John Legend encourages grads to 'go all in'

The Grammy-award winning musician and philanthropist delivered Penn's 258th Commencement Address on Monday

· May 19, 2014, 10:46 pm   ·  Updated May 28, 2014, 10:01 pm

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“You have to go all in,” Grammy-award winning musician and philanthropist John Legend told Penn’s graduating class in his Commencement address on Monday.

The 1999 College graduate spoke to this year’s graduates and their guests about love, happiness and following their passions at the 258th Commencement Ceremony on Franklin Field.

While last year’s Commencement speaker Vice President Joe Biden urged graduates to develop their potential to become world leaders, Legend advised the Class of 2014 to “open your mind and heart to love.”

Founder of the Show Me campaign, a movement dedicated to improving access to education across the globe, Legend spoke about inequalities that exist today, saying that it is important to “make sure all [children] have the resources they need.”

He also offered the graduates a lesson from his father, saying that success is “measured in love and joy and the lives you’re able to touch.”

Penn President Amy Gutmann tailored her speech to suit Legend’s career, using music as an overarching theme of her opening remarks. The ceremony’s musical undertones were an appropriate ending for Penn’s Year of Sound.

“Music marks the defining moments of our lives,” Gutmann said.

Highlighting themes of courage, community and freedom, Gutmann punctuated her speech with clips of popular songs, including Psy’s Gangnam Style and Katy Perry’s Firework. The musical interjections were met with applause and laughter from the crowd.

“When respect takes root, freedom flowers,” Gutmann said following a clip of Aretha Franklin’s Respect.

Legend recalled his upbringing, sharing how he focused his time in high school and at Penn on musical endeavors in an effort to avoid troubles in his personal life.

“When you actually care about something, you want to lead. Apathy’s not so cool anymore,” Legend said.

Graduates cheered when Legend parodied his song All of Me with a Penn twist. During the opening of his speech, he jokingly sang, “All of you / are so over me / you’re tired of hearing that I went to Penn / why’d they bring him back again?”

“I thought that [Legend] was awesome, I liked that he sang that little snippet. He was really inspiring,” Nursing graduate Victoria Williams said.

Legend also spoke at the College of Arts and Sciences graduation in 2009, but returned this year to receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree at this year’s ceremony.

Also among those who received honorary degrees were Olympia Snowe, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress and both houses of a state legislature, and Raymond Perelman, who endowed $225 million to the Perelman School of Medicine — the largest single donation in the University’s history.

Other speakers over the weekend included President and CEO of Williams-Sonoma Laura Alber at the College graduation ceremony and Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the fair pay bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009, at the Law School ceremony.

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