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Hundreds of people gathered Sunday to remember how Stanford University was founded and, in so doing, reflect on its future.
"We know that the Stanfords created this institution out of deep grief," said Provost Condoleezza Rice, standing on the steps of the Stanford family's mausoleum. "It is a lesson to all of us that when we are in dark times and difficult times it is important not to turn inward . . . but to find a way to make something positive of even the worst of times."
More than a century ago, Jane and Leland Stanford, grieving the memory of their 15-year-old son, opened the doors of their free university so that the young men and women of California would have access to a higher education. As Dean of Students Marc Lee Wais reminded those who attended a ceremony at Memorial Church, quoting from Sen. Stanford's 1891 Opening Day speech, "A man cannot have too much health and intelligence, so he cannot be too highly educated."
Founders' Day this year marked the Stanfords' achievement with both somber and joyful remembrances. It began with the mausoleum ceremony and a procession to Memorial Church and ended with picnickers lunching under clear blue skies in the Quadrangle.
President Gerhard Casper said during the church service that the Stanfords' decision to found this university and risk the fortune made by the transcontinental railroad drew mostly contempt from the Eastern establishment at the time. "In 1899, the New York Town Topics made the following comment," Casper said. " 'Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a more foolish misuse of splendid opportunity than to dump twenty or thirty millions of dollars in a third-rate Western "university." ' "
But the Stanfords persisted and Jane maintained the couple's dream even after Leland Sr. died in 1893 and the federal government tied up the family's finances in probate. Jane ignored advice to close the university, using most of a $10,000 personal monthly allowance to pay faculty salaries and keep the university open.
English Professor George Brown, chair of the Committee on Public Events, which was charged with revitalizing this annual celebration, said that the Stanfords' unselfish gift flies in the face of popular perceptions of new money at the turn of the century.
"I think it's a healthy remedy to the criticism you get about the robber barons of the past who trampled on the oppressed," Brown said. "The great industrialists of the 19th and 20th centuries left a great legacy for us. It's important to remember our debt for this lovely life in this lovely university."
During the church ceremony, Bliss Carnochan, the Richard W. Lyman Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, also referred to the capitalist origins of Stanford when he said this place would have never been founded if Stanford had not been "a good deal of an unbridled capitalist himself." Delivering the main speech of the day, Carnochan explained that the "paradox of the university" is contained within an institution "divided between the urges of competition and those of community" and that "claims of freedom, including the freedom to excel always clash with those of social harmony." But he concluded that the university's strength lies in its struggle to "reconcile [these] two never quite reconcilable things."
Undergraduate Darlene Damm and graduate student Kenneth Malpass spoke about their visions for Stanford and higher education. While Damm talked about the challenges facing students today, Malpass looked back from the year 2097. He said a century ago, Stanford had to decide how to take advantage of th