Wednesday evening, September 5, the University community welcomed
the Class of 2005 under a clear sky on College Green.
HERE>> FOR PRESIDENT RODIN'S 2001 CONVOCATION ADDRESS
Ethical and Social Questions
by Robert L. Barchi
of the Class of 2005--it is my great pleasure to join the President
in formally welcoming you to the University of Pennsylvania. What
a fantastic time to be joining our community of scholars; a time
both of intellectual discovery and of eager anticipation of discoveries
yet to be made. A time ideally suited to curious and creative minds
of you were born in 1983. Most of us on the stage were born
let*s not go there, but we come from a different era and have shared
a different set of experiences. In order to put your generation
into perspective, Beloit College has developed a "mindset list"
that explains your viewpoints and frames of reference. For instance,
I do find it useful to remember that, for most of you, The New Kids
on the block are actually over the hill.
thongs no longer come in pairs and slide between the toes.
you, Cal Ripkin has always played baseball.
Tylenol bottles have never been easy to open.
spite of our differing backgrounds, one thing is clear; we are all
now caught up in a time of remarkable change; a time of such rapid
scientific and intellectual growth--a whirlwind, as President Rodin
aptly put it--that the accumulating knowledge itself often outpaces
our ability to address the ethical and social questions raised by
efforts to apply that knowledge.
take a few examples. The Human Genome Project, one of the most ambitious
and far-reaching research efforts ever undertaken, has provided
us with a catalogue of the entire human DNA sequence encoding all
of the thousands of genes that are present in every cell of our
body. We now have in our hands the blueprint for describing each
of the key building blocks that uniquely constitute a human being.
this wealth of knowledge raises a host of ethical questions. Do
we have the right to alter defective genes during development to
allow a healthier baby to be born? Well, many of you might say "yes."
What about modifying genes that aren*t defective to produce a smarter,
faster or taller child? Hmmm
not so easy. Where do you draw
the line? Where would you draw the line?
how about human stem cells, another hot topic in the news lately.
These remarkable embryonic cells have the ability to develop into
any of the body*s specialized tissues and organs, be it a heart,
a neuron or a liver. To its proponents, stem cell research holds
out hope for treatment, even cure, of a variety of debilitating
or fatal diseases. To its opponents, this research further erodes
our respect for human life.
again, our ability to accomplish things through technology
has outpaced society*s comfort level with actually seeing them done.
The critical issue is not the potential scientific value of stem
cell research, but rather the ethical, moral and political questions
intersection of technology and ethics is by no means limited to
the life sciences. Global banking and business, linked through the
Internet, enjoy instant access to the populations and economies
of countries half a world away. But that same access can have a
profound impact on the domestic politics of a developing country.
As executives ponder their options in the global market, at what
point do ethical and societal issues outweigh bottom line business
the rapidly accelerating pace of discovery in science and technology,
striking a balance between what is possible and can be
done, and what is ethical and should be done will
become increasingly difficult. The truly valuable contributions
to our society will come from those individuals who are willing
and able to engage in informed debate on both the practical and
the ethical aspects of these tough questions. This in turn requires
a broad educational foundation in the why of living as well
as the how of life.
short, it requires a well-rounded liberal education.
of our goals at Penn is to provide each of you, no matter what your
area of primary interest, with the breadth of education needed to
put such issues into perspective. As faculty, we seek to strengthen
your already robust ethical framework and reinforce your personal
commitment to integrity at the same time that we help you to become
the most skilled entrepreneurs, economists, nurses or molecular
geneticists. For your part, don*t be like Candide; question what
we tell you, learn from experience and push the envelope.
ethical questions don*t only arise at the macro level of policy,
politics and business. In your next four years, you will face a
host of difficult ethical and moral questions in the microcosm of
our university and in your own personal life. You will confront
head-on the ethics of living in, and being collectively responsible
for, an academic community.
too, you will need to draw on your growing knowledge and experience,
and your own inner resources, to find the right answer. Do a gut
check, because, very often, how you feel deep in your stomach is
a good reading of where your personal moral compass is pointing.
Penn faculty, we like to think that we are your principal educators.
But in fact the people who will have the greatest impact on your
experience here will be your peers. As you sit together tonight
on the cusp of so much exciting discovery, look around you at your
most important teachers--for no one will help you learn more than
your suitemates, your teammates and your classmates. In the next
seat or the next row may be a future business partner, a co-inventor,
a co-author, or even a spouse.
urge you to approach your academic work and your new classmates
with the same energy, integrity, imagination and enthusiasm that
brought you to our campus. Together, you will help shape answers
to some of the deepest questions of our time. As your teachers,
we know that you will answer well, and will challenge us to do the
as you formally join our Penn family, what I wish for you is this:
in four years you will say that you have learned and grown beyond
your wildest expectations; that you felt a true sense of community
with your peers and with your faculty colleagues.
your intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge reached new
you were given the tools you needed to confront tomorrow*s complex
ethical and societal issues.
you felt supported and secure.
you made lasting memories.
you are eager to start your new life but will sorely miss the Red
and Blue. For now, enjoy every possible minute you can in this extraordinary
place during this exceptional time of learning and discovery.
Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 3, September 11, 2001