Graduation Day: Penn’s 250th

[Editor's Note: As you may have noticed, the print edition of the June 8, 2006 Penn Current includes an error on this story. We know, of course, that Penn's recently graduated class was the University's 250th. We apologize for the error.]

Though Penn’s 250th Commencement day dawned dull and rainy, Amy Gutmann spoke about a charge in the graduating crowd that was positively electric. “Every challenge you will face can furnish a moment to work the magic of your mind,” said Gutmann. “The world craves that magic. So please honor Franklin’s spirit—and boost our spirits and your own spirits as well—by reinventing our world one creative step at a time.”

Baccalaureate speaker Marc Morial C’80 and Jodie Foster, who received an honorary Doctorate of Arts, acknowledged poverty and genocide, Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina in their speeches, and urged the graduates to give of themselves to make the world a more just and fair place. “Your Penn education has given you a two by four,” said Foster. “You may build a building or hit someone over the head. The choice is yours.”

Here are excerpts from the major addresses:

Marc Morial:

“And let us recognize, graduates of 2006, that the America you face in 2006 and the century you face, is going to be a century of tremendous transformation. We are a nation that will become more varied and much more diverse, a country that will no longer have a majority ethnic group. It will challenge our leaders. It will challenge our patience. It will challenge our public policy. It will challenge how we can expand democracy and expand the economic power of this nation to so many more people. It will challenge us. … You leave this great institution with a powerful education. You leave this institution prepared, and you leave this institution ready. Be successful; pursue your dream, but make a commitment to change the world.”

Amy Gutmann:

“Cynics may mock my optimism and point to the polarized politics that prevails in our world, and to the global problems of poverty, disease, violence, indeed of genocide and environmental desecration. They insist that nothing will ever change for the better. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Graduates, I have already seen you begin to prove the cynics wrong during your time at Penn. You have invented more durable prosthetic hip implants, organized effective anti-hunger campaigns, launched the first national peer-reviewed bioethics journal by undergraduates and staged innovative and imaginative productions of Shakespeare’s plays. And I know you will not stop now.”

Jodie Foster:

“There is nothing more beautiful than finding your course as you believe you bob aimlessly in the current. Wouldn’t you know that your path was there all along, waiting for you to knock, waiting for you to become. This path does not belong to your parents, your teachers, your leaders, your lovers. Your path is your character defining itself more and more everyday like a photograph coming into focus, like a color that becomes more vivid in contrast with its surroundings.”

Originally published on June 8, 2006