Doing Well By Doing Good

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Graduation Pledge | The red-and-blue hoods marked four years of hard work in the classroom. The green ribbons—worn by some 500 graduating seniors at Commencement—declared a commitment to use that experience responsibly in the world.

Penn has participated in the Graduation Pledge for the third year in a row, joining dozens of universities around the country that invite graduates to sign the following statement:

“I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organization for which I work.”

“We’re definitely hoping to do more with it every year,” says Martha Cooney C’05, Careers in the Public Interest coordinator at Penn Civic House. Cooney plans to live in Belfast for the next year, working with children in programs that promote reconciliation between Irish Catholics and Protestants before returning to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in elementary education.

Among the pledge-signers are students signing up for the Peace Corps, joining Teach for America, and starting nonprofits—along with future bankers, doctors, and lawyers.

“The message is that whatever field you go into, you can use it to do something good,” Cooney says. “If you work in an office, you can run a toy drive at Christmas or start a recycling program. Even if you’re not doing something that seems conventionally in the public interest, you can try to bring that [commitment] to your workplace.”

Pledge signer Matt Klapper C’05 is working on a project to bring financial-management resources together under one roof for Newark, New Jersey’s low-income residents. He’ll also be involved with the city’s next mayoral campaign and volunteering as a firefighter and emergency-management technician.

Ryan Comfort W’05 has started a business that turns customers’ photographs into oil paintings, using the skills of artists in developing countries and turning over 20 percent of the profits to those places.

Comfort assumed she would follow “the typical Wall Street route”—until a vacation in Southeast Asia opened her eyes to the living conditions there. She became determined “to use my talents to help people in developing countries.”

Another 5 percent of her profits will go to financial aid and academic programs at Penn. Through the end of 2006, the 20 percent will help fund Penn’s response to the tsunami disaster.

The do-good initiative began at Humboldt State University in 1987. Since then, more than 100 schools, including Penn, have joined the Graduation Pledge Consortium. Cooney says the idea is catching on with more Penn students each year.

A year from now, Civic House will follow up with pledge-signers and ask what they’re doing, she adds. “That way we can say, ‘Are you still committed to this?’ and get some feedback.”—S.F.

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