What Penn is thankful for

People from Penn offer reflections of gratitude in celebration of Thanksgiving.

Festive fall pumpkins and leaves

As families gather this year to give thanks for acts of kindness, fruitful opportunities, and the people who fill their lives with joy, so too does the Penn family. Below, some of the University’s community of faculty and staff—those who traverse and cherish Penn’s campus and affiliated spaces every day—offer their own sentiments of gratitude.

Paul Meyer, the F. Otto Haas Executive Director of Morris Arboretum

“I am thankful for preserving a green space that more than 140,000 can visit and enjoy all year long, a place where people of all ages can learn, spend time with others, and feel healthier just by being outside in nature. I am also thankful that our historic preservation endowment allows the Arboretum to preserve historic, architecturally significant structures for generations to come. And mostly, I am thankful for a community of over 6,800 supportive members and over 300 volunteers who make possible all that we do.”

Ashlee Halbritter, director of Campus Health

“We’re grateful for the time and attention health and wellness is receiving on campus, and we’re looking forward to a more integrated Penn Wellness Services. We’re grateful for our talented and dedicated Student Health Service and Campus Health staff, and all of our colleagues working tirelessly to support students. We’re grateful for the students of [the Student Health Advisory Board], [Medical Emergency Response Team], the Penn Undergraduate Health Council, and the health and wellness groups across campus who contribute to Healthy Penn throughout the year. Just as our Flu Clinic campaign said this year [quoting Malcom X], ‘When ‘I’ is replaced with ‘we,’ even ‘illness’ becomes ‘wellness.’”

John McInerney, executive director of The Sachs Program for Arts Innovation

“As a relatively new member of the Penn community, both as a new employee but also as a new initiative, I am incredibly thankful for the wide welcome and enthusiasm we have received from everyone at Penn.

Penn is a nesting doll of multiple communities, with a wide range of committed and talented people. Particularly in the arts and humanities, where we are based, it is like a living seed bank of cultural knowledge and inquiry.

I am so grateful that The Sachs Program is now part of that community, and that we have been given a chance to champion and support so many talented, passionate, and committed individuals who are making the arts so central to Penn.”

University Chaplain Chaz Howard

“It’s difficult to not be filled with gratitude when walking along Locust Walk to work. I’m thankful for more than two decades of Penn in my life. I’m also thankful our school colors are red and blue, and not something like orange and black. I’m thankful for Magic Carpet, and other vegetarian spots like Goldie and Hip City Veg. I’m thankful for the BioPond. And for the best students and colleagues in the world.”

Elise Betz, executive director of Alumni Relations

“I met Eden on Saturday. With her red hair, crystal blue eyes, and rosy cheeks, at six months she is stealing hearts. Her dad, Andrew, is a Penn alum who I have watched grow up, having known him since he was a student, and into the kind of dad who gives me hope for the future. 

The mayor of San Antonio is a Penn alumnus. I had a deep conversation with him in front of an audience of Penn alumni on Monday. I learned all about his Jewish, Filipino, Malaysian, Indian, and British heritage, and even more about his extraordinary gratitude to Penn for shaping the person he is. Lamis, a senior in the Engineering School, has shown me what real resilience is, day after day, as she navigates today’s world as a Muslim woman. My dear friend Brett, who I met in 2006 when he was a freshman, took me on an insider’s tour of Cuba last December, traveling in one of Fidel Castro’s armored limousines. 

I married the love of my life in 2015 at the Morris Arboretum. She got her Ph.D. at Penn, and our wedding celebration was filled with her fellow students and my co-workers, who are now our dearest friends. I have profound gratitude for Penn and the hundreds of relationships I have cultivated. I am filled with thankfulness every day. It is not just where I work, it is my extended family, my home, and my heart.”

Lieutenant Nicole McCoy, Penn Police Department 

“The University of Pennsylvania has been a part of my life since 1976, through family employees, summer jobs, and administrative positions; and in 2002, I had the pleasure of returning to work for the Division of Public Safety (DPS). I am thankful for the lifelong friendships that I have developed throughout these years. I am thankful for my loving family that supports me. I am thankful that DPS has entrusted me to help lead and develop our officers as they interact with the University of Pennsylvania community. And I am most thankful for the opportunity that I have to make a positive impact in the lives of our community. I make it my mission to never miss a chance to make an emotional deposit.”

Wendy Sparks, director of Housekeeping

“I am thankful for the true partnership and collaboration that the Housekeeping team has received from the schools and centers over the past year as we rolled out, implemented, and continue to fine-tune the Enhanced Housekeeping Program. This program would not have gotten off the ground without the support from central Human Resources, union leadership, and our hourly staff, for which I am also thankful. I would like to wish all of colleagues, clients, faculty, staff, and students a very happy Thanksgiving."

