” she said. Along the way, “you pick up bits and pieces of treasure and trash, pain and pleasure, passions and disappointments, and you start stuffing them in your bag ... your big bag of experience.
“You pursue the things you love and believe in. You cast off the images of yourself that don’t fit. And suddenly you look behind you and a pattern emerges. You look in front of you and the path makes sense ... This path does not belong to your parents, your teachers, your leaders, or your lovers. Your path is your character defining itself more and more every day.”
As a college student, Foster protested South African apartheid and the CIA’s presence in Central America. She bailed activist friends out of jail. “But I was never comfortable being front and center with my political opinions,” she said. “It wasn’t my way.
“All I really loved was to tell stories, to find the hidden truths in the details of people’s lives,” Foster said. “I had no idea at the time how much of a difference it can make.
“Those stories have changed me, have cut me open and spilled me out and connected me with the world around me in ways I could never have imagined,” she said. “Like the characters I have played, those women who endure terrible adversity and survive intact, victorious, heroic, I want to become better instead of worse, deeper, stronger, more truthful. With every choice I make in my lifetime I come a little closer to that goal. And perhaps in the process other women will be inspired by these portrayals to do the same. This is my way. How could I have possibly known that my freshman year in college?”
The reluctant activist did sound a political note, asserting that America is not better off than it was four years ago, when the graduates were freshman and the first anniversary of September 11 was followed by the “painful drumbeat for war.
“In that one instant of deep sorrowful mourning [after the World Trade Center attacks], the world was with us,” she said. “And then the moment was gone, in my belief, squandered. So many lives lost, for what?”
During the past year, the damage of Hurricane Katrina and the “equally disastrous and shameful reaction” of leaders “left a mark so devastating on our country that words just cannot describe,” she added.
“How will your experience pave the way for a new voice in America? I hope it will take you out of these doors, out into the open air. You will breathe it in your lungs and say, ‘From now on this life will be what I stand for, dammit. Move over. This is my story now.’”S.F.
GAZETTEER : News & Sports
Inspiration from Ben and Emimem at 250th Commencement
|©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 06/28/06