Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Must See Movie: “Thunder Soul”

Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W’95

It’s Mr. Holland’s Opus meets Stand and Deliver; it’s Drumline meets Dead Poets Society. It’s not a movie about a band, or their music. It’s about the man who inspired them to greatness by making them believe that they could be great. They proved him right. Then, 30 years later, they got together to show him that they remembered what he’d taught them. And I’m not just talking about the music.

The Director’s name was Conrad O. Johnson, Sr., otherwise known as “Prof.” He led the Kashmere Stage Band to undreamed-of heights for an all-Black group of Houston, Texas public high school students in the early ’70s. I’m talking the kind of heights typically found in fairy tales and made-for-TV family drama. But this is all true. Through interviews, rehearsal video, and amazing footage/photos from the band’s heyday, this documentary – Thunder Soul, named after one of the group’s songs – tells the story of the band’s formation, the success they achieved, and the 2008 reunion where alumni came together to play for their “Prof” one more time to say thank you.

The true story of Conrad Johnson & the Kashmere Stage Band. “He gave them everything. Now it’s time to give back.”

Shout out to Executive Producer Jamie Foxx for helping to make this movie possible. Read this article for his thoughts on the film, and why he was so compelled to be a part of it. It’s a good thing he was; it has already won two “Best Documentary Feature” awards, and nine Audience Awards. And counting?

I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of Thunder Soul in Philadelphia (alumni, you will get a chance at Homecoming 2011 if you can’t find it near you before November). It is not often I believe that everyone I know, as well as everyone I don’t know, should see a particular film. But you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll groove, and you’ll leave knowing you’ve just experienced something powerful. And, if you happen to have ever played in a school band, or if you happen to care about kids having arts programs in school, or if you happen to enjoy ‘70s funk, well, then. So much the better. You will like – dare I say, even love – this movie even more.

But you’ll also like it – dare I say, even love it:

  • If you’ve ever had, or not had, the chance to show someone how much they meant to you.
  • If you have ever been a part of a team, in any form.
  • If you’ve ever taught someone how to do something, then felt the rush of pride in seeing them run with it.
  • If you’ve ever learned how to do something, then felt the exhilaration of running with it.
  • If you’ve ever run back to say, “Thank you.”
  • If you’re now thinking about the people you should be thanking.
  • If you’ve ever been in the minority, and been made aware of it by others (as if you didn’t already know).
  • If anyone has ever had low expectations of you that you went on to prove wrong.
  • If anyone has ever had high expectations of you that you went on to prove right.

Don’t let the fact that movie popcorn costs $75 keep you from going to the theater. You can always eat something beforehand.

You know the kind of movie you wished for, and that you said you’d support if it were out there? That anyone, from any background, can see and enjoy? That you can take your family to see, and that everyone, of every age, will actually like? That portrays a diverse array of African-Americans as thinking, feeling human beings rather than as insulting caricatures? That shows positive things happening while still being real? That is uplifting and inspiring without being cheesy? This is that movie, so here’s your chance to support it: find where it’s playing, and see it. Then tell someone about it.

And go ahead, get to that first “Thank you.” You’re about to make someone’s day.


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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Homecoming Weekend featuring arts and culture, Nicole M., The Arts, The Arts at Penn

Tug of War: The Penn Park Version

Author: Stephanie Y., C’08

I’m always surprised how much Penn students love tug of war. The annual sorority tug of war competition in the Palestra is always quite the spectacle, and this year, the College Houses battled it out at the Penn Park Field Day. Being a College House lifer (I lived in Rodin College House all 4 years), I was really excited to see all the College House gear at Penn Park. Check out Rodin’s awesome yellow headbands. I wish we had those when I lived in Rodin! I also loved Hill House’s “We’re too cool for A/C” t-shirts (not pictured). Very clever.

Rodin College House and the power of the yellow headbands

Rodin College House, Part II

Stouffer College House

Teams of 10 competed in the single-elimination tournament, and Stouffer College House won it all. In fact, the championship round was Stouffer A vs. Stouffer B, so they got 1st and 2nd place. They managed to win without the power of matching headbands or matching t-shirts. Very impressive. I hope everyone has checked out Penn Park. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I can’t wait to play on the new tennis courts and run the Penn Park Homecoming 5K on Saturday, November 5, 2011.

