Convocation 1998

In an outdoor ceremony on College Green September 8 , the President and the Interim Provost welcomed the Class of 2002

On Changing and Being Changed by Judith Rodin, President

Members of the Class of 2002, congratulations and welcome to our community of scholars. You will carry on the legacy of Benjamin Franklin, America's great statesman. Benjamin Franklin, America's first scientist, founded Penn, America's first university, in the birthplace of American democracy, the great city of Philadelphia.

You will continue over two-and-a-half centuries of this unique academic legacy. Among our other "firsts" are the first schools of business and medicine in the United States; the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D.; and the invention of ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic, digital computer--to name just a few.

Outstanding Penn students who have gone before you include nine signers of the Declaration of Independence; eight signers of the Constitution; two Supreme Court justices; eleven Nobel Prize laureates; and more than seventy Olympic medalists.

Our alumni also include Louis Kahn, the great architect; Alice Paul, the renowned suffragette; Zane Grey, the legendary author; Candice Bergen, also known as "Murphy Brown"; Charles Addams, the clever creator of "The Addams Family"; C. Everett Koop, the former Surgeon General; and Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, the distinguished poets.

This Convocation is the first time you formally come together as a class. In these first days at Penn, you may be feeling a little anticipation, even a little anxiety. As a psychologist and as someone who sat exactly where you are some 30 years ago, I can tell you that it is perfectly normal.

And that is because you are beginning a new adventure. But you are not alone. You are setting out on this adventure guided by an extraordinary faculty, and with some 2,400 other freshmen.

Profile of the Class

Let me tell you about your class and your classmates. You were selected from the largest applicant pool in Penn's history. You represent 59 nations in the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the British Isles. You represent 48 states in the Union. If you are from Arizona, California, Delaware, Maryland, Oregon, or Tennessee, you are among an all-time high number of students coming to Penn from those states.

Where are my fellow Philadelphians? Raise your hands! There are 124 of you here. I, too, was a native of the City of Brotherly Love who chose Penn as an undergraduate. To your classmates from around the world, welcome to our hometown!

Look around you now. Can you identify the student who is in the process of patenting a math theorem? How about the junior Olympic medalist in table tennis? The pianist at the Ritz Carlton Hotel? The developer of a human-powered airplane? The founder of a state-wide AIDS organization? All of these students are in your remarkable class.

As are 240 community service volunteers; 154 student council and class presidents; 200 editors of high school newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks; more than 550 team captains; and 24 Olympic hopefuls.

You may not have been valedictorian of your high school class. You may not have performed the lead in the school play. Perhaps you have never ventured outside your home state or country. But each of you was chosen to be part of Penn's Class of 2002 because you are unique. Always remember that.

And you come to Penn at an exciting time. A time when Penn's reputation in higher education is stronger than ever. A time when living and learning will intersect in innovative ways as your class launches our comprehensive College House system. A time when your life at Penn will be greatly enhanced by brand-new developments: the new Penn Bookstore, Civic House, the renovated Van Pelt library, the first-class Katz fitness center, a fun, late-night diner called Eat at Joe's, a new coffee house called Xando, a new series of cultural activities in West Philadelphia called Third Thursday, and a new student center called the Perelman Quadrangle, which will be developed right behind College Hall.

There are so many opportunities to meet new people and experience new things. Here at Penn, you are part of a community that cares about one another, a community that is lively and energetic, with progress at every turn.

Penn has never been reluctant to change. As the nation's first university, how could we be? And it is to the benefit of our students. Steven Morgan Friedman, of our Class of 1998, said it this way in Penn's alumni magazine: "The only thing about Penn that has never changed in 250 years is its willingness to change--[it is] an open-minded attitude that Penn has given me, for I now have ideas that I would have thought ridiculous four years ago."

It has been said that college changes everyone in some way. Be sure it changes you only in ways that are good. People see movies like Saving Private Ryan and say they feel changed. They read books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Woman Warrior and say they feel changed. These are small parts of a life--a few hours well spent.

