On Monday morning, nearly 2,500 undergraduates who comprise the Class of 2001 will don caps and gowns, march across campus to Franklin Field and, together, take the leap from "students" to "alumni."

To many, graduation signals the end of academic life and the beginning of the much-vaunted "real world." To others, an undergraduate degree only opens the door to a lifetime of study and formal learning.

But regardless of whether you're headed off to Wall Street or back to the classroom, each member of this year's graduating class deserves congratulations. After four years of achievement and exultation, heartbreak and sorrow, this is your time to soak up the applause and bask in the recognition of a job well done.

Back in 1997, you came to this University with backgrounds and talents that clearly differentiated you from most others. You came from Kuala Lumpur, from Los Angeles, from South Philadelphia. You came seeking out opportunities on the athletic field, friendships in extracurricular activities and fulfillment in the classroom and in the dorm room.

In virtually all cases, you found what you were looking for.

But no matter why you came to Penn or what lasting impressions you'll keep of it, remember always that the bonds that kept you together through your time here should continue to hold you together as you progress through life. As such, we hope that you'll remain close to Penn, even as your experiences may take you far from this small corner of West Philadelphia.

Sure, much has changed at the University since you arrived. When you got here, the term "college house" referred to only a select few dormitories. The campus was still reeling from a recent crime wave. And the idea of protesters playing the bongos in College Hall probably seemed very bizarre.

But those are just some of the events to hit Penn over these few years. And they're probably not even the most important ones you'll remember -- evenings at Smoke's, lounging with friends on the Green or just chatting with professors will probably remain in your memory long after those front-page headlines have long vanished.

For now, though, enjoy the fruits of your four years of effort, and be proud of yourself and your classmates.

Congratulations.

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