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Casper bids "especially affectionate" farewell to Class of 1996

The 105th Annual Commencement at Stanford University
Sunday, June 16, 1996, 9:15 a.m. Stanford Stadium

Ladies and Gentlemen!

I warmly welcome each and all of you to the 105th Commencement Exercises of Stanford University.

I offer an especially affectionate welcome ­ and, soon, a pensive farewell ­ to my former fellow freshmen, the now graduating seniors. In the fall of 1992, you and I entered Stanford and Frost Amphitheater together clueless as Belinda Fu said yesterday during Baccalaureate. Now, four years later, many of you are leaving the Farm . . . while I remain to "co-term." That is one of several reasons why I could not join you in the Wacky Walk.

There is much, however, that we have shared in our four years together ­ from the Gaieties to winning back the Axe. Some of you have even been my students in the Constitutionalism seminar. We have also shared the study of Stanford history beginning with my inaugural address, which was written for you, the class of 1996, as much as anybody.

One of the greatest events, and perhaps the greatest celebration in the history of the university, occurred exactly one hundred years ago, in the spring of 1896. Developments leading to this were set in motion in 1893, when Senator Stanford's death left the university literally without a penny and its future threatened only two years after its opening. Since the founding grant of 1885, Mr. Stanford had personally paid for all university expenses, not only construction of buildings, but also the salaries of the faculty. With his death, everything was tied up in probate, and the Panic of 1893 made loans unavailable. As if this were not enough, in 1895, the United States chose to sue the Stanford estate for $15 million ­ almost its entire value ­ on the theory that, as a shareholder, the Senator had been personally liable for federal government loans to the Central Pacific Railroad. The present value of $15 million would be about $250 million, a rather substantial amount.

Against nearly unanimous advice that she should close the fledgling university, Jane Stanford vowed "to sacrifice her own property, even her furniture, if necessary" to keep the doors open. She kept that vow nearly literally: Granted a personal living allowance by the probate court, she declared the faculty to be her household servants so they could be paid from it.

For three years, our university was sustained by Jane Stanford's "Iron Will" ­ the title of her biography by Gunther Nagel. About these troubled years, Nagel writes:

Everyone ­ faculty, student, worker ­ was united in a common purpose. The university took on a new meaning. The red-tiled roofs, the Quad, the Row, the Chapel . . . became symbols of fortitude, faith, and good cheer. Salaries were cut with few complaints or thoughts of leaving. A dealer furnished coal free for the university power plant; merchants gave unlimited credit to the needy.

Despite that fortitude and faith, these became known as "The Lean Years," and the strain grew as the people of Stanford ­ and, indeed, the town of Palo Alto ­ awaited word of the university's fate. Lower court victories provided hope, but tension reached the breaking point as the case of United States v. Stanford moved to the Supreme Court.

Then, on March 2, 1896, Mrs. Stanford received a telegram from Joseph H. Choate, the attorney pleading the case. Its entire contents read: "My heartiest congratulations on your complete victory." The Supreme Court of the United States, in an opinion by Justice Harlan, had ruled unanimously in favor of Stanford.

At 11:30 in the morning, word reached the campus. Nagel takes up the description:

Some nameless herald waved the telegram and shouted the glad tidings as he raced across the Quad and beneath its colonnades. Doors burst open as students and teachers streamed out to join the victory parade. Up the Row they went; laughing, cheering, singing, dancing.

Added the contemporary report of the Palo Alto Times:

The scene that followed beggars description. Boys yelled, co-eds screamed, professors swung their hats, the steam whistle tooted and everything seemed happy. It was one grand pandemonium of noise, in comparison with which the celebration at the Thanksgiving football games sinks into insignificance. Headed by Guy Cochran with a bass drum, the whole 1,100 students then formed in procession and marched towards Dr. Jordan's house.

President David Starr Jordan met and addressed the students in front of Roble Hall:

"If this report is true," he said, "we ought all to give three cheers for Justice Harlan and three more for the justice of our cause. I am willing for the students to celebrate as they please, provided only that they won't destroy any buildings or paint the professors."

These were Stanford students ­ the predecessors of the Wacky Walkers ­ and they interpreted the President's words to mean that, while they could not paint the professors, they could paint something else. Nagel reports that the next morning's sun "looked down and smiled to see yesterday's drab little post office resplendent in a brand new coat of brilliant red."

