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Benjamin P. Birdsall

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Benjamin P. Birdsall
Benjamin P. Birdsall

Benjamin Pixley Birdsall (October 26, 1858 – May 26, 1917) was a three-term Republican U.S. Representative from Iowa's 3rd congressional district during the first decade of the 20th century.

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  • ✪ University of Pennsylvania 2015 Convocation
  • ✪ GRCC Graduation 2016


("Pomp and Circumstance") (audience applauds) - Good evening and welcome. Please join me in the spirit of prayer for our invocation. Let us pray. It is fitting, I believe, to begin this new school year and this new season of life with gratitude for all that's led to this moment and with hope for all that lies ahead. Let us give thanks for this amazing opportunity, for all who helped get these individuals to this point, old teachers, mentors who believed in them, friends who cheered for them, family members who sacrificed for and who love them, for adventures, triumphs, and lessons learned, thank you for all of this. As we gather on the eve of their first day of classes, with their entire collegiate journey before them, we look ahead with a trusting hope. May they be free from the need to impress others with accomplishments for we're already impressed and proud of them. May they be free to follow their intellectual passions, and not just what others expect of them. May they be free enough to slow down and savor all that this place has to offer rather than race through to graduation and may they be free to not conform, to not camouflage into the crowd. May they remember that they were not admitted to this university because they were like everyone else, but for quite the opposite reason; because they are different, because they stand out from the crowd. May they never conform out of fear, but may they rather transform and transform our world for the better. Bless their time here and bless this great university, amen. Please be seated. - Let's hear it, class of 2019. (audience applauds) Not to be outdone, let's hear it transfer students. (audience cheers) As Penn's Dean of Admissions, and a graduate of the class of 1987, I am so proud to see all of you together this evening, before you start your first day of classes. Don't worry, you know how to be students. You've been doing it your whole life. Over the weeks, months, and years ahead, please take care of yourself, and take care of each other. With this Penn Relays baton, on behalf of the Admissions Office, I hand you over to the caring hands. I'm pleased to introduce the President of the University of Pennsylvania, Doctor Amy Gutmann. (audience applauds) - Thank you, Dean Furda. Members of the class of 2019, welcome. Tomorrow, you face your first day of classes. You're ready, you're excited, and you're committed to achieving great things. Tonight's a perfect chance to look and see just how far you've traveled as a class to be here, from across the country and around the world. From California (audience cheers) to Illinois, to Massachusetts. (audience cheers) From Texas, (audience cheers) to Florida, (audience cheers) to New York (audience cheers) and of course, from the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (audience cheers) You come also from Canada (audience cheers) and Korea, (audience cheers) from India, (audience cheers) and the Unite Kingdom, (audience cheers) and from 74 countries near and far. (audience cheers) You come from many cultures and from a vast array of backgrounds. No matter where you come from, I want you to know this. You've arrived at the right place and we're thrilled that you're here, absolutely thrilled, and you brought with you the best weather for convocation ever, in the history of the University of Pennsylvania. So you're doing something right already. (audience applauds) Today, you join centuries of Penn explorers, engineers, and entrepreneurs, Playwrights, professors, physicists, and physicians, nation builders, nurses, novelists, and Nobel Laureates. You join the likes of Benjamin Franklin, W.E.B. DuBois, and no fewer than six signers of the United States Constitution. And you share something very special with all these Penn people, past, present, and future. You share in the pursuit of discovery. The pursuit of discovery is the very essence of the Penn experience. It will require you to recognize first and foremost how much you don't know but you're perfectly positioned to discover about your major, about your world, and about yourselves. You are on a journey of discovery to grasp unexpected insights and bring new understandings to light. Your journey of discovery officially begins this evening, as we formally welcome you to your new