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A warm welcome to the brand new Class of 2018, just beginning their journey of a lifetime at Penn. Welcome back as well to the great Classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017. May you all make the most of the semester to come!

I have a special message for members of the senior class, and to all students who will themselves be seniors one, two or three years from now. I know your last year of undergraduate life is especially busy, with a perfect storm of theses and senior design projects, OCR and job interviews, grad and professional school applications, social events and above all, the pressing question of ‘What’s Next?’

Beginning this year — and for future years to come — there is an unprecedented new opportunity I hope you will consider.

This summer, we created and I announced the President’s Engagement Prizes. These are annual, competitively-awarded prizes for Penn seniors to design and undertake fully-funded local, national or global engagement projects during the first year after they graduate from Penn. Prize recipients will receive $50,000 for one year of living expenses after graduation and up to $100,000 in project expenses.

With these Prizes, we have created a one-of-a-kind startup fund for full-time civic engagement. It will enable exceptional Penn seniors to put their knowledge to work for the betterment of humankind. We hope to award one prize each for proposed local, national and global projects. Eligibility for the first year of awards is open to undergraduates in the College, Wharton, Nursing or Engineering who will graduate in May, August or December of 2015.

The Prizes are unique in scale, and they are ambitious by design. They are a measure of how seriously Penn takes public service. Our founder was fond of saying that ‘well done is better than well said.’ These prizes take Benjamin Franklin’s belief one step further by empowering students who demonstrate a purpose-driven desire to make a difference. They help provide a substantial opportunity for graduating seniors to “do well” by applying their Penn education to public service.

Of course, this is an area in which Penn students already excel. In just the last couple of years — without the motivating focus of a prize — you and your peers have embarked on some truly extraordinary self-initiated projects ranging from creating an institutional food recovery program, to a public policy initiative to reduce Medicaid expenses and improve patient health, to empowering youth in Southern Sudan.

I am convinced that the best is yet to come.

The scope and scale of President’s Engagement Prize projects will be limited only by the imagination and resourcefulness that each of you brings to the process. Not only does this represent a profound opportunity to embark on your professional lives by working to transform the lives of others. The act itself of developing a proposal — whether it wins or not — will provide an invaluable ‘leg up’ in how each of you can make a meaningful difference in your lives post-graduation. The Prizes are an invaluable opportunity to make that difference sooner rather than later.

Seniors: I hope you will make time to visit a fall information session to learn more about the unique opportunity the President’s Engagement Prizes represent. Further information can be found on the CURF website here:

Best wishes to you all, and warmest welcome back to the entire Penn community. I look forward to another exciting, eventful and engaged year at Penn!

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