Mayor Street asks grads to stick around

John Street wore two hats when he spoke to the graduating class of the Graduate School of Fine Arts May 21—that of mayor of Philadelphia and that of proud Penn parent.

The mayor, his wife, Naomi Post, and his son Sharif were all in attendance as his daughter Rashida Zakia Ng (a married name) received her master’s degree in architecture from the GSFA.

Before Ng and her 167 fellow May graduates received their diplomas, though, Street had a few words for them.

First he noted the Penn people tapped to play roles in shaping the city’s future, including President Judith Rodin, who heads the New Economy Development Alliance, and GSFA Dean and City Planning Commission Chair Gary Hack.

Then he encouraged the graduates to join them.

He challenged the graduates to make a better world than the one their parents left them, one with less bigotry and violence and more opportunity for all.

Then he got local, expressing both optimism about the city’s future and worries about its problems.

He gave a list of development projects, including Penn’s Landing, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and the new football and baseball stadiums. Then he described some of the physical challenges facing the city, such as abandoned properties and vacant, trash-strewn lots.

Then he issued an invitation to the graduates. “Our city is on the move, but we need your help. Let me make this invitation official: I invite each and every one of you to change Philadelphia from your school address to your permanent address. Applause, please.”

He added, “We need you here in our city. We need your skills, your ingenuity, your passion for change, your impatience with the status quo. We need your ideas and your ideals.”

Street also spoke of the late Rev. Leon Sullivan’s work as an example showing how one committed individual can make a huge difference in people’s lives, and Street urged the graduates to keep in touch with the friends they made while at Penn.

And finally, he reminded them — as he reminds everyone these days — “Don’t forget to drink your water.”


Originally published on May 31, 2001