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I begin this new academic year at Penn grateful to be a part of a University community so joyfully infused with the desire to learn and the commitment to serve.

Thanks to our dedicated move-in and New Student Orientation teams - who did a fabulous job helping new students navigate the transition to life at Penn-our campus is bustling with more creative energy and camaraderie than ever.

And Penn is poised to have an even greater impact on our region and the world. As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I am especially proud that we have resisted pressures to seal ourselves off from the outside world (beginning at our own doorstep).

While we have stepped up security measures to promote campus safety, we have remained an open campus, and we will grow more closely connected to our neighbors in Philadelphia and to the entire region when we begin expanding our campus to the east next spring. The transformation of 24 industrial acres into green spaces, walkways and bridges, campus facilities and mixed-use developments will profoundly change life at Penn as we know it.

As a community of scholars, we are having a profound, positive impact on the world by modeling scholarly rigor, respect across reasonable disagreements and open-mindedness to ideas. Rather than react impulsively to events, we think through the forces at work behind those events and develop enlightened and effective responses.

From infectious diseases like malaria, AIDS and avian flu to the devastations of environmental degradation, natural disaster and war, no challenge - not even terrorism - has proved too daunting for Penn to take on.

Teams of Penn experts have been on the ground fighting AIDS in Botswana, advising the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq and helping the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Asia get back on their feet.

The School of Veterinary Medicine is helping to develop and implement a statewide avian-flu surveillance program. Penn's Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response is collaborating with Penn Medicine, Nursing, Veterinary Medicine and Dental Medicine to create a professional school curriculum that will help the health care force prepare for a possible bioterrorism attack and any natural emergency.

Penn scholars - who include our students -are dedicated to discovering eye-opening ways of understanding a troubled world. Last year, for example, Penn undergrad Emily Buzzell came to Demography professor (and former School of Arts and Sciences Dean) Samuel Preston with a research proposal in hand: Why not conduct a thorough analysis of the mortality rates of U.S. soldiers deployed in Iraq (where her brother-in-law was stationed)?

Preston and Buzzell proceeded to analyze a welter of data, which led them to startling conclusions, including the grim fact that the death rate for young African American men in Philadelphia exceeded the death rate among troops in Iraq by 11 percent. Marines in Iraq, however, are absorbing far higher death rates, with lance corporals in particular suffering the highest mortality rates of any group in any service. This is precisely the kind of data analysis needed to inform discussion and debate among citizens and policy-makers alike.

Penn has wasted no time or effort in fighting the epidemic of violence that has claimed more than 70,000 lives in American cities since 9/11. Last month, Penn's Jerry Lee Center of Criminology joined with the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania to launch a Homicide Prevention Unit. Led by Director and Penn Criminology professor Lawrence Sherman, Penn criminologists will train Philadelphia's probation officers to use the most advanced data-mining and risk-analysis methods.

We also avidly protect free expression and the pursuit of knowledge - the lifeblood of our community - against the forces of rage, fear and conformity. Moreover, Penn is blessed with an increasingly distinguished and diverse student body, faculty and staff. We depend on - and defend - the free flow of great ideas and talented individuals across borders. Consequently, Penn's impact at home and abroad is greater than ever before.

The world's turmoil presents not only challenges but also opportunities, which call forth the better angels of our nature. I am proud that Penn students' educational ambitions have embraced everything from dramatically increasing voter turnout and volunteering for community service in Philadelphia to joining disaster-relief efforts throughout the American Gulf Coast and Asia. Our students clearly appreciate what Cinderella said in Sondheim's Into the Woods: "Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor."

On Sept. 11, 2001, we all saw how much courage, generosity and integrity human beings can muster under horrific circumstances. Let us honor the memory of those who fell that terrible day by pledging to be true to our better angels.

And let us make the best possible difference as scholars and citizens by always aspiring to be truth seekers and life givers.

Guest Columnist Amy Gutmann is the president of the University.

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