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Homecoming Weekend features panels, parties, and yes - a football game
As the first of 5,500 expected Stanford alumni and guests gathered in front of Memorial Auditorium on Oct. 12 for the start of Homecoming Weekend 1995, the backdrop seemed most appropriate.
There stood Hoover Tower, enveloped in scaffolding for its first renovation in 50 years, and behind it an enormous construction crane.
"Take a look behind you," Alumni Association President William Stone joked, as alumni and guests seated themselves around Tanner Fountain. "Whoever said 'Stanford's new mascot should be the crane' was particularly prescient."
Aside from the splendid record being compiled by this season's football team, the biggest topic of conversation among returning alumni seemed to be the volume of construction activity on campus. For many, the morning drive had been a daze of detours and unfamiliar landmarks.
"The buses were overloaded for the campus tours. So I figured, 'Oh, I can walk around. I know my way,' said Claire Collins Skall, '52, who drove down from Marin County for the event. "But there are all these new buildings! It's amazing."
Added Tucson physician Skipp Harris, '70, "It looks a lot more like UCLA than Stanford in terms of the high density of the buildings. It's not the Farm anymore; it's almost an urban campus in character."
In his welcoming remarks, Stanford President Gerhard Casper was quick to point out that it was not his intent "to beat David Starr Jordan's record" for campus construction.
"If you look closely," he said, "you will understand we are involved in a lot of seismic strengthening and repair work. So it was not my coming in 1992 that was the cause of all this, but Loma Prieta in 1989. Please don't assume that I have gotten carried away!"
Later that evening, at a sunset dinner on the Quad, Casper asked the visiting alumni to "turn back the clock" and imagine that they once again were trying to decide which university to attend. He offered eight reasons for choosing Stanford, beginning with the university's excellence in teaching, learning and research.
"He noted that yesterday," Martin Perl received the Nobel Prize in Physics," and went on to point out that 8 percent of the new members inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 1995 came from Stanford.
"Our small private college was second in the nation in having the most Ph.D. programs in the top 10, according to this year's National Reserch Council rankings," Casper said.
Among the other reasons Casper gave for choosing Stanford in 1995: the university's "Western spirit of pioneering, entrepreneurship and energy"; its diversity; the opportunities it affords for service to the public; its excellence in athletics, its global reach and location on the Pacific Rim; and its beautiful setting.
"Other universities may - I emphasize may - have one or the other attributes that I have mentioned," the president said, but "none can claim the combination that is Stanford. The [first] seven characteristics interact with and reinforce one another, making Stanford matchless."
Choosing Stanford again
Casper's remarks kicked off a four-day series of homecoming events that included five- and 10-year reunion parties for classes going back to 1935, campus tours, open houses, Classes Without Quizzes, and lectures and panel discussions on biodiversity, undergraduate life, free speech, sports law, the Supreme Court and political change from the '60s to the '90s.
Among the new offerings this year were seminars that allowed faculty to interact with small groups of alumni. President Emeritus Donald Kennedy took some people bird watching, for example, and English lecturer Marjorie Ford conducted a creative writing workshop, while tennis coach Dick Gould offered alumni pointers on their backhands.
"Those were really popular," said Carolyn Manning, director of alumni relations. "We'd like to add more of them next year."
The weekend's centerpiece was a much-anticipated football game pitting Stanford against the Washington Huskies. For the first five games of the 1995 season, Stanford had played like a cat with nine lives, compiling a 4-0-1 record and a 16th national ranking.
But in the Homecoming game, the men in red were unable to pull off one of their fourth-quarter miracles. Stanford's final touchdown came with just three seconds left, when another last- second thriller was out of the question. The final score: 38-28.
Despite that disappointment, most alums agreed that simply meeting up with old friends had made the trip worth while.
Craig Toby Allen, '60, of Palo Alto, graduated from Stanford with a degree in psychology and ended up working with IBM in Silicon Valley. His classmate, Bob Barry, was an economics major who went east for graduate work and recently retired from teaching economics at William and Mary College in Virginia.
"We haven't seen each other much because he ended up on the East Coast," Allen said, nudging his former freshman roommate. "I shamed him into coming out here for this. I wanted him to see all the bricks and mortar surrounding this place."
