Franklin, Fireworks, and a Big Tent
Ben Franklin was there, naturally, to exhort his intellectual heirs to take this opportunity to “do good in a grand manner.” Pennsylvania Governor and former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell C’65 Hon’00 stopped by, too, to extol the University’s continuing contributions to the regionincluding, notably, the planned reclamation of the cracked and crumbling asphalt parking lot atop which the venue for the night’s event had been constructed.
About 1,500 of the University’s friends and supporters, faculty, students, and staff gathered on October 20 under an enormous tent erected on the one-time postal lands and soon-to-be green space and playing fields at the University’s eastern edge to toast the public kickoff of Penn’s $3.5 billion, five-year Making History campaign.
Before concluding with a spectacular fireworks display, which guests viewed through the transparent roof covering part of the structure, the eventunderwritten by members of Penn’s board of trusteesincluded remarks by James Riepe W’65 WG’67, who chairs the board, and Making History Campaign Chair George Weiss W’65; performances by student groups (Penn Masala, Penn Jazz, Pan-Asian Dance Troupe, the Inspiration, and the University Glee Club); and the premiere of a video featuring a variety of students and faculty that played on screens hung around the central stage and along the walls.
As the last images of the video faded out, Penn President Amy Gutmann appeared on stage to announce the official goal (until then a sort-of-well-kept secret) and“a resounding vote of confidence in the University’s future”the fact that $1.6 billion, or 46 percent of the total, had already been raised.
“Welcome to Penn’s moment,” Gutmann began, to cheers from the crowd, calling it the “most defining” one since Ben Franklin raised £2,000 to found the “revolutionary academy” that has grown into the “dynamic powerhouse” that is Penn today.
“What, in a word, can [this] campaign accomplish?” she said. “Everythingeverything that our city, society, and the world most need in a great university.”
Calling on the assembled to join in “making history,” Gutmann noted that the members of today’s Penn community are both the beneficiaries of an experiment that revolutionized higher education in America and the stewards of Penn’s continuing success.
“We love what Penn has done for us; we know what Penn can do for our students and the world,” she said. “Together, we have the power to conceive a new kind of university, one that is more intellectually daring than others, one that is more beautifully vibrant than any other, and one, above all, that is more potentially transformative than all the rest.”
College Green Was the Place to Be
The University’s expansion into the former postal lands may have commanded the most attention during the campaign-kickoff celebration, but if parties are to be judged on numbers and noise, College Green was the place to be. As night fell on Philadelphia, more than 6,000 students, alumni, faculty, and staff converged on a Ben Franklin statue that must have been vibrating amid celebrity DJ Kid Capri’s bass blasts.
“Penn’s star has never been brighter,” proclaimed President Gutmann, before calling for $3.5 billion in additional megawatts. Cheers went up as Gutmann reeled off the campaign’s goalsmore financial aid, endowed professorships, graduate-student support, buildings, and green spaceafter which the crowd settled halfway into a hush to watch a video filled with professors and some star pupils.
That was as close as the evening came to approaching kindergarten quiet time. Senior Class president Puneet Singh W’08 quickly took over as master of ceremonies that featured performances by the Penn Band, a-capella group Counterparts, African Rhythms, and the South Asian dance fusion of Dhamaka.
Meanwhile partygoers lined up for an array of ethnic cuisine running the gamut from Thai noodle salad to soul food, and thronged the tented bar counters until their three-beer allowances ran out and the search for extra-friendly bartenders began. (Penn’s fraternities, evidently, had not been consulted on booze rations.) The hundreds of flushed faces dancing furiously between Ben and the Button, however, left the strong impression that all Penn’s undergrads needed to get a party going was two turntables and a microphone.
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©2007 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 11/09/07