Stouffer College House – Penn Park Tug of War Champions (pictured with the Michael G. Housman College House Cup)

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Campus Life, Homecoming Weekend featuring arts and culture, Penn Park, Philadelphia, Stephanie Y.

September at Penn

Author: Dan Bernick, SAS ’14

September at Penn feels like college.

September is when everyone you met last year returns.  You see familiar faces, some whose names escape you and force you to pretend to introduce that person to someone else so she has to say her name.

September is when Locust Walk looks beautiful.  Although only half of Locust Walk is not under construction, strolling down to Penn Park connects you with a campus rich in history and traditions.

September is when football games are.  Heading to Franklin Field with brothers to watch the Quakers destroy or be destroyed is mesmerizing.  This year, as a returning student, I feel ownership – the football my team is my team, and we win or lose as a school.

Double Rainbow Over Penn Park, Photo by Scott Spitzer, University Communications

September is when you are enthusiastic, fresh, and excited.  When you try new things, join new clubs, and take new risks.  Fall is when my schedule is packed with shows and sports games, meals to catch-up with friends, and fun.

Soon, it will be October, and fun will become Halloween and hot apple cider.  But September at Penn feels like college.  The way college is supposed to feel.

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Filed under Daniel B., Memories of Penn, Philadelphia, Photos, Student Perspective

Continuing Your Penn Education

Author: Amanda D’Amico

Penn takes pride in its ability to offer new and innovative programming to its alumni. These programs provide alumni with the opportunity to continue their education and discuss current events with engaged and intellectual professionals.

As a an alumna of a small liberal arts college, I’m always impressed by the amount of education and learning opportunities that Penn offers to its alumni.  As a staff member at Penn, I’m happy to be able to take part in some of what Penn has to offer.  I regularly comb through the Penn Current and Daily Pennsylvanian’s list of upcoming events to see what’s going on at Penn. In the next few months, there several fantastic programs:

  1. Lying Your Way to Truth, September 28 at 11:55 a.m.
  2. 50 Jobs in 50 States, October 4 at 6:00 p.m.
  3. Kelly Writers House: A Lunch Talk with Karen Heller, October 17 at 12:00 p.m.
  4. Imagine Africa Lecture Series: Africa and the World, October 20 at 6:00 p.m.
  5. Wharton Leadership Lectures: Honorable Eric Cantor, U.S. House Majority Leader, October 21 at 4:30 p.m.

*Please note that some of the above events are only open to certain alumni or require registration.

 Of course, this is only a snippet of what’s happening at Penn. Next time you’re on in Philadelphia, continue your Penn education with an on campus lecture.

And be sure to meet your fellow alumni at Homecoming (November 4 – 6) featuring Arts and Culture at Penn. Homecoming offers several opportunities for personal enrichment and networking with fellow alumni.  For more information or to register, visit

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Filed under Amanda D., Campus Life, Homecoming Weekend featuring arts and culture, Philadelphia

Spin the Wheel

Author: Lex Ruby Howe, C’07

Who doesn’t love a game show? It brings out our competitive spirit, our drive to win a pretty-shiny thing, and provides a chance to show off our innate skills.

Well, the Penn Traditions program recently capitalized on the average Penn person’s competitive side and unveiled the Penn Alumni Spinning Wheel! Inspired by Penn’s academic theme year “Year of Games,” Penn Traditions decided to go big or go home. We went big – the spinning wheel measures 5 feet in diameter and 10 feet tall – it is a behemoth of Penn games. And it rocks!

The spinning wheel’s maiden voyage was at Penn Park Field Day on Saturday, September 17. Thousands of Penn students, alumni, staff, and community friends flocked to the park for it’s opening, and the line at our spinning wheel attraction didn’t end. For two straight hours they all lined up and waited for their chance at fame and glory. Ok, maybe just a Penn Scarf or T-shirt, but the jubilation on the faces of the winners told it all.

