Amy Gutmann Receives Top Honor at Pennsylvania Society Dinner


(audience applauds) – Please join me in
welcoming Dr. Amy Gutmann, tonight’s Gold Medal Honoree. (audience applauds) – Oh my gosh, oh my gosh,
please, please sit down. Thank you so much, Bob. Thank you, let’s hear
it again for our hosts. (audience applauds) So also another big round of
applause for Leslie Odom, Jr. and the fabulous
Penn Counterparts, out of which John Legend came
and he comes back to sing with our Penn Counterparts,
so let’s give it up for both of them, wow. Oh. So I have to say, and I
have some prepared remarks but this is a spur
of the moment. I would have said anyway
that I’m eternally grateful to my husband Michael Doyle,
but I have to say yes, but I have to say, ’cause
you don’t all know this, but he is Superman. As of yesterday at about 4 p.m., we were planning on making
our way to New York. We had another party last night and our friends are here who
are part of that party too. And he got acute appendicitis. Now, now, this is
why I’m standing up
here now just smiling because he is a superhero
and Penn Medicine and nursing are the place to go. He is here tonight. So thank you Michael and
thank you Penn Medicine and Penn Nursing for the
best care in the world. There’s no better ad,
actually, than my husband and all of you spouses
should take a model from him. I’m also eternally grateful
to our daughter Abby and our son-in-law Yakov and you saw those two
wonderful grandchildren. I’m just so, so
grateful to them. And seeing Abby, seeing Abby
at the end of that video reminded me, took me way back
to when I began the presidency of Penn and I remember one
weekend that I was sitting at my desk, signing a
huge stack of letters, my wrists only slightly
aching, pen in hand. And Abigail came in and she
marveled at what I was doing. She said, that’s sure
a lot of letters, mom. She started teasing me, it’s lucky you have
such a nice signature. And then the punch line came. That must be why they
appointed you president of the University
of Pennsylvania. So now you know my secret. So, that fond memory got
me thinking seriously about what I set out to do
when I began as president and the story of what we’ve
achieved since then, together. And I have to
emphasize the together because the secret
is out of the bag. Penn has the most amazing team
of leaders that a president or any university could
possibly hope for. So simply put, what we’ve
achieved is the story of higher education’s power, its power to transform lives. And speaking of simply put,
I have a riddle for you. What’s the difference
between a scrap metal dealer and the president of the
University of Pennsylvania? That’s the answer. One generation. My father was a
scrap metal dealer and I was the first in my
family to graduate college. Kurt Gutmann
escaped Nazi Germany and he eventually immigrated
to the United States. This was, beyond a
shadow of a doubt, the land of liberty and
opportunity for my father and my parents. (audience cheers) And it’s our job, it’s
our job and it’s the job of higher education to make
this the land of liberty and opportunity for every
Pennsylvanian and every person in our country and
the face of the Earth. (audience cheers) My father, my father passed away when I was a high school junior. My mother went to
work as a secretary. And at that tragic time for me, attending college was
almost inconceivable. But scholarships
made it possible. And that leap utterly
transformed my life. It made educational
opportunity the driving force and the absolute defining
mission of my life as well. My mission and Penn’s mission is to open those
transformative doors to as many people as possible. So I received a letter from
a Penn student recently named Jake Rhodes. Jake Rhodes comes from
Jamestown, Pennsylvania, population 600. And that’s rounding up. If you drew a straight line
from Jamestown, Pennsylvania to my office in College
Hall, Philadelphia, it would crisscross
the state diagonally, right across the
entire Commonwealth. And Jake wrote the
following to me: I won a substantial
four year scholarship offered jointly by the
Pennsylvania Society and the Maguire Foundation. Combined with the
unbelievable Penn grant, this made it possible for
me to pursue the education of my dreams. The most stirring part of my
quest for the best education in the world is that
there is an amazing number of Pennsylvanians who
don’t even know me but believed in my potential. If you have the chance,
President Gutmann, please convey to the Society
that one young Quaker values their support,
loves this University and is working hard
to honor these gifts. (audience applauds) And here’s Jake’s last line: The future is wide open. So Jake, I do have the chance and I couldn’t have
put it better myself. At Penn, the future
truly is wide open. You see it in the dreams come
true of our talented students and you see it in the
life-changing breakthroughs of our brilliant faculty. In that video, you
saw Carl June of Penn talking about the astonishing
promise of immunotherapies. I can’t see Carl without
also seeing Emily Whitehead. When she was only six
years old, Emily suffered a devastating relapse from
acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her parents were told
she was days from dying. Then in the darkest of moments,
Tom and Carrie Whitehead, her parents, found
Dr. Carl June. And they also found a team at Children’s Hospital
of Philadelphia and the Hospital of the
University of Pennsylvania who offered an innovative,
experimental treatment called Car T-Cell therapy. Car T reprograms a patient’s
own white blood cells to target and destroy
cancerous cells and thanks to this
revolutionary treatment, Emily is now a vibrant
cancer-free 14-year-old, braces and all. (audience cheers) Penn’s car T-cell therapy
has gone on to become the first ever FDA approved
gene therapy for cancer. The Wall Street Journal
has called it, and I quote, the biggest breakthrough
in cancer history. In the past two years alone, 10 gene therapies, incubated at Penn, have been approved for treatment
of thousands and thousands of patients and the
best is yet to come. (audience applauds) Penn’s pioneering breakthroughs and our inspiring
student stories are what get me
up every morning, but it’s essential
that we remember all the important work
of higher education can only happen when
we dedicate ourselves to making it so. The future is indeed wide open, but it has not, nor
it, will it ever be, a foregone conclusion. We must make it so. Now, more than ever before, education is absolutely
essential to creating a wide open future for as
many people as possible. So are all of you here at
the Pennsylvania Society as you could hear in Jake’s
letter, opening doors. We must always, always
hold true to our commitment to quality education
and opportunity for
all Pennsylvanians. Indeed, for all
people everywhere and to that end, as Bob said,
we, I, Pennsylvania Society, are donating the Gold Medal
prize money of $50,000 to the Henry C. Lee
Public Elementary School in West Philadelphia. (audience cheers) And to amplify the good
this prize money will do, I am proud to announce
that Penn will match it, dollar for dollar. So together, that’s
$100,000 in support of the phenomenal principal, the amazing superintendent
of schools we have, Bill Hite, who’s here today. Let’s give it up for Bill Hite. (audience cheers) And what’s front and center
are those dedicated teachers and those wonderful students at the Lee School. So from Jamestown,
Pennsylvania to the classrooms of West Philadelphia,
from realizing the dreams of our students to saving
the lives of patients at home and around the
world, and from the daughter of an immigrant
scrap metal dealer to the president of the
University of Pennsylvania, through higher education, all
it takes is one generation. (audience applauds) On behalf of Penn, on
behalf of higher education in our Commonwealth and
on behalf of every person, every person in our state and
beyond yearning for better, I accept, I humbly
accept, this Gold Medal with the greatest of
pride and of hope. The future is indeed wide open. Thank you so very, very much. Thank you.

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