home with this tradition called convocation. Convocation, from the Latin, convocare, the root vocary means to call. Together, with the prefix con, the Latin term for this event very roughly translates as to get up the nerve to call that person I don't know who is sitting just a few rows away from me. So this is precisely what you're about to do, but not with your cell phones. I want everybody to stand up. Yes, go ahead and stretch your legs. Stand up. Good, discovery begins now. I want you to wait until the helicopter goes by, to look around you, greet somebody near you whom you haven't met before. Someone you've possibly never seen before. Not your friend, but somebody you don't know. Go around, look around, learn their name, shake hands, ask where they're from, and of course exchange a big smile. Okay, you all doing it? No exceptions, not even me. (overlapping conversation in audience) Great, please have a seat. I met two people I haven't met before either. I see lots of smiles and that's good. I will hazard a guess that no one here tonight introduced themselves in the name of Copernicus, right? It's a pretty good bet on my part, yet each of you just engaged in a small act of discovery. And it went well, not withstanding the fact that if you, like most of us, have a certain fear of the unknown, you first had to overcome something. You had to overcome the discomfort of leaving behind the familiar and I'm familiar with this podium, this is acutally called the President's Podium, so even I had to do this, and step out into undiscovered territory. As the maker of maps of old labeled it, you paid a visit to terra incognita, the unknown land, and that can be unnerving. Young or old, accomplished or setting out for the rest of your life, it's frightening to put ourselves in a position where we don't know what happens next. When we consider out of the blue, introducing ourselves to a total stranger, our minds very often play tricks on us. We construct scenarios of being rejected or scorned or even humiliated, and I kid you not, it doesn't go away. It will happen all of your life. When you set out on something unknown, there is a moment of fear that you have to overcome, in exactly the same way we human beings tend to create imagined barriers when introduced to strange, new ideas. And that's one of the points I want to drive home here this evening. New ideas up end the status quo and they force us out of our comfort zone. As a result, new ideas are very often, far too often met with dismissal and disdain. The single greatest impediment to discovery, which is one of the greatest, most uplifting, and most progressive and most progress creating things that a human being can do, the single greatest impediment is our natural inclination to believe we know all there is to know about something. So often, the obstacle to discovery is actually the illusion of knowledge. A case in point. If you saw the movie Jurassic World this summer as I did, how many of you seen it? Quite a few. So if you've seen that movie, then you know what the great predatory dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus Rex, looks like. You know they were smooth-skinned reptiles with big teeth and strange claws, powerful legs, and a swinging tail. They are creatures of our nightmares. You know that when they look at you, all they see is lunch. So in the past couple of decades, new ideas have emerged. There is a theory that these dinosaurs were the ancestors of modern birds and were in some important ways, very bird-like. With the work of leading paleontologists, like Penn's own Peter Dodson, evidence has grown and today, this theory is widely credited with being true. Recently, we've also made some incredible fossil discoveries, especially in the Northwestern region of China. There is now a growing body of scientific evidence that this family of dinosaurs were quite likely covered in feathers so here is an experiment in getting past what we think we already know. I want you to imagine T-Rex covered in feathers. Of course, bright red and blue plumage, right? Those are the only right colors here. It's now P-Rex, Pennasaurus Rex, right? So not quite so frightening anymore, right? You are seeing it in a different way. You're seeing something new. And that means you're on the road to discovery. When we make that leap and add feathers, it frees us to imagine the T-Rex in new ways. We can break away from what we thought we knew. We can leave behind the Hollywood images of the great, green/grey lizard roaring and chomping through Jurassic Jungle, and we're ready to make true discoveries. We've unsettled ourselves in order to discover something that's more true, of course without the red and blue plumage, but you get it. We become open to the very real