"Taking a Fantastic Road Trip"
September 6, 2005 - Convocation Speech
by Penn President Dr. Amy Gutmann
I am so pleased to welcome to the University of Pennsylvania the members of the great Class of 2009!
I extend equally warm greetings to our transfers from other colleges and universities, including a special transfer from the University of Toronto, Penn’s new Provost, Ron Daniels!
Gathering on College Green on a beautiful September evening reminds me of a Green Day song about September.
Summer has come and passed.
The innocent can never last.
Wake me up when these speeches end.
OK, so I improvised a little.
Seriously, we made it through a sizzling summer here on campus. And Penn is still sizzling: The 2006 Kaplan Newsweek College Guide last month recognized us as “Hottest for Happy To Be There.”
They got that right! Our campus crackles with enthusiasm and energy. How will you harness all that energy? That’s what I’d like you to think about with me now.
In its original meaning, “convocation” is a group gathered in response to a summons. Each of you has received our summons to embark on a challenging quest that will change your life forever.
No one can foresee where this quest will carry you. But as someone who loves road trip stories, I picture each of you beginning your own Penn road trip. Like every memorable journey, yours will be filled with tests and trials that will yield many wonders and personal revelations.
But first, you must gather your companions and allies. In Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbits quickly realize that they must trust others to help them fulfill their mission to save Middle Earth. Teaming up with Elves, Dwarves, and Men from worlds beyond their own, the hobbits go on a fantastic road trip and accomplish what they could not have done alone.
So begin your own epic quest by reaching out to one another. Your diverse backgrounds and avid interests are among the many gifts you have to share with one another.
The student living next door to you may be a devoted tango enthusiast or an adherent to the Sufi philosophy. You have much to gain from engaging with one another.
The next challenge on your road trip is to mine the academic riches of this University.
Yes, some of you are Nursing students. Let’s hear it for Nursing! Some are Engineering students. Engineering! Many of you are College students. Where are you? And you can’t miss the Whartonites!
All of you are citizens of the University of Pennsylvania. Members of the great class of 2009: Mix it up with classmates and faculty from other schools.
Now is your chance to sample disciplines that complement your area of focus.
Nursing students: If you take an economics class from Dr. John Knowles, you can learn about the social and economic forces that will profoundly affect the families and children under your care.
Wharton students, if you take an English class from Dr. Amy Kaplan, your minds will be opened to a different perspective on the global economy.
Of course you have requirements to fill, and majors to complete. But exploring other disciplines will enhance your Penn education.
Henry David Thoreau, who lived in the small town of Concord, Massachusetts, was once asked if he had traveled much. “Yes,” he replied. “Around Concord.” By May, make sure that you have traveled Penn well.
At Penn you are joining a community of scholars who expect you to expand the body of knowledge. So, instead of obsessing about grades, reach out to your professors as mentors. Ask tough questions, and your professors will help you stretch your intellectual muscles. This is not a time to be shy. It is your chance to develop relationships that can influence the course of your life.
When your mind feels like it is about to explode, push through the discomfort to reach a new level of strength, like an athlete beating her personal best. And don’t hesitate to seek guidance when you feel you are going astray.
Although there is so much to gain from your classmates and your professors, do not stop there. Create your place in our extended community beyond classroom and campus. At Penn you are not only in training for the rest of your life – you also are beginning the rest of your life, right now.
In 1723, a young man of about your age went on the road from Boston to Philadelphia. He arrived here jobless with no more than a Dutch dollar in his pocket.
After he found himself something to eat, Benjamin Franklin plunged in. His success demonstrates that there are many ways to transform the world while fully partaking of it. No saint, Franklin thoroughly enjoyed his status as an international star.
Apply the values of good citizenship and committed leadership. Contribute and enjoy!
When your undergraduate years are over, you will hold a degree. But if you have reached out for the gifts Penn has to offer, you will hold something infinitely more powerful – the inclination to serve and the ability to change the world.
Lose no time in beginning your quest, as Franklin did, to improve yourself along with some part of the world.
Just look at the choices available to you right now. You may contribute to West Philadelphia’s thriving arts scene.
Or find your calling doing community service through Civic House.
Many Penn undergraduates do independent research and engage in field work all over the world. Be one of them!
As you make your way at Penn, transform “happy-to-be-here” into “happy-to-be-doing-great-things.” By engaging with classmates, professors, with our local community and beyond, create bonds that will enrich you for the rest of your life.
Be part of our Penn fellowship—a fellowship bound by the quest for knowledge and informed engagement with communities all over the world.
Let us begin by joining together to help relieve the suffering of those affected by this catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. Join me in helping however we can. Some of our own students have had their worlds devastated, and we are working with them to ease their burdens.
We are also extending a helping hand to 100 undergraduates who were attending colleges and universities in hurricane-stricken areas. They will be taking fall-semester classes at Penn. We also will enable Penn faculty and staff to serve as volunteers with relief organizations by offering three weeks paid time off.
I know that you, too, will become personally involved. In coming through for others, you will discover the true meaning of caring and informed leadership.
Members of the great class of 2009, we summoned you to Penn because we know that each of you has the power and the drive to change the world for the better.
When, at graduation, you are asked if you have traveled much, you will be able to say that, yes, you have traveled Penn well, you have discovered worlds you cannot even imagine now, and you are ready to take your show on the road in the spirit of true Penn fellowship.
I also expect that each of you will say, “This could only have happened at Penn.” Now, fasten your seat belts: The ride of your lives is about to begin!