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On Wednesday evening, September 5, the University community welcomed the Class of 2005 under a clear sky on College Green.


Chasing and Creating Whirlwinds
by Judith Rodin

I join Penn's faculty, staff, and student leaders to welcome you officially to the University of Pennsylvania. And congratulations to Dean Stetson and his fabulous Admissions team for bringing to Penn this stellar group of young men and women.

To this gifted class of 2005: Congratulations, and welcome!

You are likely the most talented class ever brought to campus.

You are definitely the brightest group of students ever admitted to Penn.

And I bet every one of you got wiser to the world way ahead of Candide.

But wait; we are not ready to hand you your Penn diplomas just yet: Like Candide, you are going to take a journey--a journey that will ignite your imagination and expand your horizons. Each of you will find the journey always challenging, frequently exhilarating, and, yes, at times, incredibly exhausting.

But as Robert Frost wrote, "There is no way out but through."

I expect every one of you to make it through Penn and earn your degree. You wouldn't be here if we had any doubt of that.

But I hope you will pick up much more than a degree along the way. I hope your journey through Penn will lead you toward a deeper cultivation of your own humanity and a broader awareness of our common humanity.

I hope you will take advantage of all that Penn and the great city of Philadelphia have to offer to discover your own hidden talents and interests.

I hope you will acquire both the power to succeed and the inclination to serve others.

In short, I hope something of the big man sitting in that chair-- (Benjamin Franklin) rubs off on each of you.

Few Americans I know of made as much of their talents, gave as much to their country, or expressed the full capacity of their own humanity as deeply as our founder, Benjamin Franklin.

I would like to share with you a slice of history from Franklin's life that vividly illustrates an intrepid curiosity that we discern in each of you. The year is 1755, and Franklin, accompanied by his son and several other gentleman, is riding on horseback through the Maryland countryside.

Suddenly, Franklin spots a small whirlwind beginning to gather force in a valley below as it moves up the hill toward his riding party. By the time it draws near to them, the whirlwind has reached a height of 40 to 50 feet, and a diameter of 30 to 40 feet at its widest point.

Let's have Franklin himself pick up the story from here:

"The rest of the company stood looking after it, but my curiosity being stronger, I followed it, riding close by its side, and observed its licking up, in its progress, all the dust that was under its smaller part.

"As it is a common opinion that a shot, fired through a water-spout, will break it, I tried to break this whirlwind, by striking my whip frequently through it, but without any effect."

Franklin chases the whirlwind for three quarters of a mile into the woods, "until" he writes, "some limbs of dead trees, broken off by the whirl, flying about and falling near me, made me more apprehensive of danger; and then I stopped."

That is the essence of Benjamin Franklin. He was bold and curious enough to track a dangerous weather phenomenon that others only looked at. He investigated the whirlwind's unique properties, especially its power to uproot and lift tree branches high into the air. He learned that whirlwinds move in the opposite direction of the prevailing winds. And he took pains to record his findings and expand our understanding of meteorological science.

However, Franklin also knew when to stop. He knew the difference between a calculated risk and a reckless experiment.

Now, let's imagine how today's college students might react to Franklin's whirlwind.

The ordinary student would say "Cool!" and take no further notice.

Others might run for cover and wait for their professors to explain it to them.

They go to Princeton.

The extraordinary student--driven by the same insatiable curiosity that propelled Franklin to take a fuller measure of all phenomena in his path--tears off after the whirlwind.

Where do you suppose these fearless storm chasers go?

That's right, they're right here at Penn, by the thousands. They continue a Penn legacy of excellence that extends back to America's beginnings, a heritage that, we proudly note, includes nine signers of the Declaration of Independence and eight framers of the Constitution.

This evening, you join their ranks. Indeed, welcoming you into our community of scholars--our very special family--is what convocation is all about.

Embedded in my welcome message is an invitation and a challenge for each of you as you now join the ranks of Franklin and other Penn ancestors who helped conceive America's great democratic experiment and help to shape the course of history: Stay awake--not just through all the speeches, which may be a heroic feat in itself--but also to the intellectual, social, and cultural whirlwinds that blow through the Penn campus virtually every minute.

A whirlwind can pop up anywhere in any form.

It can be a class or even a single lecture that delivers you from the purgatory of the undeclared or mismatched major and into the heavenly light of academic delight.

It can be a visit to Kelly Writers House that stirs your own creative juices. It can be a late-night session in your College House that plants the seeds for a history-making project.

It can be a book you read or a conversation with a professor that changes your life.

However and wherever these whirlwinds appear, heed them and observe them closely. Brave their bracing winds even if they blast you out of your comfort zone or uproot some long-held belief or notion.

Indeed once you get the knack of spotting and chasing whirlwinds, before you know it, you will be creating whirlwinds of your own, as many Penn students already do now.

In all four undergraduate schools, you will find students who have been energized dramatically by the intellectual culture at Penn.

They are pursuing bold new paths toward a deeper awareness of their own abilities, which blossom into practical benefits for society.

In the School of Nursing, for example, a senior from Kenya named Kisimbi Thomas is a veritable cyclone of multi-tasking energy.

He is earning a joint degree in Nursing and Health Care Management at Wharton, as a pre-med major with minors in biology and political science.

This past summer, Kisimbi performed research for one of Penn's elite international research centers studying outcomes in health care systems in the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, and the Scandinavian nations. He is conducting an independent study on international mobility of the health care workforce. And he is a member of the Undergraduate Assembly and the Senior Class Board.