Contestants, or aka, participants, in the Penn Alumni Wheel of Glory had to answer a challenging Penn trivia question – questions based on the history and traditions of our alma mater, which for some provided a large road block to that coveted prize. Many of the participants were freshman, who hadn’t yet seen the running of Penn Relays, or watched the sea of red as the juniors processed in their hats and canes on Hey Day. But with fans around them, and upperclassmen to help, most walked away with a prize and a smile!

Me at the Wheel with one of our newest members of the Class of 2015

Test your own Penn trivia knowledge with these questions below: would you be a winner??

1)      The Penn Coat of Arms includes the University’s motto quoted from Horace’s “Third Ode.”  What is the motto?

2)      How old was Ben Franklin when he died?

"Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky" by Benjamin West (1738-1820).

3)     Prior to its name change in the late 18th century, what did the University of Pennsylvania used to be called?

4)      According to its creator, what does the crack in the button represent?

5)      What year did Hey Day start at Penn?

Hey Day, 1911 (then called “Class Day”)

Know these questions, and when you find our spinning wheel at Homecoming you too might walk away a winner!

Answers to Quizzo questions: 1) Leges Sine Moribus Vanae, or Laws without Morals are Meaningless. 2) Ben Franklin was 84 when he passed. 3) The Academy of Philadelphia. 4) The Schuylkill River. 5) It was started in 1916.


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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Lex. H., Traditions

Back To Penn Fashion: Paintbrush Edition

Author: Leigh Ann P.

You know you’ve been there.  You see a notable piece of fashion – be it adorable or abomination – and you long to capture it on film, but do you dare?  Before the unsuspecting fashion plate in question walks too far ahead of you, do you have time to root around in your over-sized tote looking for your cell phone that somehow always manages to find its way to the very bottom; past old, crumpled up Wawa receipts, empty water bottles and your glasses case containing the eyewear you never bother to fish out – otherwise you wouldn’t have taken the 12 bus instead of the 21 today?  And even if you do manage to grab it in time, will you be inconspicuous enough?  Or are you a klutz who can’t keep a secret?

Maybe you’re smooth and you think you can just walk up to someone and tell her, “Hey, we’d like to photograph you for the Penn Alumni blog’s back-to-school fashion post I’m working on.”  Newsflash: this is awkward and no one will believe that you work for that illustrious online publication – that Daily Intel-Slate-NY Times-Perez Hiltonesque amalgam of the Penn Alumni community.

Which is why we are bringing you Frankly Penn’s first-ever Back To Penn Fashion post illustrated entirely in paintbrush!

First up: Last week, we saw a Penn student sitting on a bench near Locust Walk, and she was wearing a pair of clunky-heeled Mary Janes.  Mary Janes and clunky heels had a good run in the ’90s, and frankly, we welcome them back with open arms.  So long, stilettos!  You won’t find yourself interlocked with a sidewalk grate in these puppies!  Added bonus: clunky heels will change the proportion of the line of your leg, and instantly remove most traces of cankles.  This student was also wearing socks, so we are pretty sure she was going for a full-on Anthropologie look (one of our fave stores – the flagship mansion is at 18th & Walnut, if you’re interested).

Our next Back to School fashion trend we’ve noticed this September is one that has, in fact, been a perennial favorite around college campuses all across this country for at least the last half-century.  Does that make it a trend?  Probably yes, in the great scheme of things.  We call it “I Don’t Care Chic,” and we can be sure it will be around as long as all-nighter cramming sessions exist.  The psychology behind this look is one of extraordinary complication and one never knows the true impetus.  Do you really not care?  Or do you just want to look like you don’t care?  Is “not caring” an activity that requires actual effort, and isn’t it ironic when you do put effort into “not caring” because isn’t “not caring” caring?  Or perhaps it’s a comfort thing.  Personally, we would love to come to work in sweat pants!  We are glad these students are enjoying this dress code-free time in their lives. 

We couldn’t write a blog post about early-fall fashion and leave out cargo shorts.  Mostly we wanted to see if we could successfully draw cargo shorts using paintbrush.  Lex Ruby Howe C’07 thinks the pockets look like little people.  We think they’re awesome.  What do you think?

The fashion trend making the biggest statement this season – and every season – on this campus are the Penn gear staples.  You can’t strut a brick on Locust Walk without spotting packs of students wearing their pride on their sleeves in their Penn sweatshirts, t-shirts, belts, ties, tote bags, hats, gym clothes, flip-flops, and more! 

