Around this time of year, the sight of Penn students dressed in business-casual attire for on-campus recruiting and job interviews is not uncommon. But on Tuesday night, around 30 freshmen came to Perry World House dressed in formal wear for a different reason: dinner with the Philadelphia mayor.
Sept. 18 marked the fourth year that the Mayor’s Scholars program has hosted the city’s mayor for a speech followed by dinner. Mayor’s Scholars at Penn are students from Philadelphia, or one of the city's four adjacent counties, who benefit from a special financial aid program. At the event, Mayor Jim Kenney spoke to students about various topics relating to the city, including the controversial soda tax, the status of undocumented immigrants, and the possibility of an additional Amazon center in the city.
“Thank you for what you’ve accomplished and we’re very proud of you, proud that you’re a part of the Mayor’s Scholars,” Kenney said in his speech to the audience. “[It’s] wonderful that you’re at Penn. That’s a big deal.”
During his roughly 40-minute speech, Kenney added that he wants to see the students and Philadelphians in general remain in the city, noting that many residents eventually move to the suburbs instead of enrolling their children in the public school system.
The Mayor’s Scholars program also connects students with job opportunities in Philadelphia. College senior Rebecca Ly, who is also the president of the program, said one of the program’s primary benefits is its alumni network.
“One of the biggest initiatives in our program is to provide resources, social events, alumni networking, to pretty much give everyone here an opportunity to give back to Philadelphia,” Ly said.
According to Career Services data from 2016, only 10 percent of Penn students work in Philadelphia after they graduate. It is unclear how this number differs for students from the city.
After Kenney’s speech, students asked the mayor about the potential of raising the minimum wage to $15 and future improvements in the Philadelphia school district. Ly said that the event gives freshmen the chance to ask the mayor questions because many of them have come directly from the city’s public school system, and some have siblings who are still a part of it.
While this scholarship has been in existence since the late 1800s and was originally meant to serve 50 students, it has since been integrated into Penn’s financial aid system and currently is available to 300 students, with roughly 58 of them being freshmen, according to Licinia Kaliher, the program’s faculty adviser.
Kaliher noted the strong turnout for the event, and also said that she was impressed by how “down-to-earth” and “transparent” Kenney was.
“Behind the scenes, he showed up on time — he showed up, actually, early,” Kaliher said. “I think that’s very respectful. I don’t think we can say that for a lot of other offices.”
Ly said that due to Kenney's early arrival he ended up waiting in a classroom to give his speech. When the students scheduled to have class in the room began to file in, many of them passed him without realizing who he was.
“It’s kind of crazy to think that these students, they’re probably sitting down and looking at him like ‘what is he doing here,’ but he’s the mayor of Philadelphia,” Ly said.