President Amy Gutmann welcomed the Class of 2020 to the University of Pennsylvania on Monday.
In her Convocation speech, she addressed the upcoming presidential election, encouraging members of the Class of 2020 to register and cast their votes, telling students, “your choices matter.”
This is a departure from other convocation addresses made during election years, during which political events went unmentioned. Her remarks take place in an historic election that has been marked by divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.
Provost Vincent Price warned against the dangers of division by telling the story of the discord between the University’s revolutionary founder Benjamin Franklin and the first provost, British loyalist William Smith. Despite their political differences the two collaborated to form the University of Pennsylvania.
“The community thrived not despite our differences, but because of them,” Price said.
Freshmen who heard the speech reacted positively. Incoming exchange student from the University of Melbourne Ben Lam praised the inclusiveness of Gutmann’s speech.
“The spirit just somehow made it feel like we are here and we are one and we are part of something bigger than ourselves,” Lam said.
For the freshmen, the speeches fit in well with an atmosphere of excitement and optimism.
“I thought it was beautiful,” College freshman Noah Lobell said. “It’s crazy that we’re finally starting college. Years of SATs and AP tests and we’re finally here.”
“I thought that the speakers were really eloquent,” Wharton freshman Laura Hempton said. “All of the information was really relevant and it was fun.”
Gutmann’s speech also addressed the spirit of innovation she hopes the freshmen will adopt during their time at Penn.
She told the story of Neil Blumenthal, the co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker and graduate of the Wharton MBA Program. Blumenthal worked for a nonprofit after college, bringing eye care to low-income populations internationally, she said. While at Penn, he got the idea to produce affordable eyeglasses using his knowledge of the manufacturing process.
Gutmann used the example to introduce the Pennovation Center, the business incubator and laboratory opening Oct. 28.
Student leaders praised specific aspects of the speech that touch upon topics that resonate on Penn’s campus.
The 2018 Class Board President and College junior Makayla Reynolds admired Provost Price’s emphasis on self-care, a continuation from last year’s emphasis on mental health.
“I liked how the Provost made it a point to tell the students to take care of themselves,” Reynolds said. “That was awesome, it’s good to see that.”
The 2017 Class Board President and College senior Darren Tomasso thought Gutmann’s story about Neil Blumenthal stood out, as well as the emphasis on building a community.
“You can’t do things here at Penn by yourself, you need the community,” Tomasso said. “I think that was really impactful.”
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