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Credit: Son Nguyen

I take pride in having had the opportunity to serve as a teaching student at Penn for the past two and a half years, and some of the students I had the privilege to serve graduated this past weekend. I realize how special of an occasion graduation from college is, and how upset my friends are that a proper celebration is not possible at the moment due to the global pandemic. Very thoughtfully, President Gutmann announced that Penn plans to hold an in-person graduation ceremony next year for the Class of 2020. In the meantime, however, I decided to write a message in an attempt to give this occasion the recognition it deserves.

Let me begin by giving my most sincere condolences to the members of our community who have lost loved ones as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the many others who have been impacted by the economic downfall it has caused. We have seen better days, and I hope our sense of responsibility and community can help minimize the suffering of the members of our community in the days that follow. Words cannot portray how grateful I am for the heroic efforts put in by medical care providers inside and outside of Penn to protect the physical and mental health of our society.

To the Class of 2020, I want to express my deepest gratitude for the contributions you have made, and for giving me an opportunity to learn with you and from you. I am proud to have served you, for you are the future. You are the people our society has invested in to find solutions for the challenges ahead. And while I cannot ascertain that Penn has provided you with the necessary tools, my observation was that we cared, and we tried. 

Life is unfair, and the hope was that we could employ human nature to offset that unfairness. We devised laws to protect ourselves from the inherent unfairness of life. Laws are confinements, and freedom is the freedom to choose the right confinement with the measure of morals. The demise of morality brings about the demise of society. You just became Penn alumni, and it is on you to stand against “laws without morals." The most important thing I learned from Penn is that both people and ideas are diverse, and that inclusiveness and tolerance are key to the wellbeing of society. It is now on you to live and propagate this message.

I have faith in you, and I am proud of you. I know you will bring us to better days and make an impact on the lives of so many, and that you will change the “laws without morals” and stand for your freedom. I wish you wisdom for decisions you will have to make, perseverance for what you have to endure, and lots of love to give.

BORNA SAEEDNIA is a graduate student in the Chemistry Department from Tehran, Iran studying organic chemistry. His email address is