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We Write the Next Chapter

In David Lean's great epic film, Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O'Toole's T.E. Lawrence, already accused of madness for daring to cross the murderously scorched and waterless Nefud Desert to reach Aqaba, resolves to go back and rescue a member of his expedition party whom everyone else has given up for dead.

Sherif Ali and his friends plead frantically with Lawrence to abort his pointless and dangerous mission, because, as one comrade says, "It is written!"

Lawrence replies with one of the most memorable lines in movie history: "Nothing is written." As he rides off alone, Lawrence defiantly predicts: "I shall be at Aqaba. That is written"--he points toward his head --"in here!"

Lawrence patiently retraces his itinerary, finds the missing man alive, and returns parched and famished to the camp, repeating his words, "Nothing is written." As Sherif Ali later concedes, "Truly for some men, nothing is written unless they write it."

For me this is not only an inspiring rallying cry from a great movie, but a practical and necessary posture to take as we charge into the new year. Especially after witnessing countless acts of giving and even ultimate sacrifice by so many brave men and women, I believe even more strongly in our individual and collective power to take control of our own lives, recover the joy of living and learning, and prevail in our unending fight against ignorance, injustice, and evil.

As I write these words, I am aware that many members of our University community--including a large number of students--find themselves afflicted with fear, heightened anxiety, or, in some cases, depression. More than ever, we must continue to rally together to help a friend or colleague in need or great distress.

At the same time, we seem to be weathering the post-September 11 storm remarkably well. No one can confidently predict the end of terrorism, but there are growing indications that both the war on terrorism abroad and homeland defense effort have reduced the terrorist threat. Even New York, which seemed drained of its vitality just two months ago, now feels like New York again. The bounce, verve, and energy are back.

While we cannot backslide into a false sense of security and complacency, we should feel safe and secure enough to write our own lives and pursue our goals and dreams. Penn's scholars--faculty, students, and staff--share a unique privilege: We wake up each day with a chance to make new discoveries that can save lives and bring more joy, comfort, and prosperity to the world.

We also greet each day as members of a community whose rich diversity of persons, groups, views, and academic disciplines boosts our moral and intellectual capacity for greatness. Nourishing our diversity, therefore, not only creates a more dynamic and vibrant community; it also enhances our understanding of the world whose problems we seek to solve.

In this context, this month's celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday takes on even greater importance. Infused with the fires of the Prophets, Dr. King goaded society to live by what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. When faced with the brutal laws and legacy of Jim Crow, he did not despair. Nor did he resign himself to "segregation forever." Rather, he chose to write a different script for humanity and posterity to follow.

We know we are living through perilous and challenging times. We need to mobilize our wisdom, our energy, and our "soul force" to meet every challenge, fight injustice, and reach higher ground. What better way to begin the new year than to participate in the events, programs and community service projects that form the heart of this year's annual observance and celebration of Dr. King's birthday. (The full calendar of events can be found at

The theme of this year's celebration is Remembering the Dream, Living the Vision. I encourage everyone to join in drawing inspiration from Dr. King's dream of equality, and in living by the lights of his enduring vision of freedom and justice for all.

Let's make sure we write the next chapter of history ourselves.

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 17, January 8, 2002


January 8, 2002
Volume 48 Number 17

Dr. Jonathan E. Rhoads, provost emeritus and pioneering professor of surgery, leaves a legacy after a life-long career at Penn. Services will be held on January 12.
Dr. Alvin Rubinstein, professor of political science, died December 18 after teaching here for 44 years.
President Judith Rodin welcomes back the Penn community and encourages participation in the MLK celebrations and community service projects.
Penn and other organizations founded by Benjamin Franklin participate in the fourth annual celebration of his life on January 17.
Dr. Susan Fuhrman will be recommended to the Trustees for reappointment as dean of the Graduate School of Education.
Out with FinMIS and in with BEN Financials as Penn rings in the new year as a successful upgrade to a new, web-based purchasing environment is complete.
Procards no longer permitted for purchases from suppliers who are in the new Penn Marketplace; BEN Buys is the new system for placing orders.
Postdoctoral Stipend levels for FY03 are no longer based on NIH guidelines.
The Sexual Harassment Policy is published OF RECORD to familiarize the University community with the resources available for resolving complaints.
Blood Drives this month target faculty, staff and students.
Doctoral students and postdoc fellows interested in pursuing the academic job market are invited to the sixth annual series beginning January 18.
Corrections to the Faculty/Staff Directory are due January 23 so they can be included in the upcoming addendum.
The Penn's Way campaign announces the winners of the week four and week five raffles. Week six winners and the grand prize winner will be in next week.