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In the summertime, Penn feels like a different place. Locust Walk and College Green are quiet. It’s easy to find a seat for lunch in Houston Hall or on Perelman Quad. There are shorter lines everywhere — at the Bookstore, the PennCard Center, and, yes, Magic Carpet. It’s even possible to get a table at Smokes on Friday night — or so I’ve heard.

For the first few weeks after Commencement, the change is welcome, but soon I long for the excitement that September brings. Once again, I am happy to find myself welcoming you to a new year at Penn. It’s nice to have you back!

As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close, we recommit ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge. Though we approach this challenge in many different ways, it is our common thread — our shared experience. We do not just absorb; we investigate. We create. We do what has not been done. Henry David Thoreau makes the distinction beautifully: “What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people and new deeds for new.” Penn prepares you for a life of creative learning. Lifelong learners stay forever young.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Penn attracts the most exuberant and high-achieving students. Starting this year, Penn will provide all of our students on financial aid with grants rather than loans. Students from typical families with incomes less than $90,000 will pay no tuition and fees. Students from typical families with incomes less than $40,000 will pay no tuition, fees, room or board. Honoring our goal of increasing access ensures that qualified students from all backgrounds will have the opportunity to attend Penn.

Our dramatic need-based financial-aid plan and our national and global recruitment efforts have helped us increase the diversity of our student body and expand financial aid for international students. To continue attracting the best future scholars, we have increased base stipends by 56 percent since 2004 for graduate students in Arts and Sciences and by 22 percent for all Penn graduate students.

With 12 undergraduate, graduate and professional schools clustered on one compact campus, all students have at their disposal the precious gift of proximity. Here, the humanities, social sciences, sciences and professions are separated by city blocks, not city limits. Through our Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF) and our individual schools, students work side by side with faculty members to create the new knowledge that will push society forward.

Outside of the classroom, there are more than 450 extracurricular organizations through which Penn students can explore and pursue their passions. This year, Penn’s arts and culture organizations, including Addams Hall, Arthur Ross Gallery, the Institute for Contemporary Art, Kelly Writers House and Platt Performing Arts House, will take center stage as we join with the City of Philadelphia to celebrate “Arts and the City Year.” Chances to engage guest artists, enjoy student performances, discuss national arts policy and explore the role of arts and culture in all spheres of life will abound.

This year, we also will cut ribbons on four new buildings. The long-anticipated Annenberg Public Policy Center will provide luminous space for students and scholars alike, while the Roberts Proton Therapy Center will bring state-of-the-art cancer care to Philadelphia and the region. The spring semester will bring a second campus fitness center and a varsity weight room in the gleaming new Weiss Pavilion at Franklin Field and the newly renovated and expanded Music Building, which will provide much-needed space for teaching, practicing, creating and recording.

This year, we will also break ground on Penn Park. When completed, this gem in our award-winning Penn Connects campus master plan will transform surface parking lots into open spaces and athletics fields, increasing campus green space by 20 percent. The result: 24 contiguous acres of verdant community space linking Penn and Center City. By Thoreau’s measure, we at Penn have discovered a true fountain of youth, springing from creative thought and action. We do not cling to old ideas or naysay possibilities. Instead, we explore uncharted territory and support innovative thinking. Guided by the goals of our Penn Compact — increasing access, integrating knowledge and engaging locally and globally — we throw open our doors to all exceptional students; we create opportunities for collaboration among disciplines, and we share all that we have learned for the sake of our community, nation and world. This tireless pursuit of the new distinguishes us as one of the world’s premier teaching and research universities — and keeps us forever young.

Amy Gutmann is the president of the University of Pennsylvania. Her e-mail address is
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