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Penn President Amy Gutmann wrote in an open letter to the Daily Pennsylvanian to welcome the University community to the new academic year. 

Credit: Chase Sutton

Welcome to a new academic year at Penn, one unlike any we have embarked on before. In my Convocation remarks to the wonderful Class of 2024 and transfer students, I reflected on what makes and keeps the Penn family strong, especially in such challenging times. Penn’s strength flows from the mission-driven grit we all share and the united community we all love.  

Every one of you is a part of our crucial effort to keep our community healthy through the pandemic, to speak out against racial injustice, and to pursue a world-class Penn education. Today there is not only a great opportunity but also an absolutely urgent need for each of us to make a real mission-driven difference. It is critically important that we do so together as one beloved Penn community, even as we each do our part by learning and working remotely. 

The decision to remain almost entirely online for the fall 2020 semester was a heart-wrenching one to make. We had worked so hard, and with such optimism, to bring our community safely together again on campus. I deeply share your disappointment and sadness at not being able to bring everybody together in person for the fall semester. Yet, we have ample reason to look forward to a new academic year that is as exciting and full of possibility as any that have come before. 

Our university was made for these trying times. Penn was founded to gain and disseminate knowledge and to put it to work for practical good. Deeper understanding, better solutions, enhanced care: That is the Penn way. 

Far from being some nerdy pursuit, deeper understanding truly translates into matters of life and death. All we have to do is ask: who cared about coronaviruses in bats pre-COVID-19? After the pandemic struck, that matter of evidence-based knowledge gained new urgency, and the media worldwide wanted to talk to one person: Penn professor and coronavirus expert Susan Weiss. For more than 40 years, professor Weiss has been at the forefront of uncovering what we now know about this class of pathogens. She pursued such knowledge for its own sake, a long-term Penn pursuit of deeper understanding that now pays enormous practical dividends in lives saved. Hers is just one example among countless at Penn, both in facing this pandemic and far beyond. 

At the start of this new academic year, our call to action for all Penn faculty, students, and staff has never been clearer: Stick to our mission. Stand with our community.

This year especially, with a historic election, you and your peers possess enormous power through the all-important right and responsibility to vote. I salute the Penn students and student-run organizations across campus that are actively registering voters and encouraging all citizens to engage through the ballot box. Penn Leads the Vote has been working hard all summer, incorporating a new virtual approach to voter registration. Between now and Nov. 3, they will be recruiting volunteers for a number of important voter outreach and voter education activities. PLTV will also provide up-to-the-minute information based on geographic location concerning mail-in/absentee voting and in-person voting across the entire United States. If you have not done so already, I urge you to make sure you are ready to participate by visiting the PLTV website.

With mission-driven grit and our community united, our University family is more than up to the challenge of these trying times. Welcome to a new academic year full of excitement and possibility at Penn.

AMY GUTMANN is the eighth president of the University of Pennsylvania.