Graduation weekend was a time of celebration and joy for many graduating seniors. Bright futures lie ahead and vivid memories will be left behind. The Baccalaureate Service -- which took place the Sunday before Commencement -- traditionally separates itself from the normal graduation weekend ceremonies as a celebration aimed at the entire Penn community. While many of the other Commencement events glorify the academic and extracurricular achievements of the seniors, Baccalaureate tries to celebrate the diversity of culture and religion that exists at Penn. With performances by two a capella groups, speeches by University administrators and readings of varied religious texts, the service offered a taste of the cultural diversity that can be said to define institutions like Penn. But you have to wonder: For how many seniors was this the first taste of that diversity? All too often, students wander through four years of school without exploring the cultural diversity that our school offers. And it may be the single greatest resource a student can choose to ignore. It is possible to go back later and read the historical or scientific lessons that we may have neglected in our college careers. But the unique setting that college provides will never again be available. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to find the same sheer diversity in a small accessible area like the Penn campus. University President Judith Rodin said these "life lessons" are often as important as scholarly pursuits of classroom and laboratories. But we have to try and utilize the experiences available at Penn. For example, how many of the 1000 people in attendance at the service, who were not Muslim, had ever heard a reading from the Koran? Gerald Wolpe, who was the event's featured speaker and the senior rabbi of Har Zion Congregation in Philadelphia since 1969, relayed the importance of open-minded thinking to his audience. He told the crowd that he sees the quest for "self-identification" occupying society's thoughts. He believes this causes people to undervalue their heritage and ancestry, focusing solely on themselves. More importantly, Wolpe added, there is a failure to consider the heritage and history of others. It is equally important to understand different cultures because they have affected the development of all groups occupying this globe. The ability to interact with and tolerate all types of groups may be the best lesson we can learn at such a diverse university. The Glee Club and Counterparts represent a valuable contingency of the performing arts sector of the University -- a large part of the cultural experience at Penn. However, performing arts groups are certainly more visible in the Penn community than many other culturally diverse activities. Students need to expand their horizons and venture into other religious and cultural experiences. This is not to say that religious communities have a lack of participation -- but more importantly a lack of cross-participation. Why can't someone who isn't religious take the time to visit Chaplain William Gibson and learn about his faith and beliefs? Or, why shouldn't a devout Catholic speak with Rabbi Levine and try to comprehend the differences between Catholicism and Judaism? Regardless of how you mold your beliefs, your interaction with others will inevitably change after experiencing the cultural diversity that Penn has to offer. These may be the most important lessons people teach themselves at Penn and it would be a shame if you didn't open the text book until the weekend before you leave.Comments powered by Disqus
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