Engage the world, Gutmann tells 2018


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Convocation - Class of 2018

Photo by Yolanda Chen


The Class of 2018 seems almost perfect — with record high SAT scores and percentages of international and minority students, they represent the top 9.9 percent of the largest application pool that the University has ever seen. But at convocation last night, Eric Furda, Penn’s dean of admissions, welcomed the new class with advice that is often hard for Ivy League students to swallow: They need to shed the need for perfection.

“Life is not perfect,” Furda said. “And we do not expect or want you to try to be perfect.”

Not all students’ paths at Penn begin in a perfect way. In his speech, Furda mentioned Kylie Murrin — a senior in the college and the drum major of the Penn Band — who admits that before her freshman year, she was on the waitlist “until the very last day.”

Furda told the incoming class that Murrin “reminds [him] to be good to the waitlist students.”

As a leader of the Penn band, the director of philanthropy in Zeta Tau Alpha and a member of the Soundworks Tap Factory dance group, Murrin still found time to complete an honors thesis with the Center for Autism Research at CHOP.

“A lot of it is coffee and enthusiasm,” Murrin said on her ability to manage so many different tasks. “It’s amazing what people will excuse if you show up with a smile on your face every day.”

Murrin’s experience at Penn exemplifies the main message that Penn President Amy Gutmann wished to impart to students at convocation. In her speech, she encouraged freshmen and transfer students to “engage” with the world around them and to join new clubs and activities.

“The special purpose that you now share ... is engagement,” Gutmann said. “To engage what we know and engage what we do to create a better world.”

To illustrate her point, Gutmann demanded that everyone in the crowd stand up and greet someone they hadn’t met before.

“This is not a drill,” she said when members of the crowd hesitated to jump to their feet. “No exceptions!”

She even summoned a few students up to the podium to introduce themselves and shake hands with her, promising to take photos with them after the ceremony.

“Engagement begins quite simply — it begins like we just began, with a brush of humanity,” Gutmann said after the students reclaimed their seats. “Take that seriously, because we build great things from that.”

The new class seemed ready to accept the challenge. They were, at the very least, engaged in the ceremony. As Off the Beat, Penn’s modern rock a cappella group, performed their rendition of Paramore’s “Ain’t it fun,” the crowd began clapping along with the performance — at the exact moment when the group sang the lyrics, “Now you’re on your own in the real world.”

Even before the ceremony began, some freshmen were already displaying their eagerness before walking over to College Green. A group of students stood huddled in the Engineering Quad, singing “Hurrah! Hurrah! Pennsylvan – i – ah!” — the lyrics to “The Red and Blue,” which the whole class would be asked to sing together during convocation.

After finishing their practice session, one of the freshmen expressed his excitement for the semester to begin.

“I want to start classes because that’s we came to Penn to do,” Wharton freshman Josh Michnowski said. “I’m excited for something more engaging.”

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