Join the Penn fashion movement!  You can purchase all the Penn gear your red-and-blue-bleeding heart desires on the Penn Bookstore website.  Go Quakers!


Filed under Campus Fashion, Leigh Ann P., Uncategorized

Friday Rain

Author:  Sabrina Shyn, C’13

I’ve spent a lot of sunny days in my rainboots because was wrong about the forecast. Like yesterday, when it said it was going to rain but it was bright and shiny the entire day.

So even though today’s forecast called for rain again, I decided not to wear my rainboots this morning. And as soon as I left my dorm it started pouring, of course.

The shoes I decided to wear:

At least I didn’t choose flip flops.

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Filed under Campus Life, Photos, Sabrina Shyn, Student Perspective

Survival Tactics for Student-hood: 101

Author:  Mari Meyer, GSE, C’12

They say that becoming a student again is no different than riding a bike—sure, it may take some oversized training wheels, an industrial strength helmet, perhaps a pair of skinned knees or two and a bruised ego here and there—but as a new student at the Graduate School of Education and the Graduate Assistant here at the Office of Alumni Relations, I can officially concur that student-hood, whether you once loved it or simply survived it, sticks to your bones and stays with you for life.

Me in my undergrad years, circa 2006

Little did I know that I'd be back for more education...

I have been noticing the remnants of my own student identity creeping up on me in these first few weeks of the school year.  Though I expected early on that I would inevitably return to my tortuous and deeply unhealthy on-again/off-again relationship with the caffeinated lifestyle—I never would have imagined that I so quickly would re-learn the primal, survival skills of the student in her natural habitat.

So many, many choices

Anthropologically speaking, the student must evolve and adapt to her environment, first and foremost based on physical need.  Like many other graduate students, I have found that my basic physical need revolves completely around: ( 1). shelter (though this is generally the least important as there are libraries to sleep in), (2). food (or some variance thereof) and (3). cold, hard cash—which for most of us has been generated by what will ultimately become our endless collection of student debt.  But that’s another conversation.

Where I spend much of my time

It wasn’t until a recent trip to the Fresh Grocer Salad Bar that I wholeheartedly understood my own behavior as a return to familiar student territory.  While my fellow patrons loaded their disposable containers with greens and meats and cheeses and dressings by the ladleful, I was strategically mapping out the efficiency and worth of my mid-day meal.  Which vegetables carry the highest count of vitamins and fiber?  What is the ratio of caloric content and filling fixings to their weight on a pay scale—the final determinant of the cost of my meal? Why waste my money on thickly sliced cucumber rounds when those heavy medallions would far outweigh three times their nutritional value in feather-light spinach leaves? And so it begins.  It’s not enough that I will accept—rather, seek out—as many opportunities to eat for free as possible (even four years out of undergrad, that is one habit that will never cease to improve my quality of life), I now have revitalized my innate instinct to analytically assess every morsel and meal in terms of its satiety versus monetary turnover.

I also forgot what garbage day was like around a college campus

It is no different, say, for those of us who have also returned to the art of the coin-operated Laundromat experience after living in a home with washer and dryer—in the apartment itself!  I fondly remember the days when Chicago, my hometown, switched from quarter-collecting parking meters to giant boxes accepting cash, coins, and plastic of any kind.  People were furious about the prices, but oh, how luxurious it felt to free myself of loose change, that dirty, clinking pocket confetti.  What a pleasure to never worry about where and how I would find quarters in exchange for a dollar bill, which I so rarely had in the first place.  And here I am, a graduate student in West Philly buying extra socks and underwear in a concerted effort to prolong the need to gather my most valuable coins by the roll and exchange them for clean clothes—after hours (what, it doesn’t take you this long?) of sorting, and stuffing and piling and folding and transferring back into dressers and onto hangers—just to wear and make dirty all over again. Who has the time (or quarters?!) for this arduous nonsense?

