The summer heat and a threat of rain—which prompted a move from College Green to the Palestra—failed to dampen the humor and enthusiasm of this year’s Freshman Convocation on August 27.
“You are about to embark on a journey that is even more thrilling than seeing the Quakers trounce the Tigers, as thrilling as that is,” Penn President Amy Gutmann told the Class of 2017. “You are about to embark on nothing less than a life-transforming journey at a world-renowned university.”
Moments before, though, Gutmann pointed to a corner on the west side of the arena where an unsuspecting student wearing a pink shirt was sitting.
“You are sitting in my seat!” she told the student. “So, some game, you join me.”
The inaugural gathering of this year’s freshman class mixed laughter with an earnest sense of the ceremony’s significance.
“These robes the faculty, alumni, and I are wearing are not only obviously hot,” Gutmann said. “They are also deliberate reminders of the seriousness of what we undertake here, and your part in it.”
She went on to stress Penn’s tradition of furthering useful knowledge that benefits humanity, a legacy that stems from the ideas of the University’s founder, Ben Franklin. To ensure this tradition continues, Gutmann enouraged students to reach out.
“Your journey at Penn will be immensely more gratifying—immensely more successful—if you do it not alone, but in company,” she said. “Engage while you’re at Penn. Engage your professors, engage your fellow students, entertain new and challenging ideas.”
Provost Vincent Price followed up by building upon many of the same themes.
Beginning by quoting a 1910 Daily Pennsylvanian article about that year’s Convocation—which, among other things, referenced the now-defunct tradition of the “breeches-pulling contest”—Price reminded students that the ceremony “marks the inflection point of tradition and change, an ending and a beginning of dependence and independence.”
“Breeches-pulling contests aside, your class will carry on traditions rooted in centuries of practice,” Price noted. “But you will give them new life and new purpose, your own 21st-century spin.”
Price then explored how Convocation marks a point of change for new students by emphasizing the importance of personal responsibility.
“Nobody here will make sure you get to class, or make it home by midnight. We are not monitoring your every move, nor checking up on you. We’re not the NSA,” Price said, causing the arena to erupt in laughter.
—Matt Fernandez C’14