Supreme Court panel
For many returnees, the highlight of Homecoming Weekend 1995 was the chance to see two of Stanford's most famous alumni -- Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, '50, JD '52, and Stephen Breyer, '59 -- in a Law School panel discussion on the nation's highest court at the turn of the century.
O'Connor dressed in red on a stage dominated by navy blue and gray stood out from the crowd visually. She and Breyer were joined by Stanford President and constututional scholar Gerhard Casper, law Professor Gerald Gunther, and moderator Kathleen Sullivan, professor of law.
After an informative discussion of the Supreme Court's influence on the rule of law and courts in other countries, Sullivan asked Breyer, a 1994 rookie on the Supreme Court, to describe a typical day.
Breyer joked that when he does so, it usually puts people to sleep. But he proceeded to describe the long hours of reading and meetings with his law clerks and other justices.
Sullivan then turned to O'Connor, a 15-year-veteran of the court, asking her if Breyer had left anything out.
"The mail," she said quickly, adding that "there is probably not a school child in American today that hasn't written me a letter."
One letter from a child in Pennsylvania named Chris went something like this, she said: "Dear Justice O'Connor, We read a book about you. You're the first woman on the Supreme Court. You learned to ride a horse. You must be the fairest judge in the USA. I hope that some day you can become a president's wife."
O'Connor said curiosity got the best of her, and she discreetly called Chris' elementary school teacher to determine the gender of her young correspondent. It turned out that her '"Chris" was indeed, a boy.
The Stanford audience was laughing heartily the first female justice on the Supreme Court added: "I sent a copy of this correspondence to the president's wife, and I don't think she was as amused as I was."
While "The Supremes," as many alumni dubbed them, were speaking in Memorial Auditorium, another well-known alumnus, former U.S. Representative and 1994 California Republican Senate candidate Michael Huffington, '70, was appearing at a panel discussion in Dinkelspiel Auditorium.
The program, "Political Change from the '60s to the '90s," also featured Hoover Senior Fellow Martin Anderson, Stanford historians Barton Bernstein and Clay Carson, Stanford political scientist Terry Karl, '70, and Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the CATO institute who received his law degree from Stanford in 1979.
There was lively debate on issues ranging from the role that the government should play in education and welfare to the condition of American democratic institutions today, but the defining moment of the forum came when moderator Bill Evers asked the panelists to raise their hands to indicate enthusiasiasm for sending 25,000 troops to Bosnia.
"Don't be shy. Just put your hands right up," said Evers, a research fellow at Hoover who graduated from Stanford in 1970. None of the panelists raised their hands.
Evers told the audience that he had posed the same question to several hundred members of his class at a panel on the previous afternoon, and that no one there had raised a hand, either.
The broad consensus among alumni, that there are no easy answers when it comes to military intervention, appeared to speak to the legacy of the Vietnam War and the political change that has taken place in the past 30 years.
Homecoming Weekend provided many alumni the chance to become reconnected with an old friend -- Donald Kennedy, Bing Professor of Environmental Science and president emeritus.
"In a way," he told his audience in Cubberley Auditorium Oct. 12, "this lecture is an accounting of what I have been doing since I gave up my day job."
Being provost and president for 13 years was a wonderful experience, Kennedy continued. "But I always thought of that episode in my life as exactly that, an interruption of an academic career in which what drew me to it in the first place was teaching and scholarship and a love of young people. And that is exactly what drew me back."
It became clear to the former neurobiologist, that he was not going to be able "to re-enter the wilds of the central nervous system," however.
"I went to a talk or two . . . and I understood every third word," Kennedy said, so he decided to move into a subject that took advantage of his recent experience. Combining an early interest in "critter biology" with his in regulatory issues and concern about the quality of the world's environment, he began to study the issue of biodiversity.
"All of the things we have been taught to fear most - wars, local famines, pestilence and so forth - disasterous as they are for those who are there, tragic as they are for those of us who have to watch and know we cannot intervene successfully, these are all reversible in terms of the long-term history of this planet.