possiblity that there is more, more to learn, more to know, more to discover. We open ourselves to a true education of the highest order, the Penn order. There will never be a better time in your lives or a better place than Penn to explore new ideas in this unsettling yet uplifting way. Here, you will be surrounded by people who have dedicated their lives to the possibility of more, to the challenging and path breaking work of discovery. You will ask hard questions. You'll shake off what you think you know to discover truths about yourself and the wider world that you could not have imagined before convocating at Penn. Your Penn experience will be challenging. It will be exhilarating. In turn, you will be inspired, you will be confused, you'll be uneasy, and you'll be delighted. That is exactly why you're here. You are on the road to terra incognita. Down this path lies discovery, self discovery and the discovery of an amazing world, much of which is now unknown. But you don't tread this path alone. Just as every one of us must fight the belief that we know everything, so too we have to ask for help when we need it. Here at Penn, you are surrounded by a community of friends, mentors, professionals, excellent services, all committed to your success and your well being. The university in that way is an amazing institution. We are student-centric. We are delighted you're here and we're committed to helping you make the most of your time here. Challenges are inevitable. Setbacks will occur. But you're not alone in navigating them. You are right here with others who are ready, willing, and eager to help. Never, ever hesitate to ask for help. That's what we're here for. Asking for help, far from signaling weakness or failure, is a most positive sign that you appreciate something very profound. Let me make that very clear. No one, and that includes you and you and me, no one, no one makes it in life on his or her own. No one makes it through college, let alone life, on his or her own. The sooner we learn this lesson, the stronger and the more successful we're likely to be. And so, from the small discoveries you make today to the amazing revelations you will enjoy during your years at Penn, you are in for a time that will transform your life through discovery. Welcome to endless discovery. This is your time, Penn is your place. Let us begin, thank you. (audience applauds) (group harmonizing) ♪ We're a thousand miles from comfort ♪ We have travelled land and sea ♪ But as long as you are with me ♪ There's no place I'd rather be ♪ I would wait forever ♪ Exalted in the scene ♪ As long as I am with you ♪ My heart continues to beat ♪ With every step we take ♪ Kyoto to the bay ♪ Strolling so casually ♪ We're different and the same ♪ Gave you another name ♪ Switch off the battery ♪ If you gave me a chance ♪ I would take it ♪ It's a shot in the dark ♪ But I'll make it ♪ Now with all of your heart ♪ You can't shame me ♪ When I am with you ♪ There's no place I'd rather be ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ Staked out on a mission ♪ To find our inner peace ♪ Make it everlasting ♪ So nothing's incomplete ♪ It's easy being with you ♪ Sacred simplicity ♪ As long as we're together ♪ There's no place I'd rather be ♪ With every step we take ♪ Kyoto to the bay ♪ Strolling so casually ♪ We're different and the same ♪ Gave you another name ♪ Switch off the battery ♪ If you gave me a chance ♪ I would take it ♪ It's a shot in the dark ♪ But I'll make it ♪ Now with all of your heart ♪ You can't shame me ♪ When I am with you ♪ There's no place I'd rather be ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ Can I knock in your love baby ♪ Now I've got you in my space ♪ I won't let go of you ♪ Got you shackled in my embrace ♪ I'm latching onto you ♪ Now I've got you in my space ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ Won't let go of you ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ Got you shackled ♪ No no no no ♪ In my embrace ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ When I am with you ♪ There's no place I'd rather be (group harmonizing) ♪ Be ♪ Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, ♪ If you gave me a chance ♪ I would take it ♪ It's a shot in the dark ♪ But I'll make it ♪ Now with all of your heart ♪ You can't shame me ♪ When I am with you ♪ There's no place I'd rather be ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ No no no no ♪ No place I'd rather be ♪ When I am with you ♪ There's no place I'd rather be ♪ (audience applauds) - As Provost, the University's Chief Academic Officer, I have the great pleasure of welcoming you to Penn. Though we probably haven't met, my face might actually be familiar to some of you. I recorded a video for new student orientation. That