Graduates of the Class of 2023 gathered for Penn’s 267th Commencement ceremony on Monday morning, marking Penn President Liz Magill’s first Commencement as president.
Around 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students arrived at Franklin Field shortly after 10:15 a.m. for the ceremony, which included graduates from August 2022, December 2022, and May 2023. The ceremony featured remarks from Magill, Faculty Senate Chair Tulia Falleti, and award-winning actress and singer-songwriter Idina Menzel, this year’s Commencement speaker. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden attended the ceremony for his granddaughter, a 2023 College graduate.
This year's ceremony featured more significant security measures, including airport-style screenings and the prohibition of any bags in Franklin Field. Although the University did not provide a reason for the tightened security, it was presumed to be part of protocol due to the First Family's attendance.
Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok opened the ceremony, followed by the national anthem sung by 2023 College graduate Ashley Santaniello. University Chaplain Charles Howard led a prayer and land acknowledgement, as well as an acknowledgement celebrating the graduating class and their supporters.
In her remarks, Magill highlighted the value of community in surmounting obstacles to success and highlighted the challenges that the Class of 2023 faced throughout their time at Penn — including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Success is not solitary,” Magill said. “Our ability to do big things — things that are great and things that are good — depends on the community around us.”
Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein recognized those who received academic honors, including graduates who were inducted into academic honor societies, won school and departmental awards, and received fellowships.
Magill then recognized this year's six recipients of honorary degrees. This year’s recipients included Penn’s F.M. Kirby Professor Emeritus of Ophthalmology Jean Bennett, who received a Doctor of Sciences, and Menzel, who received a Doctor of Arts.
Winkelsten welcomed Menzel, who delivered a speech that addressed the importance of grit and using one’s voice — lessons that she learned throughout her career on Broadway and in Hollywood. She also sang part of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” as part of her speech.
“Channel your emotion into determination,” Menzel said. “Find exhilaration in the repetition. And put all of yourself into this role of a lifetime — this role of your lifetime.”
Menzel's speech was followed by remarks by the deans of each school. Magill then conferred degrees to the Class of 2023. The Penn Glee Club concluded the ceremony with a performance of “The Red and Blue.”
Biden’s appearance at Commencement was not his first: he attended both Commencement and the graduation ceremony for the School of Arts and Sciences in 2016, which prompted heightened security measures similar to those at Monday’s ceremony. He was also the 2013 Commencement speaker during his vice presidency.