They processed in flip-flops and strappy sandals, sneakers and loafers. Students from 65 countries and 52 states and territories took their places on College Green one early September night in the first official gathering of the Class of 2006. Some arrived in garrulous clusters of newfound friends; others appeared to be quietly taking everything in.
“You are beginning a journey of discovery that will change you and [how] you will see the world in ways no one can easily predict tonight,” President Judith Rodin CW’66 told the crowd of 2,400 freshmen. “You could fall under the spell of an author who inspires you to become a writer … catch a bug to pursue a political career, [or] fall in love with your future life partner. But one thing is certain when it comes to a profession or a career or your life’s plans: there is no sure thing.”
Touching on the September 11 attacks, which ended “our illusion of safety and invulnerability” and exposed “America’s disengagement from world affairs,” Rodin added: “In one sense we can’t be faulted for seeing in the collapse of the Twin Towers, and in the demise of Enron and Worldcom, or in bloody conflicts that have no end in sight, signs that things are falling apart”—a reference to the Chinua Achebe novel that was selected for this year’s Penn Freshman Reading Project.
But, she pointed out: “Every day we see models of excellence, goodness, and courage … And if this world is moving in the wrong direction, then you have an obligation to help turn things around.”
If that weren’t enough of a challenge, Rodin asked students to resist the temptation to “only associate with others who share your background,” or “hear, read, and see speakers, books, and programs that echo and reinforce your views. Open your minds and we’ll open one another’s eyes.”
There is a “wealth of intellectual resources at Penn,” noted Provost Robert Barchi G’72 M’72 GM’73. “But the final choices about how you will become intellectually engaged are ultimately yours alone, and the energy to pursue your dreams must come from within.”