As the academic year draws to a close, I intentionally take time to pause and look back on the many accomplishments of the Wharton community and its impact on the world. This year in particular, I find myself reflecting on an exceptionally challenging period for Wharton, for Penn, and for higher education as a whole.

We found ourselves mired in controversy on a very public stage, and I know this took a toll on all of us.

While at times it may feel like the tumult that escalated on our campus last fall has subsided, many of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni continue to be deeply impacted by the violence and vitriol that rage on throughout the world. There is still work to be done as a campus community to address and manage myriad challenges. I am especially grateful for the faculty and staff who have stepped forward over the past several months to host workshops on navigating difficult discourse and create spaces for students to be together to discuss their concerns.

Despite the unprecedented difficulties we just faced, I’ve recently seen several bright spots that point to the resiliency of Wharton and confirm that the School is capable of learning from and leading through any crisis.

The best and brightest students still want to come to Penn and Wharton and learn from our world-class faculty, as indicated by upticks in application volume at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Our graduates remain highly sought-after in the marketplace and continue to secure premier job opportunities — in many ways thanks to your mentorship and support.

And the world continues to recognize Wharton’s position as the undisputed leader in business education, as evidenced by global rankings of the best business schools.

I am certain no other business school would have emerged as strong from such a turbulent chapter as Wharton, because I know that no other school has what we have — a talented, reliable, global alumni network over 100,000 strong and distinctly capable, thanks to each of you.

You are the ambassadors of Wharton whose advocacy and support enable us to rise to even further greatness. You are today’s leaders and tomorrow’s innovators. You are the passionate and powerful fuel that propels us to new heights year after year.

Many alumni have shared their perspectives with me over the past few months and asked how they can support the Wharton community. My answer is simple: Continue to build the meaningful connections that bond us so strongly.

Our alumni play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of community and belonging. Connect with your fellow alumni on campus at a Reunion event or around the world with a global club in your region. Offer career advice to current students, or engage with newly admitted students who may still be considering their educational opportunities. Take advantage of the numerous lifelong learning and career development resources available to you.

I speak for all of Wharton when I say I am grateful for your support always, but especially in times like these. As we look ahead to another graduation and reunion season, I am more appreciative than ever of your stewardship of our School and ever grateful for everything you’ve done and will do to advance Wharton for our collective good.

I remain optimistic about our path forward and ability to accomplish remarkable things. I look forward to traveling this path together — with all of you — driven by our shared love of Wharton.


Erika H. James is dean, Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise, and professor of management at the Wharton School.

Published as “United for a Brighter Future” in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Wharton Magazine.