Within a week of the Supreme Court's decision, the U.S. Attorney who had originally filed the litigation wrote a letter to Jane Stanford:

Circumstances of course compelled me to appear for the Govt. against you in your noble and heroic effort to preserve for yourself, and the State of California the University that bears the name of your dear son. But not for one moment . . . I had any other feeling than that you ought and would succeed, in preserving to the young men and women now living, and to those yet unborn the blessings entailed by the preservation of the institution so beloved in this State.

And here we are, those who, in 1896, were "yet unborn," still benefiting from the university that the Stanfords had founded after they had lost their only child, Leland Stanford Junior, to typhoid fever. The dedicated parents were overwhelmed, and initially immobilized, with grief. Within weeks, however, the boy's father was quoted as saying: "I was thinking since I could do no more for my boy I might do something for other people's [children] in Leland's name." That "something" was the founding of Leland Stanford Jr. University.

Stanford University is built on parental dedication, and we see evidence of that again here today. While we gather to award Stanford degrees, undergraduate and graduate, to our students on the field, there can be no doubt that their achievements would not have been possible without you in the stands ­ coaching them, cheering them on, and sticking with them through good and bad. Therefore, I wish to invoke a wonderful Stanford Commencement tradition. To all those who have made the Stanford years of our graduates possible ­ parents and grandparents; spouses and children; siblings, aunts and uncles; mentors and friends ­ I invite the graduates to rise, turn to the stands, and join me in saying: "Thank you!"

Before introducing the Commencement speaker, Dr. Mae Jemison, I should like to call your attention to the many awards and honors received by Stanford faculty and students this last year. They are listed in the Commencement Bulletin. In particular, I should like to recognize the endowed professorships listed on pages 8 through 15 of the bulletin. We shall today award 1808 Bachelors degrees, 2052 Masters degrees, and 853 doctoral degrees. The college class of 1996 includes 449 students graduating with departmental honors, and 302 graduating with university distinction. 144 students have satisfied the requirements of more than one major, 72 are graduating with dual Bachelors degrees, 258 with both an undergraduate and a Masters degree.

More important, all of you, as undergraduate students or as graduate students, have done your best. You have permitted yourselves to be challenged and you have challenged: inside and outside the curriculum, at Stanford and abroad, in the university and in service to the public, in athletics and in the arts. You, your families, your friends have every right to be proud of your wondrously varied accomplishments. Your alma mater, among whose alumni you will count in a short while, is indeed very proud of you.

The brief biography for today's Commencement speaker includes the statement that she, and I quote, "collects African art, is an accomplished amateur dancer, has studied three foreign languages (Russian, Japanese, and Swahili), and has traveled extensively." I cannot speak to the other items, but quite clearly the last point is something of an understatement. As a mission specialist astronaut aboard the space shuttle Endeavor, Dr. Mae Jemison has literally been around the globe more than anyone here today.

Even before that 1992 journey into space, however, Mae Jemison had traveled extensively. As a child, she traveled from Alabama to the south side of Chicago with her parents, Charlie and Dorothy. At the age of 16, she traveled to Stanford, and graduated with bachelors degrees in both chemical engineering and African and Afro-American Studies. From the Farm, she traveled to Cornell University, earning her medical doctorate in 1981. She traveled on to West Africa, working for two and one-half years as Area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia. She traveled back to Los Angeles, where she practiced medicine, and on to Houston, where she served as a NASA astronaut for six years.

She since has gone on to Dartmouth College, where she is a professor of Environmental Studies and director of the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries. She also is head of her own company, The Jemison Group in Houston. Her work in all these roles involves promoting and implementing sustainable technology for developing countries. One example is a satellite-based telecommunications system to improve health-care delivery in West Africa. She also leads The Earth We Share, an international science camp for students 12 to 16 years old.

Her honors range from the CORE Outstanding Achievement Award and the National Medical Associations Hall of Fame to People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1993." Presumably, had they had such a category, in 1992, she would have been named to the "50 Most Beautiful People Out of This World."

As indicated by my earlier remarks about Jane Stanford's iron will, as well as the fact that we have admitted women as well as men from our very opening, Stanford University has a proud history of producing distinguished alumnae. Among these are virtually the entire set of firsts for American women in space, including our speaker today.

Not yet age 40, she has lived up to the epitaph she once jokingly offered to a newspaper reporter: "Been there. Done that. Time to go." We are delighted that she has included among her extensive travels a trip back to the Farm though she has clearly been here.

Dr. Jemison, thank you for coming.

[Commencement Address]

Thank you very much, Mae. Well you have "done that" and you have done it well. However, it is not quite time to go.

