A Four-Year “Road Trip” Begins

Convocation | At Convocation this year, Penn President Amy Gutmann encouraged the Class of 2009 to think of their Penn careers as a road trip.

“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,” Gutmann said.

She warned the freshmen that, like most road trips, theirs would be “filled with tests and trials that will yield many wonders and personal revelations.” Gutmann urged the students to talk to each other, share their ideas, even argue with each other on this journey.

“The student living next door to you may be a devoted tango enthusiast or an adherent to the Sufi philosophy,” she said. “You have much to gain from engaging with one another.” She recommended that, instead of obsessing over grades, the ’09ers—who come from as far away as Zimbabwe and as close as 54th and Woodbine—“mix it up with classmates and faculty from other schools” at Penn, exploring disciplines other than their own.

But the members of the Class of 2009 weren’t the only ones about to embark on a new journey at Convocation.

“Like you, I am new to Penn,” said Provost Ron Daniels, who began his job as the University’s top academic officer in July [“Gazetteer,” July/August]. “Like you, I’m still trying to find my way around, still trying to figure out which food truck I will favor for a fast lunch, still trying out new combinations of flavors at Scoop D’Ville, and still deciding which cereal goes best with which topping at Cereality. You can see that I have been busy.”

Daniels turned serious, though, when discussing his recent stop at Hill College House.

He described its design, inspired by medieval castles—including moat, spiked fence, and drawbridge—and pointed out that Hill was originally a women’s dorm. This design, he said, “reflect[ed] a philosophy that women should be kept apart.”

“Fortunately,” he added, “the days when women were sequestered are far behind us.”

Daniels urged the Class of 2009 to “create an atmosphere free of moats and rich in bridges” by showcasing their own backgrounds while exploring others’ as well.

He also encouraged these students to “engage in some difficult conversations” about the world around them, including the billion people who live on less than one dollar a day. “Your education brings with it the obligation to weigh carefully how you can best contribute,” he added. “Conversations with other members of our community will help you to have that conversation with yourself.”

As Gutmann noted, “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.”

“Now, fasten your seatbelts,” she said. “The ride of your lives is about to begin.” —Molly Petrilla C’06

©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 10/26/05

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