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2016 Commencement

Remarks by John A. Fry

June 11, 2016

By the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of Drexel University, chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to declare the 2016 Commencement Exercises of Drexel University to now be in session.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is one inspiring sight to see so much of the Drexel community gathered together in one place. If the technology permitted, I'd turn around and take a group selfie. But I don't think I could get everybody in.

Instead, I’ll get right down to the happy business of welcoming all of you: our distinguished faculty and professional staff, devoted trustees, special guests, proud families and friends of graduates, and, of course, members of the amazing class of 2016.

As we come together in this incredible ballpark, we're celebrating the beginning of Drexel's 125th year — and our first all-university commencement in 20 years. And having all of the 6,000 graduates from our 15 schools and colleges together reflects the focus on One University that's been growing at Drexel during your time here.

This has to be the most exciting thing to happen in Citizens Bank Park since the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. And I can’t resist mentioning that this is not my first professional appearance in a Major League ballpark. Few of my colleagues even know this, but I was with the New York Mets for two seasons … selling popcorn and peanuts in the upper reaches of Shea Stadium in Queens. I was a young teenager working a summer job. The pay was lousy, but I got to see a lot of games for free. And like the Drexel Co-ops, the experience combined work with education — but not quite on the level you've experienced.

The great life lesson I learned at Shea was beer drinkers are the biggest tippers. And, by the way, my apologies to any of you who might be waiting for the beer vendors to come down the aisle today: That’s not going to happen. Nor will you hear that old graduation cliché about young people graduating and going out into the real world.

You've been out in the real world since the day you arrived on campus: building your professional careers, and building a better society. Whether your next stop is full-time employment, or graduate school, you've prepared yourselves to make significant contributions from day one.

This is something global employers and competitive graduate schools are well aware of. You can see that in the placement of Drexel graduates. And yes, we do keep score. The most recently available alumni data tell us that, within a year of graduation, 92 percent of our graduates were employed full-time or enrolled in graduate programs.

Women and men from Drexel are overwhelmingly working in professions related to their fields of study, with substantially higher levels of compensation and job satisfaction than the average among college graduates nationally.

I'd be less than candid if I didn't say we're proud of results like that. And we’re prouder still of having a world-class faculty. And some of the most motivated students anywhere in higher education.
You came to Drexel with your eyes and your minds wide open, ready to make the commitment of working and studying 12 months a year over four or five years. In return for the opportunity to navigate a demanding curriculum that would prepare you not just for your first job, but for a meaningful life, and at the same time immerse you in the life of one of America's great cities, you accepted the challenge and distinguished yourselves. And given your generation's interest in making a difference in society, and Drexel's long-standing tradition of civic engagement, it's not surprising that the class of 2016 has enriched that tradition.

Civic engagement requires more than good intentions, and you have enthusiastically absorbed the opportunities Drexel offered to learn and practice the art of civic engagement. From the required Civic Engagement 101 course freshman year, to the incredible variety of Community Based Learning courses offered through the Lindy Center, some of you had the satisfaction of making a fundamental improvement in the quality of life for 124 families by volunteering with Rebuilding Philadelphia to renovate their homes. And your class stepped up to the opportunity of partnering in the launch the Dornsife Center, where the growth of new ideas matches the fertility of the popular new Community Garden.

Through all your civic engagement initiatives, you've created a rare and wonderful opportunity to join with your West Philadelphia neighbors to share ideas and apply your entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving. That experience is a priceless legacy of your years at Drexel. And this university's appetite for civic engagement extends to being an engine for economic growth and social progress in the city of Philadelphia.

So, as you graduate, Drexel and our partners are just beginning the most ambitious urban development project in Philadelphia's history: the Schuylkill Yards Innovation District adjacent to our campus and 30th Street Station. This is a 20-year $3.5 billion effort driven by Drexel, financed by private developers, designed from the beginning, not only to spur economic development, but specifically to create jobs and educational opportunities for residents of the surrounding West Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The future holds major opportunities for Drexel as an institution, and for each of you. But it also holds a compelling challenge to stamp out the virus of incivility and intolerance that has reached epidemic proportions in America, infecting our public discourse and widening the social and political divisions that are putting far too much stress on America's moral infrastructure.

In that sense, you are entering a world that's very different from the inclusive community you've known at Drexel. But you have the heart, talent, background and leadership skills to help Americans build bridges, to connect with one another, to restore the kind of civil discourse that allows us to work together on solutions to mutual problems. This is the number one challenge of your generation. The big question is: Will you accept it? And I'm confident that you will.

Our commencement speaker Donna Shalala has been forging cooperative solutions to massive social problems throughout her storied career in public service and higher education. I know we're all eager to hear from her.

I would just like to add my congratulations to the class of 2016. Drexel is proud of what you've accomplished here, and looking forward to what you'll accomplish in the years ahead — and all that you’ll give back to American society.

Best wishes to all. Thank you very much.