"There is one consequence that is not reversible," Kennedy said. "That is the loss of biological diversity. There is no question that as a consequence of our expansion into new environments, we have produced a kind of epidemic of extinction that is almost without historical parallel."
It is estimated that species currently are disappearing at a rate that is 100 to 1,000 times faster than normal, barring previous episodes of mass extinction, he said.
Kennedy noted that there are a lot of utilitarian reasons for preserving biological diversity, such as the prospect of discovering new medicines and new ice cream flavors from rainforest plants. However, he feels that too much focus has been placed on these arguments.
"First," he said, "there really are a set of ecosystems services provided by natural systems that we understand only imperfectly and that [are] very difficult to value, but which nevertheless may be critically important and whose importance we may discover too late."
Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, Kennedy said, compares loss of ecosystem services to the loss of rivets out of an aircraft wing. A wing can withstand the loss of a large number of rivets, but when one too many goes, the wing will fail catastrophically. If we destroy too many natural ecosystems in areas like the Amazon we may loose natural forms of climate control, he said. In other areas we may lose natural pest control services or flood control and purification services.
Species destruction also threatens more ethereal forms of human satisfaction, which economists call existence value - the things we care about even though we have never seen them. To explain this value, Kennedy quoted the poet Wallace Stegner: "Every green natural space that we save saves a fraction of our sanity and gives us a little more hope that we have a future."
Finally, Kennedy raised the issue of intergenerational judgment: "Every time we decide not to save something, we serve the present." Our decision-making process doesn't take into account the society of the future, he said.
One of the first questions Kennedy tppl from the audience was whether it makes any sense to try to save the endangered salamanders in Lake Lagunita. (Recent plans to build student housing near the site were postponed partly because of the salamanders' presence.)
"If an institution as enlightened as this one cannot find a way to achieve both ends," Kennedy answered, "we're going to have a hell of a lot of trouble persuading anybody else that they should."
Another highlight of the weekend was a lighthearted "verbal boxing match" between students and alumni in the headquarters tent of the Classes of 1935 and 1940.
More than 100 alumni and about 20 students turned out to cheer their respective teams to victory in the debate. The student camp faced the challenge of persuading the audience that Stanford has indeed improved with time, while the alumni debaters set out to prove that the good ol' days were better.
The discussion got off to a raucous start when student debator Matthew Rabinowitz pointed out that the absence of bell bottoms, powder blue tuxedoes and cars with tail fins makes Stanford a more aesthetically pleasing university today than it was in the '60s and '70s.
Team Alumni defended themselves by saying that students in the '60s and '70s concentrated on the more important social issues of their times.
"I have heard the other side talk about a lot of things, and they've attacked a lot of us over here, but I haven't heard a lot of discussion about ideas . . . that we discussed a lot when we were here," said Darryl Brown, '75.
Student debaters attempted to turn that negative charge to their advantage.
"This gentleman brought up some very serious issues such as the Vietnam War . . . I count myself extremely lucky not to have had to deal with that said senior Matt Meskell. "I think the fact that I don't have to worry about going to a foreign land and being killed is better. And the fact that we moved forward from that is a good thing."
Meskell also argued that his generation is working toward change in a more collaborative and productive way. "Maybe you can stand in college and snipe and gripe and say that things are wrong with the system and the 'man' is putting us down and things are bad, but those of us here today kind of say, 'Gee, the system is all we got. Why don't we work to make it better? Why don't we try to work within the constraints of the system?' We on this side of the house would argue that that is better."
"We put those issues into the system," yelled a member of the audience.
To which Meskell calmly replied, "Yes, and now we do them better."
Alumni also argued that life on the Farm was simpler and more carefree when they were students. "There are a lot more rules around here," said Brown. "There's a sign at Lagunita that says 'No Swimming.' I can understand that now, but in the spring I can't go skinny dipping there with my girlfriend anymore."
Rabinowitz, a graduate student in electrical engineering, drew laughter from both sides of the audience when he jumped in to say: "We take those signs down when the alumni leave."
Later, when Brown mentioned that the atrium of Meyer Library
But the audience, which was made up mostly of alumni, thought otherwise. At the conclusion of the debate, the applause meter claimed the alumni camp victorious.
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