Ultimately, Kisimbi intends to return to Kenya to reform his country's health care infrastructure and eventually become the president of Kenya! I have no doubt.

Then there are the students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science--the birthplace of the digital revolution--who do amazing things with technology every day.

A team of three Computer and Telecommunications Engineering students took on a challenge unanswered by much more experienced engineers and scientists: current algorithms designed for the classical computer do not efficiently solve many well-known and important problems.

Drawing on the laws of quantum physics, these students developed an educational software tool that teaches students the fundamentals of quantum computing.

If realized, quantum computation will yield solutions to these apparently difficult problems.

The web-based tutorial system that these Penn undergraduates created is named QUEST--for Quantum Computing Educational Software. QUEST will now strengthen Penn's curriculum by providing students with the tools to study the basic theory of quantum circuits, design quantum circuits, and use animated simulations to test these circuits.

Though still in its infancy, quantum computing may some day revolutionize computer and information science--and these superb Penn engineering students will have helped awaken other students to its exciting possibilities.

Of course, when it comes to whirlwinds, Wharton students also have a way of cornering the market. Steven Davis, for example, has taken the art and science of business education to a new dimension. Earning a joint degree last spring in Operations Management at Wharton and Aeronautics at SEAS, Steven earned honors as a Benjamin Franklin Scholar, a University Scholar, and a Joseph Wharton Scholar.

Working at NASA the summer before his senior year, Steven tapped his business and science education at Penn to design and present a plan to put a telescope on the moon. He is set to pursue a master's degree in Astronautics and Space Engineering in England as a Thouron Scholar, and I expect we will be hearing a lot more about Steven in the years ahead.

We also expect to hear a lot from our latest Rhodes Scholar, Lipika Goyal. Lippy came to The College wanting to become a doctor, and soon began dropping in on a wide variety of lectures at the Medical School. Some she found dreadfully dull.

But others she found inspiring. One lecture in particular--on infectious diseases by Penn Professor Harvey Rubin--motivated her to devote her medical career to helping underprivileged people in developing nations.

That lecture was Lippy's whirlwind. It led to summer research projects in Ghana to study sickle cell disease and malaria, and to the slums of South Delhi, India to study the effects of zinc deficiency on early childhood development. It led to her discovery of a devastating link that exists between physical sickness and societal sickness. And it led her to Oxford, where she will spend the next two years studying the economies, history, social anthropology and politics of developing nations.

These amazing students, and hundreds more like them at Penn, share much in common with you: They sat where you sit now, hearing the call to expand the body of knowledge at Penn and to cultivate their own humanity.

You, however, enjoy a distinct advantage. Enhanced amenities and the steady advance of scholarship and technology offer you an enormous range of opportunities and options that barely existed even four years ago.

Nonetheless, the call that Penn issues to each of you--the call not just to be a spectator, but a full-fledged participant in our community of scholars -- that call remains the same.

Now you must decide how to answer this call. Nobody elsee--not I, not the provost, not your faculty adviser, not even your parents--can script your response.

But I will leave you with a hint by way of an ancient fable that dates all the way back to 1977, before you were born.

It's from a movie called Star Wars. Perhaps some of you have seen it?

In the movie, the hero, Luke Skywalker, is preparing for his last and most dangerous flight. Nothing much is riding on it except deliverance from an Evil Empire and possibly the future of cosmic civilization.

At this crucial moment, Luke hears the voice of his mentor, Ben Kenobi, advise him to shut down his computers, trust his own instincts, and tap into the Force.

Members of the Class of 2005, Penn is swarming with Ben Kenobis, wise men and women of our outstanding faculty, who are here to engage you and to be engaged by you.

The Force at Penn is an energy field, a whirlwind of intellectual, cultural, and humanitarian endeavor created by everyone who has lived, learned, worked, and taught here.

It stretches to the great city of Philadelphia, the birthplace of modern liberty.

That energy field binds us together, across all schools and all the years. It truly becomes a part of you--but only if you are awake to it.

Get wasted, blitzed, fried, plastered, or bombed, or even just get by, and you're sure to miss out on what could be the greatest adventure in your life.

This is your time, this is your call, this is your flight.

May the force of Penn be with you.

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 3, September 11, 2001


September 11, 2001
Volume 48 Number 3

Dr. Afaf Meleis--a prominent medical sociologist and specialist in women's health issues--will become the Dean of the School of Nursing in January.
Dr. Richard Gelles--a leading researcher in the study of family violence has been named Interim Dean of the School of Social Work.
Lucy Momjian is now Associate Vice President for Finance and Treasury Management.
Jack Shannon is named Associate Vice President in the Office of the Executive Vice President.
Dr. Battistini, director of Penn Health for Women, dies in a motor vehicle accident.
Convocation 2001: President Judith Rodin and Provost Robert Barchi welcome the Class of 2005.
Council Year-end Committee Reports: Admissions and Financial Aid as well as Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics are both on the agenda of this week's Council Meeting.
Penn moves up in the latest U.S. News rankings of the nation's best universities to its highest ever ranking.
A noisy night in the neighborhood prompted a Speaking Out letter and two responses.
Code Red Alert: Preventing a computer worm is possible with these steps.
The Models of Excellence program wants nominations to recognize staff achievements from the previous academic year.