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06/16/92

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Kennedy delivers final farewell to the graduates

STANFORD -- Saying that he, too, felt like a member of the Class of 1992, outgoing Stanford University President Donald Kennedy told the graduates that both he and they "are leaving something we've been doing for many years. We're preparing for change and gathering ourselves to meet new and different tests."

Kennedy delivered his final "farewell to the graduates" talk at the university's 101st commencement Sunday, June 14, in Stanford Stadium. The ceremony was attended by approximately 3,200 graduates - representing 4,000 degrees earned - and 25,000 spectators.

The graduates responded by giving Kennedy a prolonged standing ovation, an emotional high point in a high-spirited morning.

As Kennedy commended Dinkelspiel Award winner Jean Fetter, who served as dean of undergraduate admissions at Stanford from 1984 to 1991, he had to struggle to be heard over the applause, shouts and whistles hailing her. Fetter, he said, had shaped a student body of remarkable diversity and talent, "however lacking in decorum it might be."

Decorum was not a notable part of the occasion as the graduates marched into the stadium carrying balloons, water pistols and stuffed animals. One group put down sheets of plastic, poured water on them and, having doffed their robes, began frolicking on the improvised water slides. On the opposite end of the football field, others held a volleyball match, complete with net. Others tossed Frisbees, beach balls and soccer balls.

Even after such activities gave way to being seated for the ceremonies, four graduates, costumed together as a Holstein cow, greeted several speakers with appreciative moos.

And at the ceremony's end, the Fleet Street Singers' standard rendition of "The Stanford Hymn" was followed by graduating seniors loudly chanting "Rap! Rap! Rap!" The singers returned to perform their rap version of the hymn before the Rev. Robert C. Gregg could deliver the concluding benediction.

Taking responsibility

Kennedy devoted a major part of his farewell address to the subject of taking responsibility, which, he said, "has become a sort of casualty in modern America" with "public scapegoating in high places" now the norm.

For example, he said, the Bush administration blames the Los Angeles riots on Lyndon Johnson, while auto executives and many others blame the Japanese for problems in the American economy.

"Bad things sometimes happen, and sometimes they are our fault," Kennedy said. "No mistake is irreversible, and nearly all stains wash out in time. But the hasty grab for the nearest excuse only makes the marks more permanent. Raise your hand, acknowledge the foul, and take the penalty."

Leadership calls for individuals who will propose specific solutions to problems, rather than offering platitudes, even platitudes disguised as "principles," Kennedy said.

Presenting principles as substitutes for programs, Kennedy said, "is based on the assumption that because principles are supposed to be good things, people will accept almost anything with that label. We shouldn't. Those who tell us that admonitions to 'get up off our behinds' amount to programs ought to be laughed out of town. Mind-numbing slogans like this are the stuff of demagoguery."

Responsibility, Kennedy told the graduates, "requires you to stand up, state the program, accept the risks and bear the consequences. Even at their worst, and you are hearing this from an expert, they're not intolerable - not if you acted from conviction and know you did the right thing."

Referring to Stanford's widely publicized troubles with the federal government and "these last difficult 18 months" of his presidency, Kennedy said "the vulnerability and exposure that came with my role, as they come with others, are not only acceptable risks; even their most adverse consequences have been dwarfed by the rewards."

Farewell tributes

In addition to the applause of the graduates, Kennedy also received farewell tributes from two of those who shared the podium with him.

Commencement speaker Kirk Varnedoe, who earned his master's degree and doctorate in art history at Stanford, said that, as an alumnus, he wanted to thank Kennedy "for all he has done for this university."

And before presenting his school's graduates, Marshall (Mike) Smith, dean of the School of Education, thanked Kennedy for the "leadership you have given to education nationally over the past decade. You, far more than any other college president, have spoken out clearly and forcefully and with great wisdom on issues of elementary and secondary education."

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