you've now seen. Maybe you watched it on your phone, that's fine. I'm actually much taller in person. (audience laughs) This evening, what I'd like to talk about is not the familiar, but the unfamiliar. Not what you know, but what you don't know. Not what's comfortable, but what is uncomfortable. Unfamiliar, unknowing, uncomfortable. Intimidating words, perhaps. They shouldn't be. They simply describe what it's like to be a stranger. Not the stranger of Albert Camus, just a person in a new place. A person just like you today. My hope for each of you and my message to all of you this evening is that over the next four years at Penn, you embrace the unfamiliar. What does that mean? It means enjoying being the person that doesn't have all the answers. I know that may be a little difficult for some of you. It means joining a group where everyone does not look like you or talk like you or sing as poorly as you think you do. It means taking a class that you thought was Japanese and it turns out that it's just Organic Chemistry. (audience laughs) It means reaching out beyond your comfort zone. Consider what the thoughtful stranger does upon arriving in a new place. You look up, you look out, seeing what the rest of us don't see. You take in others' opinions before forming your own. You respect others to earn their respect. You value your freedom and your independence but you seek new connections. After all, who wants to be a stranger forever? At Penn, you will find much to love. You'll also encounter some ideas you might not. They may seem outlandish, offensive, or just plain wrong. You may be confused at some point. Embrace that confusion. A thoughtful stranger welcomes uncomfortable situations and disagreeable opinions. It is through this very discomfort that we learn the true value of intellectual freedom. Not just the ability, but the absolute necessity to test and challenge our assumptions of what we know. Penn as an institution is centuries old but this community is not hemmed in by that street or this degree. It is an ever evolving mixture of knowledge, of people, experiences, and world views. At some point, everyone is a stranger here. What makes friends of strangers, what makes this campus a community, is our embrace of those differences. We celebrate them. We want all voices to be heard. This is a critical aspect of the Penn education. Now I venture to guess that most of you are here to receive that education. Is that right? Can I have a show of hands? Good, it's true, that's part of why you're here. But there is another part. You're not just here to get something, but to give, to contribute to our community. Each of you is a distinct piece of the Penn puzzle. Your knowledge, your ideas, your performances, your groups, your games, even your disagreements and your demonstrations, you make Penn what it is and what it will be. This is a new role for you. Embrace it, make your voice heard. But with a caution, do not drown out the voices of others. They too are a part of this community, your community. Now in that orientation video, I noted that at convocation, each year, I offer one piece of advice. It's always the same. It has nothing to do with classes, or majors, or roommates. It is simply this: Take time to recharge. And I don't mean your cell batteries. Life in college is wonderfully liberating. With that freedom comes a tendency to try to do everything all the time. Well, you can do a lot, but you cannot do it all. You will function best here, in all respects, if you're energized but not exhausted. Get some sleep. Work at bringing balance to your life. Test your balance. Be ready to feel a little wobbly. But you're not performing without a net. I've encouraged you to embrace the unfamiliar but too much confusion can be bewildering, even a little scary. If at any time, you feel estranged, disconnected, depressed, or to paraphrase Camus, like a person with no place in this community, if you feel that you are really losing your balance, please reach out to a professor, to a staff member, to the Chaplain's office, to a friend. We all need help from time to time. We are all truly in this together. One closing thought. A moment ago, I referred to you as pieces of the Penn puzzle. Like any good puzzle, this Penn puzzle will begin to take shape over time, through trial and no little error, scattered pieces will come together, will start to fit, connections will form, confusion will fade. And when the Penn picture comes into focus, you will sit back and you will settle in. You won't feel like a stranger. You will feel like family. The unfamiliarity will fade and you will begin to lose that sense of wonder. Please try, try very hard not to lose it all. Hold on to the stranger in you. Remain curious, questioning, ready