Earlier this month, the Wharton Club of New York celebrated its new president, Pam Perskie W97, at an event with Dean Erika James, club chairman Kenny Beck WG87, and more than 50 alumni. Perskie, the CEO and founder of Seven Mile Advisory and former managing director of SCS Financial, delivered a moving speech about the importance of community in these trying times and the enduring strength of Wharton’s alumni network and its global clubs. With her permission, the following is an edited transcript of her message to fellow alumni.

Tonight, I’d like to talk about opportunity and community. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia, I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to join a community like this. My father didn’t go to college, much less the most prestigious school in town, and my parents certainly didn’t have the money to send me there.

So when I was accepted to Wharton, I was both thrilled and anxious, as I wasn’t sure how I’d make it work. But I took three jobs and, like any good Wharton student, I started a business on the side. I was able to pay for school and graduated at the top of my class. The opportunity I was given by Wharton changed my life.

Pam Perskie standing in front of a group of people.

Perskie with members of the Wharton Club of New York.

At 22, I left Philadelphia for the first time to move here to New York, but I stayed a part of the Wharton community when the School gave me another great opportunity — the chance to join a network of tens of thousands of the brightest, most innovative, most successful movers of commerce and industry: the Wharton Club of New York. It was another chance I could not pass up. I knew that if such a large, strong, talented group of people joined together, and all pulled in the same direction, we could be more successful and achieve bigger dreams than we ever could alone.

Of course, an opportunity like that can only be realized if the community in question truly is a community — if its people are bound together by common values and a shared identity. Which brings me to the most recent opportunity that I’ve been given by Wharton: the wonderful offer to lead this organization.

I was thrilled and honored when that offer came. But just as when I was first given the chance to join this community, I was also anxious. I was deeply concerned by what I’d heard and read was happening on our campus. I felt I couldn’t recognize the community that I’d long known and loved. I wondered if the community still loved me back, or if it was indeed still a community at all.

I decided, as so many others have, that this community is worth fighting for. In fact, I came to believe this moment has gifted us another opportunity: to remind ourselves of our unlimited potential and strength if we focus not on what divides us, but on what we share.

In that pursuit, we will be implementing two new programs at the Wharton Club of New York. The first we will call “Wharton for Life.” Our School and our alumni have the power to make one another so much stronger if the relationship between them lasts a lifetime. This program will aim to deepen the relationship within our network of alumni, creating new opportunities for professional and personal growth. It will also seek to improve and strengthen channels between our alumni and Wharton so that our voices and values can help guide the community we love.

This moment has gifted us another opportunity: to remind ourselves of our unlimited potential and strength if we focus not on what divides us, but on what we share.

Alongside “Wharton for Life,” we will be implementing a second program: “Wharton for Good.” Now more than ever, in this time of division, we must seek to bridge the gaps in our society. Dean James has written about what she calls the Wharton Way, reminding us of the mission set out by the School’s founder, Joseph Wharton, who wanted to “advance society by creating wealth and opportunity for all people.” Wharton has given many of us opportunities that have changed our lives. We must pay that forward, and we must do so — as any good Wharton graduate knows — “with interest.”

But we can only achieve these goals, or any of our goals as a community, if we truly are a community again. We will have disagreements — and we should, because diversity within our group can and should be a source of strength and growth. But we must learn to exchange ideas in a way that inspires thought, not in a way that inspires fear. In a way that spreads tolerance and love, not bigotry and hate. In a way that protects all of the people in our community, not some at the expense of others.

We must learn how to hear new perspectives without rejecting the very values that built Wharton to begin with — values which forged one of the most inspiring and accomplished communities in the world, values which I believe our community still holds dear.

I know that our community can emerge from our challenges to become stronger than ever. I am very grateful for the opportunity to do my part.