Weitzman News

Posted May 15, 2021
  • Initiating a new tradition of a student keynote address, Amber Farrow (MArch‘21) spoke to graduates about the role of camaraderie and humor in her experience at Penn over the past two years.

After an Academic Year Like No Other, Weitzman Class of 2021 Celebrated Online

In a demonstration of adaptability and celebration of collective achievement, the Weitzman School held a virtual commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021on Saturday, May 15, more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed campus life.

“You may be watching from Shanghai, or Houston, or Beirut, or here in Philadelphia,” Dean and Paley Professor Fritz Steiner (MRP‘77, MA‘86, PhD‘86) said in his address, standing in front of Meyerson Hall. “And as much as I wish I was hosting you here on campus, it’s somehow fitting that we are connecting across the miles.”

The program contained numerous nods to Weitzman tradition, from the academic regalia worn by Dean Steiner and other faculty members to an on-campus performance by professional bagpipers that opened the ceremony. Before 2020, it was customary for the bagpipers to lead the graduates from Meyerson Hall, where they assembled in their regalia, to their seats under a tent on Stuart Weitzman Plaza or in Irvine Auditorium, where family and friends had gathered to watch the presentation of degrees.

The 2021 Weitzman School graduating class includes 312 students in 8 degree programs. Because of public health guidelines, this year, the University held one limited in-person commencement ceremony for undergraduate students at Franklin Field on the morning of Monday, May 17. All other schools and programs held virtual ceremonies. A list of award winners will be published on the Weitzman website in June and a printed program mailed to graduates.

As it did in 2020, the ceremony featured two keynote speakers with notably different profiles. Anne Whiston Spirn (MLA‘74), the Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning at MIT and former chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Weitzman School, spoke about her decades-long project mapping and building community around the buried and largely invisible Mill Creek in West Philadelphia.

“I want to help people see,” Spirn said. “To make what may be invisible to them now visible, and through seeing, to effect change in the world.”

Spirn spoke to students about her experience building a career at the intersection of academia, writing, and design after studying with Ian McHarg at Penn. She encouraged them to build their careers on three principles: Know your strengths and build on them, know your passions and feed them, and know your values and be true to them. Spirn said she had to create a path for herself based on what she knew she was good at and cared about, and to change gears when things stopped working for her.

“Designing a career is literally the work of a lifetime,” she said.

Initiating a new tradition, the Weitzman School also hosted a student keynote speaker for the 2021 commencement. Amber Farrow (MArch‘21) was nominated by students in the graduating class and elected by popular vote to give the second keynote. Farrow has held a leadership role with Penn Women in Design and founded the student club Dinner Discourse, which fosters an interdisciplinary conversation between students over a shared meal. In her speech, she focused on the “unrivalled camaraderie” she found at the Weitzman School.

“Our graduating year has faced a multitude of challenges—too many to list,” Farrow said. “Yet despite this adversity, no one gave up. No one stopped learning, and more importantly, we all stepped up in support of each other. We’ve proven that even when physically separated, we will unite to care for each other. All our shared experiences, both good and bad, have helped us develop unbreakable bonds.”

To watch the video of the 2021 Commencement Ceremony, including the reading of all graduates’ names, visit Weitzman’s YouTube.