Peter Van Do, director of Penn’s Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH)

“Every day, I am blessed to act as a servant leader for our community of undergraduate and graduate students. I have deep gratitude to have been given the opportunity by the Vice Provost for University Life to partner and offer support to such a talented pool of kind, genuine, innovative, and entrepreneurial young people. At Penn, I have had the pleasure of serving as the director for PAACH for [nearly] seven years. Within these seven years, I have grown to love and appreciate our community, and have the opportunity to partner with equally amazing alumni, staff, faculty, administrators, and community leaders.”

Gina Renzi, director of The Rotunda

“I'm grateful for my job, which gives me daily opportunities to learn from, and build friendships and ally-ships with, people of all ages and backgrounds in West Philadelphia. Working in community arts and culture, which Penn has supported me in doing for the past decade and a half, has been a second, third, and fourth education for me, and has deepened my love for this city and the many communities that call it home.”

Valerie De Cruz, director of the Greenfield Intercultural Center

“I am thankful for the many interesting individuals with new ideas who have helped shape our work at the Greenfield Intercultural Center. I love directing students to the many resources that Penn has to offer to help them find success that matters. I am painfully aware that not everyone has access to these resources and, therefore, I am also grateful for every opportunity to join with others at Penn to create ways to extend the learning and share our resources even further. I feel blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful Penn family and others who care for me deeply. Finally, I have discovered that investing in my community’s well-being generates joy around me, and this in turn enriches my life. For all this, I am grateful and thankful.”

Constantia Constantinou, dean of University Libraries 

“Joining Penn as the H. Carton Rogers III Vice Provost and Director of Libraries, on Aug. 1, was the start of an inspiring journey. I’ve come to know my talented colleagues across the Penn Libraries system who have shared with me their knowledge and expertise, creativity and innovation, that empowers Penn students and scholars in their research. I’ve witnessed the power of community engagement, and how we share our expertise and resources to make a difference in our community by re-opening and maintaining public school libraries in West Philadelphia and beyond. I am thankful for the incredible opportunity to build a shared vision that propels the Penn Libraries’ future directions to build distinct collections, deep expertise, and innovative technology, which drives academic achievement, knowledge creation, and discovery. I am thankful for the warm welcome I have personally received from Penn’s leadership, our deans and academic community, and the dedicated supporters who champion and fuel Penn’s mission.”

Meeta Kumar, deputy executive director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

“I am deeply grateful for the extraordinary colleagues I work with, at CAPS and all across Penn. I am humbled and inspired by your talents, collaboration, and generosity of spirit. Your caring hearts make Penn a better place. Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with rest and relaxation. Be safe and well.”

LaShawn Jefferson, deputy director of Perry World House

“From the macro to the micro, I am thankful in at least four ways—institutionally, mission, colleagues, and the built environment. I am thankful to be in an institution like Penn that values learning in its deepest and most enduring sense. By this, I mean there is the obvious academic learning through engagement in scholarship with some of the most gifted academics in the world.  

However, Penn also values experiential learning, learning through inquiry, learning through experimentation, learning through failure, learning through networks of people, and ideas across disciplines, fields, and positions; and learning by creating an enabling and encouraging environment of people—students, faculty, staff, visitors, etc.—who might not otherwise meet one another were it not for the Penn experience. I still believe this is one of the greatest contributions of higher education. 

In addition, I am especially thankful to be a in a place like Perry World House, where many things happen, two of which I want to highlight, as they together make for a wonderful way to engage the world. First, Perry World House is a place deeply engaged in real-world global problems, and bridges the academic and the policy realms to improve the real world through policy shaping. Second, we are a small group of colleagues, each quite different from the other, who try to take very good care of one another and to be attuned to the complexity of the whole person who comes to work every day. From making sure an overworked colleague eats lunch, to sharing recipes, to checking to see if a colleague has made it home after a late night, to sharing musical discoveries, to sharing athletic and other victories, to jumping in when help is needed, to reveling in personal milestones and life changes.

Last, I am thankful that I work in a modern, light-filled building surrounded by the beauty of architecture and art. It lifts my spirits every day.”

Erin Cross, Malik Muhammad, and Tiffany Thompson: Penn LGBT Center

“We are grateful for Penn’s dedication to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all who are marginalized, in particular our LGBTQ-plus communities, in today’s political climate.”

Kelly Writers House

Al Filreis, faculty director: “I’m thankful for Penn’s amazing staff.”

Alli Katz, program coordinator: “I’m thankful for the creativity of Writers House students.”

Andrew Beal, associate director of Development and Finance: “I’m thankful for the international conversations that Penn as a global institution enables.”

Kenna O’Rourke, Jacket2 managing editor: “I’m thankful for the Chicago Manual of Style, and the intrepid editorial assistants who master it.”

Jessica Lowenthal, director: “I’m thankful for all of our Penn partners—particularly the faculty members of the Creative Writing Program who help us bring innovative writers to Penn for conversations with students and others.”

Heidi Kalloo, assistant program coordinator: “I’m thankful for the community members who attend Writers House events—even in surprise snow storms.”

Zach Carduner, PennSound managing editor: “I’m thankful for the access that Penn provides to its students, faculty, and staff—access to ideas, to resources, to shared and dissenting opinions, and to each other.”