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I vividly remember the first time I voted in a presidential election, as a sophomore at Harvard. I also remember the candidates and the issues, but what I recall most strongly was the feeling of enfranchisement. Here I was, the child of an immigrant father, the first generation in my family on my way toward a college degree, being recognized by my country as an adult citizen, deciding for myself who to vote for, and casting my very own ballot. I had voted in a mock election in sixth grade, but this one was for real.

Voting is a simple act of civic duty, but it is also a transformative one. Each of us joins with millions of individuals across the country to enact something--the democratic choice of our representatives--that none of us can or should do alone. Voting in a constitutional democracy not only expresses our citizenship; it also enables us together to continually re-establish something much mightier than any of us could otherwise be: a democratic republic that aspires to recognize the liberty and equality of all persons.

Although it was almost fifty years ago, I remember feeling then as I still do today, every time I cast my ballot as an American citizen: a sense of both personal empowerment and civic responsibility to do my small part to make democracy work. This is a feeling I will never take for granted, all the more so because of how many millions of people--including my parents--sacrificed so much to make this possible for me and my fellow citizens.

All of our nation’s elections are important, not just those featuring presidential candidates. Yet elections such as the one this November 8th are historic milestones. Whether this is your first presidential election, your second, or, for our international students, an opportunity to see the American democratic process in action, I urge each of you to engage to the fullest and make your civic engagement something that will be unforgettable in your life as well.

You will be contributing your part to a powerful and invaluable Penn ethos of civic engagement. In recent elections, thanks to their engagement, Penn students have been a powerful voting force. Consider the work of Penn Leads the Vote (PLT), a non-partisan student-led network. Since 2004, PLT volunteers have registered thousands of undergraduates and have helped increase student voter turnout on campus. This year, let’s together strive for 100-percent turnout of all Penn undergraduates eligible to vote on Election Day. Mark your calendars for November 8th and make your mark on history.

As we engage as citizens and students of democracy, I also encourage you to save the date for two important campus-wide celebrations this fall. On September 19th and 20th, we officially celebrate the opening of the new Perry World House, opposite 1920 Commons on Locust Walk. Featuring panel discussions with renowned experts and keynote lectures by distinguished global leaders, the festivities will also include tours of the new building and a grand ribbon cutting ceremony on Locust Walk. You can learn more by visiting the Perry World House grand opening webpage.

We celebrate another exciting Penn beginning with the dedication of the Pennovation Center on October 28th. The new home of Penn-fostered entrepreneurial ingenuity, the Center will showcase representative innovators, free food and entertainment, robotics demonstrations, tours, and much more. Our festivities culminate in a discussion with Wharton alums Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa, co-founders of the smash business success, Warby Parker. You can learn more and watch a sneak peek video at the Pennovation Center dedication webpage.

I also call on all seniors to consider competing for this year’s President’s Engagement Prize and President’s Innovation Prize. Unmatched in size and scope anywhere in higher education, these Prizes provide a graduating Penn senior or team of graduating seniors with up to $100,000 and a generous living stipend to undertake transformative projects that make a real difference in the world. Past Prize-winners are boosting the productivity of farmers in India, developing wearable devices that help those with Parkinson’s disease, partnering with the Free Library of Philadelphia to bridge gaps in local health care education, and much more. Imagine what great good you could accomplish as a 2017 Prize winner.

In the presidential election, at the new Perry World House and Pennovation Center, with Prizes that empower Penn seniors to improve the lives of others, and in countless other ways, Penn offers endless opportunity to make your mark. It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to another engaging, exciting, and educational year at the University of Pennsylvania.

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