to be confounded because one of life's great joys is seeing things again for the very first time. Members of the class of 2019, welcome to Penn. (audience applauds) ♪ Blue skies ♪ Smiling at me ♪ Nothing but blue skies ♪ Do I see ♪ Blue birds singing a song ♪ Nothing but blue birds all day long ♪ Never saw the sun shining so bright ♪ Never saw things going so right ♪ Noticing the days hurrying by ♪ When you're in love ♪ My how they fly ♪ Blue days all of them gone ♪ Nothing but blue skies from now on (group harmonizing) ♪ Blue skies smiling at me ♪ Nothing but blue skies do I see ♪ Blue birds singing a song ♪ Nothing but blue birds all day long ♪ Never saw the sun shining so bright ♪ Never saw things going so right ♪ Noticing the days hurring by ♪ When you're in love ♪ My, my, my how they fly ♪ Blue days, all of them gone ♪ Nothing but blue skies from now on (group harmonizing) ♪ Blue skies smiling at me ♪ Nothing but blue skies do I see ♪ Blue birds singing a song ♪ Nothing but blue birds all day long ♪ Never saw the sun shining so bright ♪ Never saw things going so right ♪ Noticing the days hurrying by ♪ When you're in love ♪ My blue days, all of them gone ♪ Blue skies, blue skies ♪ Blue skies from now on ♪ (audience applauds) - So those of us on the podium, we should all turn around and look at the beautiful red and blue here. It is just a beautiful evening to welcome you and I would now like to call on our Senior Class President, Jesus Perez to present the flag of the class of 2019, which will proudly join the flags of previous classes at official university events and future alumni celebrations. Let's hear it for Jesus and the class of 2019. (audience applauds) So it's now my great pleasure and privilege to declare the start of the 276th year of the University of Pennsylvania. Let's hear it for your class and the 276th year of Penn. (audience applauds) Can't hear you. (audience applauds) So as you can hear, we all look forward to joining you on the journey you will take at Penn but I also look forward to something far more immediate, which is dessert so please join me, yes let's hear it for desert. (audience cheers) That's the sense of delight and wonder. Please join us right after the ceremony under the tent on Wynn Common, behind College Hall. Before we process, I want to thank, and I want you to join me in once again thanking the Shabbatones, the Glee Club, and the great Penn Band for helping us to make this occasion so special. (audience applauds) And now, I ask you all to rise once again, this time to join together in singing the Penn anthem, The Red and The Blue, which is printed on the back of your passes. So you're allowed to read it and you will soon memorize it. ♪ Come all ye loyal classmates now ♪ In hall and campus through ♪ Lift up your hearts and voices ♪ For the royal red and blue ♪ Fair Harvard has her crimson ♪ Old Yale, her colors too ♪ But for dear Pennsylvania ♪ We wear the red and blue ♪ Hurrah, hurrah, Pennsylvania ♪ Hurrah for the red and the blue ♪ Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah ♪ Hurrah for the red and the blue ♪ (audience applauds) ("Pomp and Circumstance")


Born in Weyauwega, Wisconsin, Birdsall attended the common schools of Iowa and the University of Iowa, Iowa City. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1878 and practiced in Clarion, Iowa. He served as district judge of the eleventh judicial district of Iowa from January 1893 to October 1900.

In 1902, Birdsall was elected as a Republican to the Fifty-eighth Congress, after the incumbent, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives David B. Henderson chose not to run for re-election. Birdsall defeated former Iowa Governor Horace Boies in that race. He was re-elected twice, serving in the Fifty-ninth, and Sixtieth Congresses.

In 1908, he filed for re-election a third time, but fellow Republicans Burton E. Sweet and Charles E. Pickett also sought the Republican nomination.[1] In February 1908 Birdsall pulled out of the race, explaining that he wished to return to the practice of law.[2] In all he served in Congress from March 4, 1903 to March 3, 1909. He resumed the practice of law in Clarion, where he died on May 26, 1917. He was interred in Evergreen Cemetery.


  1. ^ Editorial, The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, 1908-01-22 at p. 4.
  2. ^ "Birdsall Confirms the Rumor," The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, 1908-02-08 at p. 8.
  • United States Congress. "Benjamin P. Birdsall (id: B000481)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
David B. Henderson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Charles E. Pickett
This page was last edited on 15 May 2019, at 15:23
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