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(left to right) College senior Charles Curtis-Thomas and College and Wharton senior Daniel Gordon created the Gryphon Senior Society, the first and only senior society for students in the College of Arts and Sciences. (Photo from Charles Curtis-Thomas) 

After realizing that all of Penn's undergraduate schools have their own senior societies except for the College, two students created the Gryphon Senior Society open only to students in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

College senior Charles Curtis-Thomas and College and Wharton senior Daniel Gordon, both of whom are College Chairs of Class Board 2021, created the society in spring 2020. Since then, they have filled two classes totaling 40 members, comprising members of student government, athletics, greek life, and other campus groups.

Penn has more than a dozen senior societies, campus organizations that recruit juniors and seniors to reward leadership and community involvement. Gryphon hopes to create a new community of students who embody three core values: leadership, community, and excellence. 

Gordon said the interdisciplinary background of students in the College is one of the main things that differentiates Gryphon from other school-specific senior societies, such as Hexagon for Engineering, Lantern for Wharton, and Nightingales for Nursing. He said that while students in the other undergraduate schools accomplish great things, he loves the idea of bringing together people from various academic backgrounds within the College.

College Dean Paul Sniegowski, who Gordon and Curtis-Thomas said has been very supportive of Gryphon’s creation, said students in the College don’t have as clear of a professional identity as students in Wharton, Engineering, or Nursing. Wharton students think about business when they think about their professional identities, Engineering students think of themselves as engineers in training, and nursing students think of themselves as nurses in training, Sniegowski said.

“What are you in training as a College student? You are a critical thinker or someone who could take on many, many different identities and careers,” he said.

Another thing that differentiates Gryphon from other societies is its focus on advocacy. Curtis-Thomas hopes that in the future, students can meet with College administrators and work toward change. Gryphon has been discussing the feasibility of an in-person commencement ceremony and modifications to the sector requirements, he added.

“I would love it if, in a year or two, it’s a very normalized thing for leaders in the College and administrators in the College to say, ‘we want to know what we should be doing next to the College of Arts and Sciences — let’s ask the Gryphon Senior Society,’” Curtis-Thomas said.

Gordon said Gryphon has a few more members than other senior societies at Penn. To recruit the first class of the new society, Gordon and Curtis-Thomas sent emails to high-achieving students who they wanted to have as members. 

Gordon and Curtis-Thomas want the society to maintain a similar amount of people every year for consistency and long-term sustainability. The current class of seniors will tap students from the current class of juniors each spring to keep growing. Students can also be tapped during the fall of their senior year. 

College senior Mercedes Owens, president of the Undergraduate Assembly, is one of the members of Gryphon’s spring 2021 class. Owens said she was drawn to Gryphon because of the community of students, adding that the society is full of inspiring people with whom she can learn and grow. Since joining Gryphon, she’s participated in a virtual game night, a volleyball game with a small group of members, and several outdoor picnics.

College senior Victoria Wu, another member of Gryphon, said she accepted the offer to join the society because it allowed her to interact with people outside of her STEM major. As a member of the Netter Center's student advisory board, she hopes that Gryphon engages with the West Philadelphia community and encourages other students to do the same.

Sniegowski said he is very excited for Gryphon and believes the society will be valuable to him and the College as a whole.

“I have real good hopes for this group, and the role it will take on as it grows and develops in the coming years,” Sniegowski said. “I think it is an important addition to the student groups in the College.” 

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