The Life of the Mind

by Judith Rodin, President


Members of the Class of 2001, it is my great honor to formally welcome you to the scholarly community of the University of Pennsylvania.

You are Penn's millennial class. You will graduate in a year that some believe will be a turning point of great proportions. Here at Penn, we expect equally momentous things from you.

According to some predictions, the 21st Century will give us space colonies and time travel. You Engineering students have a lot of work to do.

The cure for the common cold? Still out of our reach as we near the millennium. Nursing students and basic science majors, I think some interdisciplinary research is in order.

Wharton students, you are not exempt. Have you considered how you will play the stock market in a cashless society?

And, students of the humanities and social sciences, there is still the unsolved problem of finding world peace. Clearly this is an especially tough issue but you have the next four years to work on it.

Seriously, I know that all of you have the wherewithal to accomplish these feats and much more. Joining me enthusiastically in that perspective are trustees, University deans, members of the faculty, student leaders, and staff and officers of the University.

We are wearing the traditional costumes of the academic community in honor of this important occasion. It may seem a bit peculiar to welcome a millennial class wearing medieval robes. But I can tell you they have not changed since I was a student at Penn in the 1960s, nor have they changed from the decades and centuries before. When you walk in the Commencement ceremony four years from now, you, too, will wear these scholarly robes. Your journey toward that day has begun. On Sunday, you took part in the first academic exercise of your college career - the Penn Reading Project-as a class.

The Class of 2001

Let me tell you a little bit about your classmates. You are the most academically accomplished group ever to attend Penn: 306 of you were either valedictorian or salutatorian of your high school class; more than 130 of you were president of your student council or of your class; 475 of you were active in the performing arts; 210 of you edited your high school newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks; nearly 600 of you captained your high school athletic teams; and there are at least 14 potential Olympians among you.

Where did we find such a talented group? Selected from one of the largest applicant pools in Penn's history, you represent 48 states and 55 nations, including - for the first time in a long time - students from Iceland, Romania, and Saudi Arabia. We welcome our first-ever Penn student from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. If you are from California, Colorado, Mississippi, Utah, or the Dakotas, you are among an all-time high number of students coming to Penn from those states. To the nearly 400 students from the Keystone State-home-grown right here in Pennsylvania-and the 104 natives of the City of Brotherly Love: I am delighted that you did not wander far from our hometown. I, too, am a native Philadelphian who chose Penn as an undergraduate.

Among your classmates are an award-winning artistic roller skater; the founder of a golf program for inner-city kids; and a trainee for the Olympic table-tennis team. Several of your classmates have conducted scientific research. Their work includes: a comparison of learning vocabulary in blind versus sighted children; research that led to the improved quality of mammography; and research on the hydrodynamics of submarines. Also in your midst: a member of a band with a recording contract; the subject of a recent Newsweek cover story; and a Poet of the Year. Every one of you is exceptional, special and remarkable in your own way. If that were not true, you would not be here.

And tonight you come together as a class, each from your individual walk of life. As you learned from Lincoln at Gettysburg, the quandary of difference was being fiercely deliberated by the citizens of the United States when Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. It was a time when human beings could still be considered property, when the upper and lower states of our nascent country were divided over that very issue, and when the hopeful notion of unity seemed impossible. Lincoln gave his landmark speech at a time when our nation was grappling with the fundamental concepts of freedom, democracy, and citizenship.

In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln masterfully redefined America through a complex but clear prism. You too must strive to rise above the veil of differences among you. The best part of your education here will come from making such leaps, from taking risks, from breaking down boundaries.

Lincoln made us see that was possible with just 272 words. Enormous power was in these few words-their choice, their order, their direction.

Students in Word and Deed

Over the next four years, words in all their forms will be the cornerstone of your education. I encourage each of you to be, as Lincoln was, a student of the word. At a university, that term applies to each and every one of us, for it is in our daily discourse that we learn and teach, that we grow more knowledgeable and further develop our sense of self.

Surmounting differences, using words wisely and well, taking leaps: They are all part of the life of the mind, the very life celebrated in Lincoln at Gettysburg. It is a life you are ready to begin as adults. And Penn is a wonderful place for it.

