To Penn’s Class of 2024: ‘The world needs you’

The University celebrated graduating students on Monday during the 268th Commencement.

students cheering during commencement

On Monday, May 20, thousands of joyful students dressed in academic regalia processed to a red-and-blue-decorated Franklin Field, the iconic stands filled with supportive family and friends, and proud faculty, staff, and alumni. Penn’s 268th Commencement celebrated a particularly adaptive group of undergraduate and graduate students, who’d overcome hurdles to successfully reach the meaningful occasion.

Three graduates in the College of Arts and Sciences, Mikayla Cassidy, Sinead Knepper, and Anjie Wang, who met as first-years online in 2020, talked of missing their respective high school graduations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Coming today and looking back on what we’ve accomplished, and looking forward to what we’ll use our degrees to do in the future is very inspirational,” said Wang. “It gives me a lot of hope of what our class will achieve.”

Welcoming the crowd and offering remarks for graduating students, Interim President J. Larry Jameson noted from the Commencement stage how the Class of 2024 has been “forged in the crucible of change” and “shaped by it.”

Not only shaped, Jameson added, as he has witnessed the graduating class “steer through uncertainty and create opportunity from it.” Paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, Penn’s founder, Jameson encouraged students to continue to “strike while the iron’s hot and heat the iron while striking it.”

Each student on the field, Jameson said, has something the world needs. He pointed to the challenges of climate change and social and political conflict, as well as advances in artificial intelligence and revolutionary new tools in medicine.

“The world is only going to spin faster,” Jameson said. “The world needs you. So, keep reinventing, learning, and engaging. Savor your accomplishments and this moment.”

As tradition goes, the Commencement ceremony included the conferral of degrees, with the 12 School deans and the Vice Provost for Education presenting the candidates, who stood when announced, relishing the moments of applause. Leading up to that moment, Provost John L. Jackson Jr. recognized the awards and distinctions accorded to students and faculty this past year. Megan Higgins, a graduating senior in the College, sang the national anthem, and Timberdale Brass and the Penn Band performed musical selections. Six honorary degrees went to physicist and mathematician Ingrid Daubechies; optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth; songwriters and music producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff; artist and designer Maya Lin, and Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist and author. Mukherjee, honored with a Doctor of Sciences, served as the 2024 Commencement speaker.

In his introduction of Mukherjee, Jackson described the physician, researcher, and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer as a “pioneer in understanding and treating human health.” Mukherjee spoke intimately to students about his work as an oncologist, seeing cancer patients, and what they want to do or say in anticipation of their final moment. Most often, they express their desire for love and forgiveness—to give it and receive it, Mukherjee said. He connected that experience to a graduating student’s mark of transition and challenged students to say what they want to say now. “Don’t wait,” he said, even asking them to do it in that very moment, from the field. “This is the lesson that we can learn from dying that we can also apply to life, and to living.”

“Dare to return love and forgiveness to an unforgiving, unforgiven world,” urged Mukherjee.

Student Aamir Lacewala, graduating from the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business, said Mukherjee’s remarks were “profound,” and that he thought “a lot of people were tearing up behind their sunglasses.”


Abhishek Singhvi, graduating with his master’s degree from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said Mukherjee’s words were a good takeaway as he “moves further and onward.”

Also speaking to students during the ceremony, and offering words of inspiration, was Eric Feldman, chair of the Faculty Senate and a professor at Penn Carey Law School. He shared advice he received years ago from his own mentor, an admired scholar of Socrates, who quoted the ancient Greek philosopher: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

franklin field during commencement
graduates gathering at penn park
graduates take a selfie at penn park
student procession during commencement

“It’s something I always keep in mind and I invite you to as well,” Feldman said.

Chaz Howard, University chaplain and Vice Provost for Social Equity and Community, offered the invocation as well as the dismissal during the program. He encouraged students to never be afraid.

“That doesn’t mean take unhealthy risks, nor does it mean we don’t act to bring about change, indeed we are counting on you to repair the world,” Howard said. “Don’t let fear keep you from chasing the dream or risking it all. And don’t let fear keep you from celebrating the special moments in life.”

The Penn Glee Club led the crowd in a version of “The Red and Blue.” Students took selfies, and graduates tossed their hats in the air, dispersing from the field and heading to lunch, to pack for their next chapter, or to their individual college graduations.

On campus before the afternoon’s Penn Nursing ceremony, Azucena Villalobos chatted with her family, who traveled from California to celebrate. A fellow in the Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Program who earned her nurse practitioner degree, Villalobos reflected on a rigorous schedule—“a time of intense learning and growth,” she said. Maria Villalobos, Azucena’s mom, noted how proud she was of her daughter. “I never thought that I would be able to even visit places like this, but my daughter’s dedication and effort have led to this moment.”

View the entire Commencement photo album on Flickr.