The University is exemplified by transformation

By Amy Gutmann, September 7, 2011 - As published in the Daily Pennsylvanian

Being Penn’s President is a 24/7 job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. At the beginning of each successive academic year, my Red and Blue pride reaches an all-time high. Not only am I constantly meeting passionate and talented students from around the world, I’m also surrounded by eminent faculty and dedicated staff members — links in a long and distinguished chain that stretches back to Penn’s famous founder.

This year, we’re making enhancements to our beautiful campus. Golkin Hall, the Law School’s new wing, is nearing completion on Sansom Street. We’re finishing phase one of the Special Collections Center in Van Pelt Library. Locust Walk received a much-needed makeover over the summer, returning the iconic thoroughfare to its former glory. Meanwhile, the Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology — a hub for remarkable scientists and engineers and the students they teach, mentor and involve in their research — is taking shape on Walnut Street.

Just a few blocks away, we are putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest — and greenest — campus improvements of all time. If you haven’t yet had a chance, walk over the Walnut Street Bridge and survey Penn Park’s open space and athletic fields. On Sept. 15, please join me to celebrate the grand opening of this beautiful, expansive green space on our campus where Quakers will walk, run and play for generations to come.

Campus improvements that enhance your living and learning experience reflect the great work of transformation that exemplifies our University. Writing in his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin provides advice that rings as true today as it did centuries ago: “If you desire instruction and improvement from others, you should not, at the same time, express yourself fixed in your present opinions.” As we begin a new semester together, I encourage you to celebrate the virtue of intellectual receptivity and seek out ways to grow as a student, as a teacher and as a friend.

You’ve spent years in the classroom and your dedication to learning is part of what drew you to Penn. Stretch beyond your boundaries and across disciplinary lines to become a student in the broadest sense. Take that creative writing, political science, economics, life sciences or robotics course that caught your eye. Commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships by pursuing lines of inquiry alongside one of Penn’s phenomenal faculty. In doing so, you may reawaken a forgotten interest or discover a hidden passion that will open new doors.

Whatever your academic inclinations, embrace ideas that challenge you this year and meet opportunities to grow head on. In every peer-to-peer exchange exists an opportunity to learn. Seek out those opportunities. Learn about others and, in turn, learn about yourself. Serve as a member of our student-run medical emergency response team; get involved with our environmental sustainability initiative; or mentor local students through Civic House, the Fox Leadership Program or the Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

Education consists of the sum of our learning experiences inside and outside the classroom. For every one thing that you have in common with a fellow Quaker, there are at least two things that you do not have in common. Share your differences. Be a teacher as well as a student. This may mean something as simple as articulating an interesting idea from class over dinner or as complex as presenting your research to colleagues. In either case, good communication is essential. Practice it daily and it will make you not only a better teacher but also a better student.

While you are learning and while you are teaching, you will meet incredible people who will enrich your life and bring you the simplest joy: connection. In expected and unexpected ways, you will be drawn to others, developing lifelong connections and celebrating the profound truth that, despite our differences, we are deeply and unmistakably similar. In a year of campus growth and increasing beauty, I know that you will take a few moments to appreciate all that Penn is and all the ways in which you can grow here, as a student, as a teacher and as a friend. Whether you are taking the first big steps of your Penn journey or finishing up your last big lap before Commencement, I wish you all the best and welcome you to a new and exciting academic year.

Amy Gutmann is the President of the University of Pennsylvania. Her email address is president@upenn.edu.