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Penn's 266th Commencement ceremony took place on May 16, 2022.

Credit: Jesse Zhang

Graduates of the Class of 2022 gathered for Penn’s 266th Commencement ceremony on Monday morning, the first Commencement to permit in-person family and guest attendance since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Approximately 5,000 graduate and undergraduate students made their way to Franklin Field for the 10:15 a.m. event. The ceremony featured remarks from interim President Wendell Pritchett and award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, this year’s commencement speaker.

Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok opened the ceremony, followed by the singing of the national anthem by College graduate Madison Woods. University Chaplain Charles Howard led a prayer to congratulate the graduating class, marveling at finally having families and friends in attendance again.

“To see all of us here in this historic stadium, with smiles on our faces, teary-eyed loved ones in the stands – it feels like we are witnessing a miracle,” Howard said. 

In his opening statement, Pritchett spoke about overcoming hardships and the future of the Class of 2022, lauding the graduating class for finding success despite battling pandemic restrictions over their academic careers. 

“Your shared experience as a class has been forged in the crucible of global change, enormous and at times quite scary,” Pritchett said. “This experience has granted your class certain gifts – among them your ability to roll with the challenges, to navigate extreme uncertainty with resilient creativity – that gift will continue serving you well the rest of your lives.”

Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein then welcomed Burns, who delivered a speech driven by the ideals and history of Benjamin Franklin — Penn’s founder and focus of his latest documentary “Benjamin Franklin,” which aired in April. 

“Be curious, not cool. Be virtuous and purposeful. Do good things. Help others. Do not get frozen in the ice of your own indifference. Don’t confuse success with excellence,” Burns said. 

This year, Penn conferred eight honorary degrees. Among the recipients was United States Ambassador to Germany and former Penn President Amy Gutmann, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Burns also received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree. 

The deans of each school also made remarks, conferring degrees to the Class of 2022. The Penn Glee Club then concluded the ceremony with a performance of “The Red and Blue." 

Last year, pandemic restrictions led the University to hold Commencement at a limited in-person capacity with socially distanced seating. Family and friends watched the event online.