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Convocation 2011

September 13, 2011, Volume 58, No. 03

Below are the remarks given by Provost Vincent Price to the Class of 2015 on September 6, 2011 at the Palestra.

A Time to Savor

As Provost, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the University.

We are seated tonight in a location that reminds us of two important elements of Penn’s long and distinguished history. This building, the Palestra, dates to 1927 and has hosted more games than any other college facility in the country. Tonight, it seems that the air conditioning, or rather lack of it, also dates to 1927.

Just outside, on 33rd Street, stands a young Benjamin Franklin, our patron, depicted as he arrived in Philadelphia at age 17... like you, striking out on his own. That statue, a gift of the Class of 1904 by noted sculptor Robert Tait McKenzie, who headed Penn’s Department of Physical Education, was actually the campus’s first memorial to Franklin as founder.  As you’ve noticed by now, today he’s pretty much everywhere.

What I want to relate this evening, however, is not a message about people, or place. Instead, I want to share some thoughts about time—this particular moment in time, and the months and years ahead.

As a matter of both physics and psychology, time is relative. Certainly that is how we experience it. When we’re expectant, time slows. For a kid, Christmas Eve takes forever. For a high school senior, the wait for that all-important college acceptance message is excruciating, seeming an eternity. You may well be feeling that way right now, but I’m sure that’s just because of the cupcakes we have waiting.

Conversely, when we’re busy, time can fly. New Student Orientation may now seem like a blur. Graduating seniors will tell you they don’t know where those four years went. Tomorrow, you begin at the opposite end of that timeline. 

At this particular moment, it is fitting to contemplate what our time together means, and how we can shape it. For much of our life, the march of time is beyond our control. Circumstances—our work, other obligations—dictate how we spend it. That is not the case here. Make no mistake—over the next four years, you will have one of life’s ultimate luxuries: the power to choose how to spend your time, and what to make of it.  Your time here at Penn will be your own. True, your daily schedule will be loosely dictated by your classes; but even there, you will decide when—or whether—to get up in the morning, and when—or whether—to go to bed at night.

Of course, Penn is an academic institution. We hope and expect you will devote the majority of your time to your studies. We know you’ll work hard. Yet this University is more than a collection of classes. It is a community, dedicated to the formation of the total person, a person who gives as well as receives.

Each of you was accepted to Penn not simply because you got straight As or aced your SATs. We invited you to be a member of this great class for an additional reason: Because of what you did after the school day ended, because of your accomplishments when your time was your own.
Likewise you will succeed—not just at Penn but also beyond it—to the extent that you make time to explore as much as you can outside the classroom, to become well-rounded in addition to well-educated.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you to take time to meet different people and make new friends. You’ve already done that. But make room for new experiences, too. Join a few of Penn’s hundreds of clubs. Try a new sport. Sample one of our Indian, Thai, or Ethiopian restaurants. Go see a play. Or better yet, try your hand at acting in one. 

We often talk of time as a resource, and for good reason. In spending our time, we tend to seek out the most productive methods for getting things done. To a student, multitasking has near-mythical appeal. But the value of multitasking is mythical. Study after study has shown that when we try to do too many things at one time, performance suffers.

Please use your time here wisely. Make time to focus on yourself. Create time to help someone else. Leave time to relax. And spend some time offline. By all means, share your status . . . but do it over coffee. Go ahead and follow someone. . . but do it on a bike, or on a hike. I guarantee the Internet will still be there when you get back.

Tonight, it’s appropriate that we sit in the shadow of Franklin: a man whose productivity and accomplishments are legendary. Do not squander time, Franklin once said, that’s the stuff life is made of

Members of the Class of 2015: Welcome to Penn. Have a glorious time.



Almanac - September 13, 2011, Volume 58, No. 03