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Dickson, Kennedy and Thompkins speak at Class Day
STANFORD -- At a time when graduates nationwide are facing an unpredictable job market, three Class Day speakers urged departing seniors to think less about career planning and more about such basics as friendship, play and prayer.
Sally Dickson, director of the Office for Multicultural Development and the first Class Day speaker on June 17, was a resident fellow in Ujamaa House when the Class of '95 arrived on campus.
Dickson described the day when 90 strangers encountered one another for the first time at a house meeting at the start of freshman year. She described watching the bonds of friendship develop between students over the next year.
"You came to Stanford as individuals. But today and forever, you will be known as the Class of 1995," she marveled.
Among the key events that have come to symbolize the collective identity that has been forged among the diverse student body in the past four years, the student reaction to the Los Angeles riots stands out in Dickson's mind.
At a time when most of the nation felt shocked, confused and divided over the not guilty verdicts of four police officers who were accused of beating Rodney King, Dickson said members of the Class of '95 succeeded in getting faculty and students to hold seminars to flesh out some meaning in the midst of chaos.
"During a time of hopelessness for many, you created a campus atmosphere of hopefulness," she said.
For Donald Kennedy, Stanford president emeritus, the Class of 1995 is the last undergraduate class he served during his term as president. In comparing the Class of 1995 with previous classes, Kennedy noted that this year's graduates seem to be more fixated and anxious about their futures.
"I understand these are uncertain times, economically, politically and socially," said Kennedy, professor of biological sciences. Although he sympathized with the pressures of their plight to focus on achieving their career goals, Kennedy said that he often finds himself wishing that students would give themselves more freely to exploring the curiosity of intellect and partaking in pointless play because "one's capacity to select a course and prepare for it is so limited."
"The safest prediction I have to make about you is that five years from now you will be doing something that you hadn't planned on. It will depend very little on the specific information you have written down so conscientiously over all those years and a whole lot on some other aspects of your education."
Some of the most enlightening experiences in college, Kennedy noted, come at unexpected moments when lecture notes are tucked away. "Knowledge by itself," he said, "merely makes you cultured. When knowledge enables thought, it makes you intellectual. But when knowledge and thought enable belief and action, that makes you a whole person."
Baptist minister and associate dean of Memorial Church Floyd Thompkins completed the trio of talks by recounting a story about a rabbi, a minister from the Confessional Church in Germany and a Christian evangelical minister from America who gathered in Nuremberg after the end of World War II.
The religious men met on the streets and were discussing what the tragedy of the Holocaust meant for the future of Germany and the future of the world. But each man was disenchanted by the dark depths that human nature was capable of sinking to and each was experiencing a crisis of faith.
At that point, a peasant ran past them. One of the men asked where he was going. "Off to pray," the peasant replied. The three religious men followed his lead and went their separate ways to pray. And during the course of their meditations, they came to the same realizations: that the future depended less on their predictions, but on whether they had the courage to live in the present and persevere; that communities spring from forgiveness; and that spirituality, strength and optimism emerge from the practice of faith, regardless of what religion one espouses.
"I do not ask that you find the optimism in the recommendations of the circumstances of today," Thompkins said. "I simply hope that you fill your world up with prayer."
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