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A rainbow arched above Penn's campus during the online Opening Convocation Ceremony. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn held its first-ever online Opening Convocation Ceremony on Monday evening, welcoming incoming first years and transfer students to the University.

The ceremony, which premiered at 7 p.m. EDT on the Penn Convocation website, featured remarks from Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett, as well as performances by student groups such as the Penn Band and various Penn a cappella groups. Gutmann and Pritchett discussed this unique moment in history for the Class of 2024 and urged students to vote and combat inequalities, pointing to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The video began with a performance of "Pomp and Circumstance" recorded by the Penn Band as scenes of campus displayed on screen, followed by an invocation, or prayer, led by Vice President of Social Equity and Community and University Chaplain Charles Howard.

Howard noted the losses and difficulties students have faced in the past six months since the coronavirus outbreak, and wished them well in their transition to their next four years at Penn.

"May this class bravely process through the gates that stand before them for their personal transitions here at Penn," Howard said.

Dean of Admission Eric Furda, who will leave Penn at the end of 2020, officially presented the incoming Class of 2024 and welcomed them to the Penn community.

"I challenge all of you to think critically and to strengthen the experience of the entire Penn, Philadelphia, and the other communities which you will touch now and in the future," he said.

Furda handed a Penn Relays baton out of the frame, which Gutmann received to begin her welcome message. Gutmann welcomed students to Penn, acknowledging their unique and difficult situation as they begin their Penn careers.

"Right now your class remarks on something never before attempted," Gutmann said. "There will be setbacks, yes. More remarkably, there will be great opportunities to do things differently, more creatively."

Gutmann said the Class of 2024's experience will be defined by grit and community — qualities she said the late congressman and honorary Penn graduate John Lewis, who died in July, embodied in his civil rights work.

"As we reaffirm, yes, Black Lives Matter, as we confront this pandemic, these shining examples call out to us. Stick to your mission. Stand with your beloved community," she said.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn staff member Adam Sherr (left) and his family waved their arms as Penn performance groups concluded the ceremony with "The Red and Blue."

Gutmann compared the current moment incoming students face to her own first year of college from 1967 to 1968, which witnessed the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gutmann also urged students to vote this November in the United States Presidential election, applauding Penn Leads the Vote for their dedication to civic engagement.

In his remarks to the Class of 2024, Pritchett said this current moment has also shed light on inequalities and acknowledged Penn's own racist history and ties to slavery. Pritchett encouraged students to use their Penn education to combat inequality at the University and in the United States.

Millions of demonstrators, including Penn students, took to the streets worldwide to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, who died on May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.  

"I believe we are poised for something greater, and I know you will lead us and lift us forward," Pritchett said to the Class of 2024.

Student leaders gave words of advice to incoming students, which included to pursue non-academic passions at Penn. 

"Make sure you take time to explore the different things Penn has to offer, because you never know where it might lead you," College senior and Undergraduate Assembly speaker Jude Dartey said.

Class Board 2021, 2022, and 2023 presidents then passed the Class of 2024's flag across frames to Gutmann, who declared the beginning of the 281st year of the University.

To conclude the ceremony, the Penn Glee Club, The Inspiration, Shabbatones, and Penn Sirens, all Penn a cappella or singing groups, performed The Red and Blue, Penn's official theme song, accompanied by the Penn Band.

College junior and transfer student Maressa Park said she was grateful for the advice from Penn students, as well as Pritchett's acknowledgment of Penn's ties to racism.

Park added she appreciated that Gutmann discussed current events in her welcome speech, including the Black Lives Matter movement, and emphasized the importance of voting.

"Acknowledging how big of an election year this is is incredibly important, especially as they're inducting new students to make it a priority for us," Park said.

Wharton first-year Adelyn Chen said although it is disappointing to attend Convocation from home rather than in person, she was able to connect with students who would have lived in her College house as they watched the Convocation video together through a Zoom call.

"I think that people are still attempting to make the best of it and putting a lot of effort into maintaining a sense of virtual community regardless of the circumstances, and I really appreciate that," Chen said.

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