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 region—including, 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 event—underwritten by members of Penn’s board of trustees—included 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. “Everything—everything 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 goals—more financial aid, endowed professorships, graduate-student support, buildings, and green space—after 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.

Nov|Dec 07 Contents
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Seizing the Moment By John Prendergast
Photographs by Candace diCarlo and Tommy Leonardi C'89

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Making History
on the Road

If you couldn’t make it to campus for the celebrations marking the launch of Penn’s $3.5 billion fundraising campaign, not to worry. Making History may be coming to a city near you.

Starting with Boston on November 12, President Gutmann will be traveling to nine locations by this summer. Besides being personally “invigorating for me,” she says, these visits are “a great opportunity to connect with alumni and build support for Penn and the campaign.”

Stops include:
Boston, November 12
Washington, D.C., November 27
Hong Kong, January 12, 2008
Los Angeles, February 4, 2008
San Francisco, February 6, 2008
Miami, March 10, 2008
Chicago, April 28, 2008
New York, May 7, 2008
London, June 5, 2008

In anticipation of the campaign launch, last year Gutmann and trustee chair James Riepe W’65 WG’67 moderated several briefing sessions for alumni donors in various locations. “I came away with a sense of the excitement that our alumni body has for Penn, but also of how important it is for us to increasingly engage our alumni across the globe,” she says. “We’re an American university with a global reach. We have perhaps the most dynamic and far-ranging alumni body of any major urban research and teaching university, and it’s key to our success moving forward that our alumni and friends be increasingly involved with Penn.”

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©2007 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 11/09/07