Imagine how the four years of your college education can change you. An Ivy League education is a privilege, something I never forgot even after graduating from Penn in 1966, and especially after returning as president four years ago.

With that privilege comes responsibility--perhaps more than you have ever had in your lives. You have responsibility for yourselves. But you also have a special responsibility to and for each other. I ask you today to take that very seriously. Take care of each other.

Many of you are on your own for the first time in your lives. You will have many, many choices to make: majors...classes...clubs to join...friends to hang out with. Other choices are more serious, and could affect you for the rest of your lives. Be as smart with your social life as you are with your school life. Make wise, healthy choices, and encourage your friends to do the same.

Last year freshmen at MIT and Louisiana died from alcohol overdoses. In a very telling survey, 90 percent of Penn students reported that they are against drinking to excess. In the same survey, 76 percent of Penn students reported that they do not need to be drunk or high to have a good time. Do not be guided by the perception that everyone drinks.

There was a song popular last year on MTV. Let me say for the record that my 16-year-old son is the MTV fan! But I caught a few lyrics as I walked past his room, and they struck me. They are: We "can't be held responsible. We were merely freshmen." You are not merely freshmen.

You are freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the greatest institutions of higher learning in the nation and the world. Be proud. Learn from each other. Enjoy each other. And take good care of each other. Be safe--that's being smart.

Good luck to each of you.

A Community of Leaders by Michael Wachter, Interim Provost

Members of the Class of 2002--it is my great pleasure to join the President in formally welcoming you to the University of Pennsylvania.

You have arrived here from places as far away as Korea and India; as nearby as West Philadelphia and Whitemarsh; from small towns, big cities, rural communities and suburbs. You--the members of the Class of 2002--are the newest members of the Penn community.

Community carries with it several meanings and much responsibility at Penn.

First, you are joining a community of scholars. Your hard work and vigorous pursuit of excellence brought you to us and for that, we are very proud and pleased. Now that you are here, we intend to encourage you to reach even higher--to learn more about the contribution that you can make to Penn and ultimately, to society.

Penn is one of the premier universities in the world. Like our peers, we boast one of the greatest Colleges of Arts and Sciences anywhere in the world. Unlike most of our peers, we can also claim world-class undergraduate programs in business, engineering and nursing.

At Penn, you will have the opportunity to benefit from the collective wisdom of some of the world's greatest scholars in each of our four schools with undergraduate degree programs. You will also benefit from having access to our fine faculty in Penn's eight extraordinary schools specializing in professional and graduate education. Our distinguished faculty will become your classroom teachers, they will guide you in your research and they will mentor you as you refine your intellectual focus and career objectives. Whatever your academic interests; whatever your specific, natural aptitudes; we aim to give you the greatest possible opportunity to develop and flourish during your four years with us.

You have also joined a College House community, which welcomed you on your very first day. As the first class at Penn to experience our comprehensive College House system, you have the unique opportunity to help shape a new culture of residential life at Penn.

Your class will be the first generation at Penn to fully experience the dramatic changes that are occurring through distributed learning--learning through the computer and internet. For example, you will enjoy access to increased academic support directly in your College Houses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in math, writing, and research, among other topics.

Finally, you join "Franklin's" University--one with a long and proud history of civic responsibility. With the brand new Civic House just up Locust Walk and hundreds of partnerships well underway between Penn citizens and neighbors, we can proudly say that our commitment to West Philadelphia and to the city continues to flourish and to expand.

In your four short years, I urge you to avail yourself of all that interests or intrigues you--whether in the classroom, in your individual research, in your College House, or in the city of Philadelphia.

Look for opportunities to play a leadership role.

The Class of 2002 is a class made up of scholars and leaders. Learn and lead in all that you do here--these are your undergraduate years at Penn.

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 3, September 15, 1998