Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney met with Penn students and faculty for dinner at The Inn at Penn Wednesday night to discuss diversity and community engagement.
The dinner honored recipients of the Mayor’s Scholarship, a special financial aid program that gives tuition grants to high-achieving Penn students from Philadelphia and nearby counties. This is the fifth year the Mayor’s Scholars Program has hosted the mayor for a speech followed by dinner.
At the event, Kenney encouraged students to remain engaged in Philadelphia communities and schools and to consider pursuing careers in the city.
“Your adult interaction with our community schools would be really, really helpful. These young children really need role models,” Kenney said. “They need to see that despite the fact that their neighborhood is struggling, that maybe their school is struggling, that they have the opportunity to be like you and do what you do.”
Kenney also spoke about the importance of diversity within the Mayor’s Scholars Program and the greater Philadelphia area, connecting modern anti-immigrant discrimination to the discrimination faced by his Irish ancestors.
“Another thing that encourages me when I look around the room is the diversity, both gender, racial, and ethnic diversity, that’s so important for a city that’s on the move, and a city that’s going to be successful,” he said. “That’s why we’ve fought so hard against the Trump administration on issues of Muslim bans and keeping people in the country without documents.”
Attendees said they appreciated how Kenney opened up and shared his own personal stories.
“It’s really interesting to see how he related polarizing events to his own life, like discrimination against his Irish ancestors, and things that I’ve seen and experienced before, [such as] anti-immigrant sentiment,” Engineering junior Michelle Maik said.
Lulu Barrueco Kaliher, director of First-Year Houses and an advisor to the Mayor’s Scholars Program, said she appreciated the mayor’s “honesty and transparency” when describing his own background and how that influences his decisions.
“You don’t often hear that from politicians, about their background and how there’s an impact,” she said.
Kenney also talked about his commitment to educational reform in Philadelphia. He referenced a universal Pre-K initiative that he launched, funded by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, as well as his fight against the state of Pennsylvania for local control of Philadelphia public schools.
The Mayor’s Scholars Program, founded five years ago, is a student-led initiative that supports Mayor’s Scholarship recipients at Penn. The program hosts community-oriented activities such as a freshman mentorship program, alumni networking events, internship panels, and volunteering opportunities throughout the year. It also recently launched an alumni mentorship program, which gives 20 students the chance to network with recent Penn graduates working in similar fields.
Mayor’s Scholars Program President and Wharton junior Lin Jia Chen said the program is designed to be both a support network for Philadelphia students and a pathway to community engagement.
“We envision the Mayor’s Scholars [Program] being a community at Penn, but also beyond Penn,” Chen said. She added that it serves as a platform to “encourage more students to think about Philadelphia in a positive light and encourage them to be more involved with their community.”
Maik said she appreciates having a community of Mayor’s Scholars within the larger University.
“I feel like part of being at Penn, you kind of get lost in it,” she said. “A lot of people come from really different backgrounds, so it’s nice to have them.”