ACE Honors Penn President Amy Gutmann with 2015 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award

Imagine for a moment that you're a bright, hard-working high school student living in Santa Ana, California. Your mother is from Mexico. In your 18 years, you have rarely been outside your community, and Spanish is your first language. Then one day, you board a plane and fly to the other side of the country. You've never been on a plane before, or lived away from home, or eaten many meals that weren't made in your mother's kitchen.

You arrive in Philadelphia to begin a new chapter in your life, rolling two oversized pink suitcases through the airport. On that day two years ago, Elizabeth [Bautista 00:00:36] remembers being extremely excited and optimistic. Nervous, too. Arriving as a freshman nursing student at the University of Pennsylvania, she was aware of many things she had never experienced. She worried if she would get it all right.

But, there was one thing Elizabeth, the daughter of a gas station cashier, was not worried about. And that was how to pay for college. Penn awarded Elizabeth a full scholarship. Elizabeth had everything it takes to be admitted into Penn, and we needed to make sure she could afford it. And we did. As we do for everyone admitted into Penn on a need blind basis. Thousands of stories like Elizabeth's represent my proudest achievements as Penn's president.

I am so honored to receive the 2015 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award, named for the celebrated author, teacher, and leader who devoted his career to promoting diversity at America's colleges and universities. His leadership on this issue at ACE helped our nation's foremost higher education association advance the cause of equal access across all its members, and I'm so very grateful to be recognized for my part in this effort. I humbly accept on behalf of my wonderful colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, who join me in making access Penn's highest priority.

On many levels, access is the greatest challenge facing higher education today. Rising costs, a shrinking middle class, growing inequality, and an alarming trend of stratification in our society place enormous pressures on all our colleges and universities. When we ensure access for all worthy candidates, we bring the greatest possible range of talent to have a seat at the table. Fundamentally, it's the right thing to do. And it's also the smart thing to do. The key to really deep, daring thinking, the key to creativity and innovation lies in our success in building a diverse and inclusive community. A community rich with different interacting perspectives and experiences.

Now in her second year of Penn nursing, Elizabeth looks forward to fulfilling her dream of one day providing needed healthcare in her hometown. She says coming to Penn was the best thing that could have happened to her. To which I would only add it was the best thing that could happen to Penn, as well.

To ACE and to all of you who advance diversity, access, and inclusion in our society, I want to express my deepest appreciation for this honor. The best way I know of doing so is to remain absolutely committed to furthering these ideals. As you have honored me, so too we all honor the legacy of Reginald Wilson by doing everything we possibly can to make great dreams like Elizabeth's come true. Thank you.