[Presentation of Awards]

[Conferral of Degrees]

Humboldt, in his famous 1810 memorandum on university reform, wrote of higher education's "unceasing process of inquiry." In connection with this, he rather unsentimentally concluded that at a university, "the teacher does not exist for the sake of the student" but that "both teacher and student have their justification in the common pursuit of knowledge." I quote:

The teacher's performance depends on the students' presence and interest ­ without this science and scholarship could not grow. If the students who are to form his audience did not come before him of their own free will, he, in his quest for knowledge, would have to seek them out. The goals of science and scholarship are worked towards most effectively through the synthesis of the teacher's and the students' dispositions. The teacher's mind is more mature but it is also somewhat one-sided in its development and not quite as lively; the student's mind is less developed and less committed but it is nonetheless open and responsive to every possibility. The two together are a fruitful combination.

Put simply, the students' search to know and the faculty's search to know are interdependent. As the graduate students among you know, this is obviously true at the level of graduate studies. However, it also is the case at the college level. It was our, the faculty's, task to inform and challenge you, and it was your task to question and challenge us. Together ­ faculty, undergraduate students, and graduate students ­ we have been a fruitful combination, and for this we thank you.

Among the members of Stanford's Pioneer Class of 1895 was a geology major who, in his memoirs, recalled his feelings at Commencement 101 years ago. I quote: "I listened to Dr. Jordan's fine commencement address with my mind mostly on the sinking realization that a new era was opening for me with only $40 in cash and the need of finding an immediate job."

I have no doubt that many in the audience today, from past or present experience, understand this "sinking realization."

There is hope, however. The author of these words quickly went on to a career as a mining engineer on four continents, and only 20 years after his graduation, was in charge of World War I famine relief for the Allies in Europe. Another five years later, he led the first-ever fund drive for Stanford. He told his classmates: "If the university is to continue to grow, it must be by support that it shall receive from now on from its own graduates, and a university that does not expand with the growth of knowledge is a dead university."

That Stanford graduate was Herbert Hoover, and he thus established a tradition of alumni support that the Class of 1996 has built upon in record-setting fashion. Eight hundred and ninety-two + 1 members of today's graduating class contributed to the Senior Gift ­ a participation rate of 58.1%. That not only tops the previous Senior Gift record of 52% by the Class of 1995, but is the highest participation rate by any Stanford class ever, even Reunion classes. Your gifts average $24 apiece, for a direct total of $21,486 to The Stanford Fund for undergraduate education. And, because you met challenge goals, matching gifts from alumnus and former trustee Peter Bing and the Parents' Advisory Board raise the total gift in the name of the Class of '96 to more than $185,000. Stanford thanks, congratulates, and commends you.

I am pleased to acknowledge that among the leadership supporters of The Stanford Fund is also our Commencement speaker, Mae Jemison.

Herbert Hoover went on to become Secretary of Commerce and, in 1929, President of the United States. Fifty years after graduation, at the end of World War II, he once again was in charge of feeding the children of Europe. When the war ended, I was a 7-year-old, living in devastated Hamburg. I heard Hoover's name then for the first time in association with American food supplies that reached our schools. Certainly neither I nor anybody else could possibly have predicted in 1945 that the American wind of freedom, the American Luft der Freiheit, that liberated Germany along with her victims would one day blow me into the presidency of Hoover's alma mater. Yet, here I stand, at Stanford, half a century later, to express my gratitude in remembrance of a Stanford alumnus, who, just like Leland and Jane Stanford, did so much for "other people's" children.

Stanford University is an institution with a continuous history, handed down from each generation of faculty and each generation of college and graduate students to the next. It is the faculty, students, trustees, staff, alumni, our local, national, and foreign friends whose active engagement and support have made Stanford a joint intellectual and moral effort. Stanford stands for common purpose, for fortitude, faith, and good cheer. It stands for perseverance in adversity. Stanford stands for the wind of freedom. It stands for diversity. It stands for generosity, for doing something for "other people's" sons and daughters. It stands for understanding the importance of higher education and its support. It stands for a continuous commitment to the power of reason.

To quote our first president, David Starr Jordan: "It is said that Rome was not built in one day, nor Stanford in a century; but it is being built, quietly, honestly, steadfastly, stone after stone." I hope that in your new role as alumni of Leland Stanford Jr. University you will help build Stanford in that manner. And, as you yourselves continue to build your lives "stone after stone," on behalf of the university, I wish you the very best.



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