I neither defend nor encourage this behavior, yet I must admit to feeling a certain rush of adrenaline each time I swipe that highlighter across the page, a kind of innate thrill as I fill up one more free cup of coffee here in the Office of Alumni Relations (whose inhabitants do nothing but enable this jitter-inducing addiction), and an emphatic joyfulness when I’ve finished ALL of my homework and made it into bed prior to 1 AM.  Sure, my new roommates write their names on their food to distinguish it from one another’s—I mean, really, would we not know that the uncooked chicken breast cutlet in the half-sealed plastic bag wasn’t ours?—and sure, I just added the Student Loan distributors to my “Favorites” list on my phone.  But let’s be clear here, student-hood is a privilege and pleasure.  When else in life will my sole purpose and hardest job require me to simply learn more? I can only hope that, even in my most sleep-deprived moments of despair—with my overabundance of unwashed socks and my sad looking salad platter—I can find humor amidst the panic and gratitude for getting through it best I can.

Another reason to return to learning, etched in stone

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Filed under Mari M., Student Perspective

Five Years at Penn

Author: Kelly Graf

This past Tuesday marked exactly five years since I began my career at Penn. Five years! Ok, so it’s not exactly a lifetime, but it has encompassed a lot of really amazing experiences. Because I try to keep things all about me, I decided to look through these five years and find one of the most exciting developments at Penn for every year that I have worked here. ***Please note that I do not take credit (at these not all) for these accomplishments, though the timing does seem coincidental.

  • 2007:     The Making History campaign was launched. A little over a year after I started at Penn, the University launched its biggest campaign in history with an ambitious goal of $3.5 billion. I celebrated the launch on College Green with thousands of Penn students, staff and faculty.
  • 2008:     The Perelman Center opens. The $302 million, 500,000-square-foot outpatient facility was truly magnificent to see built as I passed every day on my way home. Today, it serves as home to 12 clinical specialties whose staff will work together in multidisciplinary teams aided by state-of-the-art medical technology.

  • 2009:     Vincent Price named provost. After a bittersweet departure with former Provost Ron Daniels, the University community was thrilled when Vice Provost Price was formerly named as Daniels’ successor in serving as the University’s “chief academic officer.”
  • 2010: >George A. Weiss Pavilion completed.  With more than 8,000 square feet of workout space, the two-story fitness center offered an east campus alternative to the Pottruck Center.

  • 2011: Penn Park opens.  What was a huge parking lot full of postal vehicles is now an inviting, specious landscape full of sporting fields, green space and recreational activities. It is truly breathtaking to see the transformation that Penn has accomplished there.

I can’t wait to see what the next five years brings to Penn, thanks to gifts and support from our loyal friends and alumni.

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Filed under Campus Life, Historical, Kelly G.

Why I Am Here

Author: Jonathan Cousins, SEAS’14

Whenever I meet someone new, one of the first questions that come up is ‘Where do you go to school?’  Upon revealing that I go to Penn, I get a variety of responses, from the sadly common ‘Penn State?’ to ‘That’s a long way from California.’  But the question that sticks in my mind is this: ‘What made you choose Penn?’  Sometimes, when I am basking in the lack-of-humidity that is a California summer, I wonder the same thing myself.  There are times, mostly when the weather is poor, when I wonder why I didn’t choose the ocean views of UCSD.  But when I got back to campus, I remembered why.

One clear reason was sports.  When I got here I had no idea how much history there was in the Penn Athletics community.  But upon entering the oldest two-tiered football stadium in the country, and the Cathedral of College Basketball, I was sold.  And over the summer, I missed Penn sports.  There were times when I just wanted to walk into the Palestra, wait for the band and the basketball team, and watch a game.

But if it was the sports that brought me back, it was the school and community that kept me here.  When I got back early to be an OPA! (Orientation Peer Advisor) for incoming Mechanical Engineers, I got to see all my old friends again, and meet some new ones.  Instantly I fell back into a comfortable place socially – and I realized just how much I had missed my friends over the summer.  And when classes started I remembered that being a Mechanical Engineer at Penn is a lot of fun.  In one day last week I both cut metal and flew paper airplanes – and these were both part of classes!  Even in a more theoretical physics class, we took pictures of structures and got to talk about what makes them stand up and stay up.  I didn’t realize how many metal beams Franklin Field had until I went and took a picture of it.

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Filed under Academics, Jonathan C., Student Perspective