Author: Patrick Bredehoft
If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him.
As we consider the reasons why alumni stay engaged with the Penn community after they graduate, perhaps the most compelling one is that Penn is a place where great minds come together. The love of learning brings extraordinary students to campus each year, and, as the director of the the Penn Alumni Interview Program, I love that our efforts can foster that lifelong enthusiasm for the exchange of ideas.
This year, prospective students and Penn alumni sat down together (or connected via Skype) in all 50 states and in 127 countries. These discussions served two pragmatic purposes: to inform applicants about Penn, and to inform the Admissions Office about applicants. However, a far less utilitarian benefit exists as well: in the span of a few short months, more than 20,000 unique conversations took place, each one starting from an affiliation with (or aspiration to attend) the University of Pennsylvania.
Consider this: in the Penn alumni population, you have an uncommon group of graduates—global leaders in the fields of science, industry, and the humanities. Among Penn applicants, you find tens of thousands of the world’s most talented students: young people who will shape and improve our world for decades to come. Through Penn’s alumni interviews, these incredible people meet as strangers, but walk away having shared extraordinary ideas, deep-rooted passions, and powerful experiences. Ostensibly, these conversations are about the student, their interests, and the University of Pennsylvania, but inevitably, they blossom into more fruitful discussions.
Below are just a few of my favorite quotes from our interviews this year. Regardless of who shared these words, I’m glad just to know that these conversations happened:
“In addition to talking about Penn’s Computer Science Programs, we discussed English and Hindu literature, existentialism, Kafka, Camus, and ancient mythology.”
“…he spoke the challenge of providing clean water to families in Yemen…”
“Although we have very different interpretations of the currently political climate, I was completely convinced by the points he raised about financing public education…”
“…she shared her passion for books on quantum mechanics…and Ayn Rand, but she confessed that her favorite author was J.K. Rowling.”
“There were very few questions and answers, but in the course of our hour-long conversation, we shared stories, big dreams, our frustrations about the world, and even our recipes for preparing Turkish coffee!”
“He explained a few surprising connections between Spanish and Chinese, the languages he’s currently studying…”
“We spoke for over an hour and a half, almost like old friends, before I realized that I was running late for my next interview!”
Great thought is not conceived in a vacuum. The best revelations spring from collaboration;the result of smart people sitting down to share ideas that send sparks out into the murky fields of possibility. It’s thrilling to think about these exchanges as the first in a series, and to imagine that a cohort of these students will continue these discussions on Penn’s campus this fall as members of the incoming Class of 2017!