Like the brand-new students who will soon be arriving, Penn is in the process of creating a new beginning.

By Liz Magill

One of the greatest gifts of working in higher education is that with each new class of students, you get a dose of reinvention and reinvigoration yourself. It’s the same for our University.

At exactly 7 p.m. Eastern Time on March 30 we announced the newest Penn class, the Class of 2027. Out of nearly 60,000 applicants—the largest pool in Penn history—the class we have brought together is undeniably outstanding. Letters of recommendation described extraordinary contributions and the many ways these students enlivened their classrooms, laboratories, stages, and teams. Collectively, it is the most wide-ranging and diverse class we’ve ever admitted. This is measured through a number of different lenses, including racial and ethnic background, socioeconomic diversity (including those who are eligible for Pell Grants), and those who are the first generation in their family to attend a four-year college or university.

All told, these admitted students will enable us to assemble a class of 2,400 students across Penn’s four undergraduate schools. Each of the applicants shared personal stories through their essays. What was particularly striking is how thoughtful they are about their world and their desire to make a difference in it. In fact, this year we introduced a new writing supplement that added further insight, asking applicants to “write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge.”

The responses we received were kind, funny, serious, surprising, and genuine. They thanked family members, neighbors, supervisors—even strangers who did or said or modeled something that left a lasting influence. Across every dimension, they are a wonderful group. We can’t wait to see the various ways they will help make Penn new again in the years ahead.

The excitement that comes with announcing a new class especially resonates with me this year as I have been out across the country, and across the Atlantic, meeting Penn’s remarkable alumni community. Under the banner of Penn Forward we have had events so far in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London, with Washington, DC and Philadelphia scheduled for later in the spring. Across each of these venues I have been struck by how knowing something in advance never completely prepares you for the experience itself. On paper, to be sure, Penn alumni are a remarkable bunch. With more than 290,000 living Penn graduates residing across the United States and around the world, this is a group at once widely different in who they are and what they do, yet deeply unified in their connection to Penn. Our alumni attend events like Penn Forward in great numbers and have high rates of participation in virtual and online events we host around all kinds of different subjects each year. Each spring, coinciding with Commencement, ever-greater numbers make the trek to Philadelphia to participate in Alumni Weekend. It is an enthusiastic and deeply connected community.

But knowing the facts and figures is never quite so powerful as experiencing the thing itself. Each of my Penn Forward visits was built around a nearly hour-long conversation I had with a university trustee on stage, covering subjects ranging from my first arrival at Penn to interactions with faculty, students, and the wider community, culminating in a “lighting round” of questions needing only a word or two to answer. But in each city, that was only the beginning. A highlight for me, and I suspect for many who attended, was the chance to meet and mingle in a free-flowing reception afterwards. It was in this format that I had the opportunity to hear great stories and learn about the people, the classes, the activities, and the traditions that make Penn so special.

In different ways, in different voices, this is what I heard in every city: we are Penn, we are proud, and most of all, we are excited about the future and about what comes next for this great university. Not surprisingly, there have been questions about the current strategic planning process Tomorrow, Together, that I initiated not long after arriving. People especially wanted to know about the work of the Red and Blue Advisory Committee leading the effort. While it is too soon to put a final seal on their exemplary work, there are definite currents of thought that have already emerged.

Let me provide you with a small sample of the themes we’ve been hearing so far. Members of our community know we excel at working across disciplines in our teaching and in our research, and they want to make that as seamless as possible. They want to reimagine how Penn connects with individuals and institutions close to home and around the world. They have thoughts about how to redesign classrooms and curricula for students’ current needs, especially as we all ponder the implications of, say, recent advances in artificial intelligence. And they’re curious about how Penn can continue and even increase its deep commitment to excellence, especially in how we apply knowledge to solving pressing issues society faces today.

The incredible strengths, unique qualities, and unparalleled potential of our University have had profound effects on the world ever since our founding. What we’re doing now is thinking and talking, together, about how best to position and deploy this strength, this quality, this potential to make even more of a difference through our academic missions. Like the next generation of brand-new students who will soon be arriving, Penn is currently in its own process of creating a new beginning. Our brightest century yet is just ahead.

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