Kicking off the academic year at Convocation, Penn President Amy Gutmann officially welcomed the Class of 2021 with an emphasis on Penn’s dedication to inclusion and how the free exchange of ideas is the foundation of democracy, as well as innovation.
Gutmann explained how “terra incognita—the land unknown,” takes on a different meaning at Penn, where the Class of 2021 is made up of a diverse group of exceptional students from all 50 states and 69 other countries around the world.
She also acknowledged the growth of the first-generation, low-income student population, which represent 1 out of every 8 members of the Class of 2021.
Increasing access to higher education opportunities is a key tenet of Gutmann’s vision, the Penn Compact 2020. Later in the academic year, she launched the Power of Penn campaign, which will funnel $4.1 billion to the University’s highest priorities, including meeting the needs of first-generation, low-income students.
In August of 2017, the FDA approved CAR-T cell therapy, the first gene therapy that effectively treats cancer, thanks to the breakthroughs made by Penn researchers.
Penn saw the re-opening of Hill College House after its $80 million renovation, and the re-opening of the newly renovated Middle East Galleries at the Penn Museum, after it announced its $102 million building transformation campaign. This year also marked the appointment of Penn’s 30th Provost, Wendell Pritchett, and the grand opening of the Penn Biden Center in Washington D.C.
Named to Fortune magazine’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list, Gutmann took the stage at Irvine Auditorium with the Hon. Joseph Biden, Jr., the 47th Vice President of the United States and Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice professor at Penn, alumnus Dau Jok, the founder of the Dut Jok Youth Foundation, Michael Doyle, the director of the Columbia Global Policy Initiative, and the Hon. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, Sr. for the 2018 Silfen Forum, during which they discussed the global refugee crisis and ways to protect human rights.
The Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships celebrated 25 years of meaningful local engagement with Penn’s neighbors in West Philadelphia, while the Penn Vet Working Dog Center sniffed out its 5th anniversary this year.
In 2018, three teams were selected for the fourth annual President’s Engagement Prizes—Griffin Amdur, James McPhail, and Andrew Witherspoon for Chicago Furniture Bank, Svanika Balasubramanian and Peter Wang Hjemdahl for rePurpose, and Alaina Hall for Healthy Pequeños (Healthy Little Ones). One team was chosen for the President’s Innovation Prize—Rui Jing Jiang, Brandon Kao, and Adarsh Battu for Avisi Technologies (VisiPlate). The prizes provide $100,000 for undergraduate seniors to make a difference with a year-long project after graduation.
The year came to a close with Penn’s 262nd Commencement, during which alumna Andrea Mitchell, an emerita trustee, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC, and host of MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters and spoke about how times have changed since she graduated in 1967 from Penn’s then-College for Women, after serendipitously finding a love for broadcast journalism.
“I often think about how different my life would have been had I not wandered down the third-floor corridor of Houston Hall in the fall of my freshman year and discovered what was then the studio of WXPN.”
In addition, Mitchell imparted three life lessons: be curious, open-minded, and engaged.
Mitchell and Gutmann both shared lessons they learned as undergraduates. During her Commencement remarks, Gutmann reiterated Penn’s democratic values:
“Liberty not chains. Opportunity without limit. Love without condition. Learning without end. Speak the values we share. Speak them—when needed, sing them from the rooftops—with the unique voice that only you possess.”