Commencement Address by Dr. Vincent Price,
Chair of the Faculty Senate
May 15, 2006
A Rite of Spring
On behalf of the faculty, I bring you greetings and our congratulations. You receive today a degree from one of this nation’s great universities, indeed an institution older than the United States itself and counting among its founders, trustees and graduates nine signers of the Declaration of Independence, including of course Benjamin Franklin, rightly hailed as colonial America’s great Renaissance man. No ordinary place, this Penn; and you are no ordinary students.
As a representative of the faculty, I am probably expected to do two things this morning. One is to somehow invoke Franklin, a charge I have just dutifully executed (actually now, twice). The second is to offer words of useful advice, wise counsel on life after graduation; that is, in so many words, to lecture. Here I will defer. We on the faculty have had our chance, and I suspect you have had your fill. Instead, I will simply express my hope that you drink in all that you can of this day, and consider its significance.
This is of course an occasion for personal reflection, with pride, on the past: a time for memories of this place and its people, our experiences here, and all we’ve learned together; also memories of our families, friends, and former teachers who brought us to this moment. This is a time not only for pride but for humility, for recognizing that whatever we have made of Penn, we did not make it alone.
Much about this ceremony, from the medieval garb we wear to the processions we make, is a purposeful incantation of the past. And yet we call this a commencement, a beginning. This day, in the end, is not principally about the past. Nor is the university, for all its investment in history, culture, tradition and knowledge, principally about the past. We are instead about drawing the past into the future; about bringing our knowledge, our shared historical experience, and our collective powers of learning to bear on new and ever changing circumstances. The university is about joining the wisdom and experience of age to the enthusiasm and ambition of youth.
Commencement is in this larger sense a powerful rite of spring. We celebrate today the regeneration of humane inquiry in the service of society. We invoke Franklin today because we issue a new generation of scholars, professionals, and citizens, who will, we hope, emulate his lifelong intellectual curiosity, his industriousness, his drive to organize his fellows to face the challenges of his day. This is now your day. And we have every confidence you will rise, Franklin-like, to the occasion.
Thank you, and again, congratulations.
Almanac, Vol. 52, No. 34, May 23, 2006
May 23, 2006
Volume 52 Number 34