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Penn President Liz Magill greeted new students at the President and Provost’s First-Year Family Welcome in front of College Hall on Aug. 23 Credit: Jesse Zhang

At the start of a new academic year, what I really enjoy is learning how students spent their summer. Some of you had internships and other work experiences that opened your eyes to new post-graduation possibilities. Some of you spent time in classes or research labs. All of you, I hope, also found time to rest, recharge, and have some fun.

As for my summer? I continued to get out and meet with the Penn community, including at our second annual ice cream social in July. Not long after, I attended a different kind of social — this time for Leadership@Penn, a program at Penn that offers professional development and mentorship to staff who are rising leaders in their fields. I joined alums of the program for a great conversation on the idea and ethos of service-leadership: a leadership philosophy that prioritizes helping other people advance and thrive. 

Such service is woven into Penn’s DNA. Benjamin Franklin recognized the vital role that service plays in education when he noted in “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania” that “an inclination joined with an ability to serve … should indeed be the great aim and end of all learning.” Service-leadership is a privilege, no matter the role we are called to fulfill. And it’s a privilege that Penn gifts us day in and day out. 

There’s College fourth-year Stephanie Chen, who uses ping-pong to empower Parkinson’s patients. The Weitzman School of Design’s Molly Lester collects fresh-baked goods for underserved populations and nonprofit partners across the city. Physics and Astronomy professor Arnold Mathijssen is pioneering “kitchen science,” a unique concept that teaches Philadelphia high school students basic scientific concepts using inexpensive tools and materials from the kitchen.

These are just a few examples at Penn. And service-leadership isn’t just in our founding DNA. It is also critical to the future — both Penn’s and the world’s. As many of you know, our University community engaged in Tomorrow, Together, a strategic planning process for several months, last academic year. This University-wide effort generated a range of compelling ideas and institutional values responsive to our world’s needs. I was not at all surprised to find among them the critical necessity of cultivating excellent leaders — leaders who serve others and not themselves. Our planning process is ongoing, but I can confidently predict that educating and empowering leaders who serve will be integral to Penn’s future path.

As we mark the beginning of another academic year, I encourage you to embrace this distinctively Penn calling. Be mindful of all the ways, every day, that you may already serve as a leader. Seek out additional opportunities to grow your role and help others thrive. For all this and more, welcome to another exceptional year at Penn. 

Have a great year, Quakers.

LIZ MAGILL is the ninth president of the University of Pennsylvania. Her email is