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President Amy Gutmann speaks during the University’s 111th Convocation on Aug. 30.

Credit: Ana Glassman

What does it take to be an Olympic athlete? Among the many qualities required, perseverance, teamwork, and hope are perhaps the most crucial.

When the 2021 Summer Olympic Games opened in Tokyo a few weeks ago, the finest athletes in the world gathered in the spirit of global cooperation and peaceful competition. There, shoulder to shoulder with the best of the best, we were so very proud to count not one nor two but nine Penn students and alumni. That they achieved the pinnacle of their sports during the most challenging pandemic in a century makes this honor all the more extraordinary. To persevere, to help and be helped by your team, and to always keep hope kindled: our Penn Olympians exemplify what it takes to rise through adversity and passionately pursue one’s dreams.

To all Penn students, whether you have lived and learned on campus before or this is your very first time being here, you have risen through adversity to passionately pursue your dreams, too.

When COVID-19 ground our world to a halt, your lives were upended. Yet you persevered. You pursued your studies online, stepped up remotely, and navigated all the challenges that profound shift entailed. From song and dance to athletics and civic engagement, you kept your passions and extracurriculars alive and thriving — even from afar. You went without pivotal milestones and joyful moments so that many others can and will enjoy more life. 

You persevered, but you didn’t do it alone. United in purposeful solidarity with your classmates, friends, families, and communities, you took teamwork to new heights. Many of you devoted time and energy to helping others in ways great and small. From the student-organized Lockdown Letters and tens of thousands of notes sent in heartfelt support of frontline healthcare workers, to simple acts like helping elderly neighbors in isolation and assisting loved ones in getting their vaccinations, to advocating for social equity and justice, to registering people to vote. These and so many other examples proved your devotion to working as a Penn team to overcome even the greatest of challenges.

To do all this amid such uncertainty — as we all faced and continue to face a deadly pandemic — requires the most powerful quality of all, and that is deep and abiding hope. 

That we can reunite now on campus results in no small part from the hope you, our outstanding and dedicated faculty and staff, and our entire Penn community kept kindled. All the necessary steps we have collectively taken could not succeed without the enduring belief that, together, we can and we will get through this even stronger than before.

Perseverance, teamwork, and hope enabled our nine Penn Olympians to reach Tokyo and their dreams. The same qualities have empowered you and our entire Penn community to reach this pivotal moment, at the start of a brand-new academic year, when we can be together once more on the campus we all love. I could not be prouder of you all.

Welcome to a wonderful new year at Penn!

AMY GUTMANN is the eighth president of the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science. Her email is