Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo will be the 2003 Commencement speaker, Stanford's senior class presidents announced Monday.
Toledo, who has two master's degrees and a doctorate from Stanford, rose from an impoverished boyhood in the Andean highlands to Peru's highest office. Winning the presidency in 2001, he became the first person of Indian descent to be elected leader of the country.
Toledo was recommended to President John Hennessy by senior class presidents Rajaie Batniji, Judi Jackson, James Alva and Ruby Ng.
"The senior class presidents did a superb job in developing a nominating process that resulted in a wonderful recommendation," Hennessy said. "The choice of President Toledo at a time when international events are at such a critical juncture will set the stage for an important and meaningful address to graduates and their families and friends. It is even more fitting, given President Toledo's strong ties to Stanford."
The senior class presidents were unanimously enthusiastic about the selection.
"He is a speaker whose inspirational story reflects the best traditions of the Stanford community," Ng said.
Toledo's rise to the presidency is a story of remarkable hard work, persistence and good fortune. The son of a poor bricklayer, he was the first person in his family to attend high school. With the support of two Peace Corps volunteers who befriended him, he earned a scholarship to study in the United States. He attended the University of San Francisco, where he managed, with the assistance of a partial athletic scholarship, to earn his degree.
At Stanford, Toledo earned a master's degree in education (1972), a master's degree in economics (1974) and a doctorate in education (1992). Toledo has worked for the United Nations and the World Bank, taught at Harvard's Institute for International Development and served as an economics adviser to Peru's government. He won Peru's presidency in 2001, after leading a broad-based movement against the corrupt government of former President Alberto Fujimori.
Batniji said Toledo received many nominations from the senior class.
"The nominations were deeply passionate and well reasoned," Batniji said. "One nomination represented President Toledo's achievements particularly well. That student said, 'He rose from adversity to come to one of the most prestigious universities in the world and do something amazing in the eyes of anyone with a dream.'"
As a graduate student at Stanford, Toledo worked closely with Martin Carnoy, a professor of education. Carnoy said the choice reflects the fact that Stanford has an international presence that helps produce leaders of this stature.
"More personally," Carnoy said, "I think it represents something very special about Stanford -- that this university is a place committed to opportunity for all, including people from very humble beginnings. Alejandro has told me many times that attending Stanford has been a key element of success in his many accomplishments, including his election as president."
Toledo is married to Eliane Karp, who also has a master's degree from Stanford.
Stanford Report, March 5, 2003