When I was a student at Penn, I felt free to express my ideas, to explore new territory, and to expand my store of knowledge. I even went where no one had gone before. When I was an undergraduate here, Penn had separate undergraduate colleges for women and men. The women and men also had separate student governments. As president of the women's student government, I worked to merge the two. A year later, they were unified.

Today, as your University president, I am committed to having a campus that is open to new ways of thinking and doing, reaching to a new millennium, with you as the pivotal class. The opportunities are everywhere: in the classroom, on College Green, on Locust Walk, in your residences, in our museums and libraries. The intellectual and the social meet at intersections all over Penn's campus. They will meet even more frequently during your years here at new spaces like the Perelman Quadrangle, our new student center, and Sansom Common, with its new bookstore.

Penn is, above all, a place deeply committed to the open and free expression of ideas of all kinds. As the nation's first university, Penn is historically an institution that is not afraid to take leaps. Rather, it is a University that embraces new ideas, and a University that leads change. As citizens of this great University community, you can help Penn lead the way. Some of you have said you would like to do just that.

In his admissions essay, a student named Michael wrote: "I want people to meet and try to eliminate the assumptions and stereotypes they have of each other. I just want to help open people's eyes and let them see how different we all are, but at the same time [see] our numerous similarities."

Michael understands the importance of surmounting difference, and he is willing to help others do the same.

We live in a world that all too often rests on the status quo, a world that does not seem to have the time or the inclination to make a difference. But I encourage you, as your classmate has done, to challenge your professors, challenge your peers, and, above all, challenge yourselves. Explore those differences and communicate-as Lincoln did-across those boundaries. That is, as Lincoln said so eloquently, "the great task remaining before us."

I know we are all up to the challenge.

At the same time, we must be safe and be smart. Last week a freshman at LSU died from excessive drinking and three other students were rendered unconscious. Be smart. Lead each other in good ways, not destructive ones. Think about your well-being, even though at 18 you feel invulnerable. You have so much to live for and so much to give.

I want you to have it all. Good luck to each of you.


Working with the Faculty

by Stanley Chodorow, Provost


You are a terrific class. As President Rodin has just said, you come to Penn with a multitude of talents. Penn's faculty is eager to meet the class of 2001.

But talent alone did not get you into Penn. You got here by putting your talent to work, by acquiring intellectual skills and knowledge and then learning to use them-mostly in taking exams and writing papers. Those are the sorts of things you do in courses, so you'll do them often here. And because we read your applications, we know you will do them well.

Courses will form the framework of your education, especially in the first two years, but the substance of your education will be the work you do with your faculty. We want you to participate with your faculty in the core enterprise of the university, the making and using of knowledge. This is not a study but an activity. Making and using knowledge is our business, and we want you to join us in it.

We know how much labor and competition lay along the road you travelled to this convocation. I am going to tell you something about the path travelled by the faculty you met for the first time in the reading project and that you will get to know during the next four years.

All of us on the faculty started out in those hard seats you're in today. We were good students when we were eighteen. We had worked hard to get into our dream college or university, and, having done so, we had the experience of looking around and seeing that the bar had been raised. Everyone in our class was as good or better than we. If we were to be leaders, we would have to become the leaders of leaders.

The faculty at Penn excelled in school and have become leaders. What distinguished the future faculty members from other students was the object of their love not the level of their ability. All who will teach you here became enthralled by some intellectual discipline and pursued that discipline into graduate school.

There was competition all along the way-competition to get into the best graduate schools, competition for the best fellowships, competition for the best post-doctoral positions, and competition for the best faculty positions. Your Penn faculty have been consistent winners in those competitions. And they have been tested over many years. When you meet a tenured member of the faculty-an associate or full professor-know that the person spent fifteen or more years going through graduate school, post-doctoral studies, and probationary status as an assistant professor before being granted tenure. Through all those years, Penn's faculty have proven themselves by doing pathbreaking research in their fields and by demonstrating their ability to teach others how to do such research.

