Commencement Talk - May 1994

Good morning, my name is Jerry Porter and I am the immediate past chair of the Penn Faculty Senate. Before I begin, let me say that today is a special day for me as well as for you.  Today our daughter receives her MBA degree and my mother-in-law celebrates the 65th anniversary of her graduation from Penn.  

On behalf of all Penn faculty members I congratulate the families of the graduates.  You have been responsible for supporting them, both literally and figuratively, you have done well and I wish you prompt relief from the empty wallet syndrome.  

Congratulations to each of you who graduates today.  You are a remarkable group of individuals who have excelled in the classroom and through your extracurricular activities, whether on the playing field or stage, through writing or by service to the community.  I have served on committees with some of you and I have been impressed with your dedication and ability.  We will miss you.

During the time you have been at Penn, you have had the opportunity to expand your intellectual horizons in many ways.  While you were ultimately responsible for your own education, my colleagues and I have tried to challenge you to expand your knowledge both in breadth and in your particular field of concentration.  

Most importantly we have tried to provide you with the tools required to learn.  Even though, for many of you, today marks the end of your schooling, it must not mark the end of your education.  True learning must continue throughout your life for you to excel at your profession, be a responsible citizen, and in the words of the American journalist, Sydney Harris, help "to make one's mind a pleasant place in which to spend one's time."

Much of what you learned you have learned out of class. Penn is in every way a remarkably diverse community.  You have had the opportunity to be in close proximity with individuals from other states and countries, other religions and races, and other intellectual interests.  I hope that you have taken full advantage to learn from those unlike yourself, to learn to listen to opinions that differ from yours and to respond on an intellectual level.  Too much of our national and international discourse takes place without listening.  

I know that each of you, as you sit here today, is thinking of your own needs and your own career.  That is natural; but I remind you that the University of Pennsylvania, as an educational institution, receives preferential tax treatment from our society.  It receives that treatment because society expects that each of you will work to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants.

The past five years have been a truly amazing time.  Beginning with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 we have seen events that no person could ever have anticipated: the breakup of the Soviet Union and democratization of Eastern Europe, the unbelievable transition in South Africa that culminated in the inauguration of President Mandela last week, and the establishment of Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and Jericho. 

What we have learned is that all things are possible.  As you leave this University, set your goals high. There are important issues in our society that desperately need your attention.  Remember the words of the Jewish sage Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am for myself alone, what am I?  If not now, when?"