Opening Convocation: Challenges and Opportunities

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At one table, a dark-haired member of the Class of 2003 examined her new Penn Card carefully, then rubbed it gently with her napkin. Behind her, near the stage, the Quaker Notes were belting out something by the B-52’s. On stage, a dark-robed ensemble of Penn administrators and scholars sat quietly, looking out over the 2,550 freshmen who filled the Civic Center’s Convention Hall.
    It was freshman convocation, following dinner for the whole class with President Judith Rodin CW’66 and Provost Robert Barchi Gr’72 M’73. That opening ceremony, Rodin pointed out, “ushers in a new era” for them: “Tomorrow morning, as the adage goes, you will find everything new under the sun. Discoveries. Awakenings. Ideas. Friends. New ways of life.”
    “This is a defining moment for you,” said Barchi: “a transition between a world that is familiar and was created for you and one that is for now largely unknown and will be created by you.”
    While the students would have “access to a remarkable spectrum of opportunities,” he added, “at this critical stage in your educational journey the initiative shifts largely to you: you must seek out challenge, seize opportunity and create your own path.”
    The new class is a “stellar group,” said Rodin, featuring students from 65 different countries and every state in the Union. “Sitting next to you may be Amanda, who was junior mayor of Cape Town, South Africa. Or Dario, who escaped from Bosnia wearing a priest’s collar. Or Rachel, who sang for Pope John Paul the Second. Or John—who goes by ‘Robbie’—and who is a bass player and founder of his own swing band. Or Melissa, who speaks Tibetan.”
    But, she added: “Each of you was chosen to be part of Penn’s Class of 2003 because you are special in your own way. Always remember that. I have every reason to believe that you will exceed our expectations, and your own.
    “Be proud,” she concluded. “Learn from each other. Enjoy each other. And take good care of each other, academically and socially. Be safe and be smart.”
    After the speeches were over, the freshmen sang “The Red and Blue” for the first time. As usual, some of them were a little tentative with the arm swings that accompany the chorus. But as they streamed out of Convention Hall into the heady September twilight, serenaded by the Glee Club’s soft “Afterglow,” they seemed quite ready for the new phase of their lives to begin.

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