Penn grants tenure to about 35% of those faculty appointed as assistant professors, and this careful selection process has produced spectacular results. Our faculty invented the first digital computer; they were among the founders of cognitive science; they discovered the way to culture embryos, opening up the possibility of in vitro fertilization and a central area of genetic research; they are renowned for the discovery of ancient civilizations; they are creating a revolution in medicine through gene therapy; they are puzzling out the causes and designing programs to prevent childhood depression; they are discovering the way women experienced the American Civil War, enlarging our understanding of how that massive upheaval in our history changed the fabric of our culture. Nineteen current members of your faculty are members of the National Academy of Sciences; twenty-nine are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; nine are members of the American Philosophical Society, which Benjamin Franklin founded at about the same time he founded Penn; hundreds of the faculty are editors of important professional journals.

You are not at Penn just to take courses from these faculty; you are here to join them in the knowledge-making business. University faculty teach what they do. It matters to you as students that Penn's faculty are engaged in research and contributing through publications to the body of knowledge in their fields, because it is in such a research community-by participating in it with the faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows-that you will learn the skills and acquire the knowledge on which your own creative contribution to our society will rest. These are the intellectual skills and experiences that will make you leaders in whatever field you choose.

Begin today to prepare yourselves for leadership in society. You must accustom yourselves to the high standards you will need to meet. Lincoln at Gettysburg shows you how grand purposes molded by brilliant rhetorical technique can transform a nation; there are similar examples of the transformative effect of bold brilliance in every field of endeavor.

Begin today also to get to know members of the faculty and to learn how they, personally, have met the challenge of intellectual leadership. Our faculty provide living examples of the rewards of dedication and hard work.

Students often complain that faculty are inaccessible. Well, Penn faculty are busy at their work. But I have never known a faculty member who was not jazzed when a student showed an interest in his or her subject. Faculty talk about the students who share their enthusiasm for a subject. It is having students like you that makes teaching at Penn so rewarding.

You have something to give to faculty. You can give us your desire to know and can bring a fresh intelligence to our research. And you have technological skills faculty admire and, in fact, rely on. Last year, Penn undergraduates formed a volunteer squad to help faculty create web pages for themselves and their courses. They were a popular crew. If you bring faculty the gift of your interest and skills, they will repay you with attention, help, and friendship founded on common enthusiasm.

In your exploration of Penn's intellectual landscape, you will certainly find territories that stir your enthusiasm. In our twelve schools, the variety of work and the opportunities for applying your talents to topics and activities that interest you number in the thousands. Take the opportunity that Penn offers to practice intellectual work with people who are masters at it. It is the rarest of offers. It is the rarest of opportunities.

And for Graduate/Professional Students....

This year instead of an academic convocation, graduate and professional students were welcomed by a reception in the Annenberg Center lobby, which they planned themselves, dovetailing it with a happy hour on the Annenberg Plaza afterward.

"Beyond the good turnout," said GAPSA Chair Victoria Tre-dinnick, "and the sense of community created by the resource fair and large number of administrators and faculty who were in the room, what struck me was the warmth and energy of the whole event. It was the perfect welcome for new students, a very positive and upbeat reception into the Penn graduate and professional student community. We're still getting comments from veterans that it was the best GAPSA event they'd ever experienced."

Vice Provost Janice Madden, who along with President Rodin and Provost Chodorow spoke briefly at the September 4 reception, praised the enthusiasm of the students. In her short welcome speech, Dr. Madden told the students that "Penn is a great university," but went on:

There are other great universities. But Penn is unique in that group. Why? Location, location, location.

We are in the center of one of the world's major metropolitan areas. That location has at least two significant implications for you. One, buildings, bodies and ideas are in close proximity. The health schools, the social service schools, all of the disciplines are within a couple of blocks of each other. As a result, you will find a vibrant interdisciplinary intellectual atmosphere here. Your colleagues-students and faculty-will regularly exchange ideas with colleagues in other schools and programs, that are relevant to your own field. Get involved in those exchanges-it is a unique opportunity that will enrich your training here.

Two, the opportunities of a large city are at your doorstep. Experience Philadelphia! The nation's largest urban park system class museums...the city's rich ethnic tapestry...the Philadelphia Orchestra...the Opera Company.... And, the riches of New York City and Washington are a couple of hours away....

Use all the marvelous resources that will be put before you; use this region and this city.