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Text of President Hennessy's prepared remarks for Commencement 2011

Following is the text of the address by University President John Hennessy, as prepared for delivery at Stanford University's 120th Commencement on June 12, 2011.

Introduction of Felipe Calderón

At this time, I would like to introduce this year's Commencement speaker: Felipe Calderón, the president of Mexico.

President Calderón is our seventh international speaker and only the second  sitting president of any country to speak at Stanford's Commencement.  It is an honor to have him with us today.

President Calderón grew up in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. His family was politically active:  His father was instrumental in the founding of the National Action Party – often referred to as the PAN – in 1939. From an early age, President Calderón demonstrated both his political ambitions and a willingness to work towards his goals. As a young student, he campaigned for the party.  When he was 12, a teacher asked everyone in class to share their career goals. As one classmate explained to the New York Times (quote): "We all said normal jobs, but Felipe surprised us all.  He said it like he knew it was going to happen.  He said, 'presidente de la republica.'"

And he pursued his education with that in mind, traveling to Mexico City, where he earned his bachelor's degree in law and a master's in economics.  He pursued his second master's degree in Public Administration at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

His career in public service began in 1988, when at the age of 26 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly and later to the federal Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress in Mexico.  It was during that period he met his wife, Margarita Zavala, who also served in the Congress.

President Calderón became the party's secretary general in 1993 and its president in 1996.  After Vicente Fox's election as Mexico's president in 2000 – a significant victory for the National Action Party – he was appointed director of the National Bank of Public Works and Services, then energy secretary.

In July 2006, he was elected president of Mexico and has proved adept at reading the political landscape.  He quickly reached out to the opposition, noting (quote) "If you don't have a majority, you have to construct it." On his first day as president, he cut his own salary and that of his cabinet. He has also worked to reform the judicial system, the tax system and the public pension system.

Worldwide, President Calderón is recognized for his fight against the drug cartels. It is an enormous challenge, and as he noted when he took office, it cannot be resolved quickly. It takes time, significant financial resources and – most unfortunately – has resulted in the loss of many lives.  He expressed readiness to partner with the United States on this effort, and over the course of his presidency, the relationship between our two countries has strengthened.  He was the first head of state invited to the White House after President Obama's election. Over the past two years, the two leaders have met a number of times, and President Obama has acknowledged the great difficulties of combating drug-related violence and pledged U.S. support. 

Earlier this spring, President Calderón signaled his determination to pursue the fight when he nominated Marisela Morales to be Mexico's 42nd Attorney General – the first woman to hold this position. Highly respected internationally, before her appointment she received a 2011 International Women of Courage Award, presented by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

From his childhood in Morelia when he vowed to become president, to pursuing studies that would allow him to do just that, to a lifetime of serving his country, Felipe Calderón has demonstrated a willingness to take on the difficult tasks of our time.  He assumed office at one of the most challenging times in the history of his country, and his views on public service and his experience leading a nation so vitally intertwined with California and the United States are of great interest to our graduates.

Please join me in welcoming President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, to Stanford.

Concluding remarks

Graduates of Stanford University, on behalf of all members of the Stanford family, I congratulate and commend you.

You have made many contributions during your time on the Farm, and you have earned this celebration. Before we close, I would like to reflect for a few minutes on what it means to be admitted to the "rights, responsibilities and privileges" associated with a degree from Stanford University.

We believe a Stanford education brings with it a responsibility to use your knowledge to benefit others and to help ensure that succeeding generations have the same opportunities you have had here.

I have made it a Commencement tradition to talk about a member of the Stanford family who put this education to good use.  This year, that distinguished alumna is the late Ruth Halperin.

There is a deep volunteer tradition among our alumni, as well as a history of one generation reaching out to help the next. Ruth Levison Halperin exemplified both. 

She grew up on this campus. Her father, the late Robert Levison, was among the founding members of the Stanford Associates and a former chair of the Stanford Alumni Association's board of directors.  Ruth often noted that she learned firsthand about "giving back to Stanford" from one of the best volunteers the university ever had – her father.

Generosity and dedicated service to Stanford was – and continues to be – a family tradition. Four generations of Ruth's family have attended Stanford; many of them are with us today.

Ruth earned her undergraduate degree in political science from Stanford in 1947, and more than half a century later, she recalled her first days at Stanford, saying (quote):

"I felt a freedom and a contentment.  I just knew I was in the right place for me. And I was probably as happy as I've ever been. I reveled in it. I was so lucky to be here."

Certainly, we were lucky to have her. 

She was one of the university's most indefatigable champions, serving her alma mater in a host of ways, and was recognized for her extraordinary service with the Gold Spike Award, Stanford's highest award for volunteer service.

From 1986 to 1996 – a decade marked by the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake – Ruth served two terms on Stanford's Board of Trustees.  During that time, she served on numerous committees, from Land and Buildings to Academic Affairs and Development. She developed a great friendship with Stanford's president, Gerhard Casper. She had a powerful intellect and the ability to cut through to the heart of any matter.  Gerhard told me that she also had a habit of knitting during board meetings – providing a calming presence, along with her many incisive observations.

When President Casper decided to try to resurrect the tradition of great architecture and a return to the brilliant campus plan devised by Frederic Law Olmsted, Ruth was the chief cheerleader and proselytizer. Now, nearly 20 years later, we have a campus whose plan and architecture rival the best in the world.

Ruth had a special devotion at Stanford to the importance of the arts in our academic mission. A generous and welcoming spirit, she was one of the earliest supporters of the arts initiative.  She mentored hundreds of volunteers and was quick to share her art with the Stanford family. 

Some of you may have seen Stone River, the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture off of Palm Drive. Ruth and Bob Halperin commissioned that work in honor of Gerhard's presidency. It is made from more than 6,000 pieces of sandstone from buildings damaged by the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. If you haven't had a chance to see it, I urge you to do so.  It is one of the jewels of our outdoor art collection.

In working with Ruth, I came to admire her insights, aesthetic sense and characteristic straight talking. I also quickly realized that when she believed something needed to be done, she was a force to be reckoned with.  After the Loma Prieta earthquake ravaged the museum, Ruth headed up the fund-raising effort to rebuild and expand it.

Today, we consider the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford one of the university's greatest assets – thousands of people visit it each year to experience its collections and exhibitions – and we owe much of that to the dedicated efforts of Ruth  Halperin. The Halperin Family Wing and the Ruth Levison Halperin Gallery are just two examples of the Halperins’ extraordinary support. 

Over the years, their philanthropy endowed faculty positions, made it possible for the museum to strengthen its collection, and enabled us to present exhibitions of great variety and depth, including the current exhibition in the Halperin Gallery featuring more than 60 illustrated title pages from editions of the Bible, as well as works by Aristotle, Chaucer, and Dante.

Ruth Levison Halperin loved every aspect of this university – from its football games to the latest art exhibition to meeting students – and she worked to ensure that Stanford would be as welcoming and wonderful to future generations. That is the legacy you inherit as you prepare to leave here – a legacy shaped by people like Ruth Halperin, who exemplified the Stanford spirit.

I hope your time here has provided you with a deep reservoir of the Stanford spirit and that you leave inspired to make your own contributions to the world, and that that spirit brings you back often to this special place.

Congratulations and best wishes!