John Hennessy hails alumnus Daniel Pearl as exemplar of the ‘Stanford spirit’
Following is the text, as prepared, of remarks by university President John Hennessy at Commencement on June 17, 2007.
Introduction of Dana Gioia
It gives me great pleasure to introduce this year’s Commencement speaker: Dana Gioia, award-winning poet, literary critic, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and Stanford alumnus.
From the earliest days of its founding, Stanford University has sought to educate its students so that they might become “cultured and useful citizens.” Today’s speaker has exemplified that.
Hailed by BusinessWeek (Nov. 13, 2006) as “The Man Who Saved the NEA,” Dana Gioia is a man of many accomplishments: businessman, teacher, translator and, most recently, the first poet and the first Californian named to head the National Endowment for the Arts.
Dana Gioia grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Hawthorne, Calif., surrounded by books, music and family. His father was Italian American; his mother Mexican and Native American; grandparents, aunts and uncles lived nearby.
His mother recited poetry to him as a young boy, and he developed a love of books and reading early on.
Years later he wrote in his essay “Lonely Impulse of Delight: One Reader’s Childhood”:
“My family had no idea what to make of my bookish habits, but they never mocked or discouraged them. Never before having encountered a bookworm, these stoical Sicilians hoped for the best. … Italians … admire any highly developed special skill—carpentry, cooking, gardening, singing, even reading. The best skills helped one make a living. The others helped one enjoy living.”
When Dana Gioia arrived at Stanford as a freshman in 1969, he was the first member of his family to attend college. While at Stanford, he served as editor-in-chief of Sequoia, the student-run literary journal.
After earning his BA from Stanford and a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard, he returned to Stanford to attend the Graduate School of Business, where met his future wife, Mary Heicke. After obtaining their MBAs (1977), they moved to New York, and Dana began a career in business, eventually becoming a vice president at General Foods.
But he never abandoned poetry. Indeed, he has been quoted on more than one occasion as saying he went into business to become a poet. He continued to write in the evenings and on weekends before leaving corporate life in 1992 to become a full-time writer.
He has published three collections of poetry: Daily Horoscope; The Gods of Winter, which was the main selection of London’s Poetry Book Society in 1991; and Interrogations at Noon (2001), which won the 2002 American Book Award.
His 1991 essay in the Atlantic Monthly, “Can Poetry Matter?” provoked vigorous debate and a resurgence of interest in poetry among the general public that continues today. His collection of essays by the same name was cited as one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly and a finalist for the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award.
He also has edited a number of textbooks on poetry, and in 2001 he launched the conference “Teaching Poetry,” with the goal of improving the way poetry is taught in high schools. As a visiting writer, he has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Sarah Lawrence College, Colorado College and Wesleyan University.
Since being named chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002, he has worked tirelessly to demonstrate the agency’s importance to the American public by encouraging a reengagement with the arts, poetry and reading by Americans young and old.
Throughout his life and career, Dana Gioia has demonstrated a thirst for knowledge, a willingness to take risks and an unshakeable belief that “the arts are not a luxury.” We are very privileged to have him here today.
Please join me in warmly welcoming one of Stanford’s own, Dana Gioia.
Graduates of Stanford University, on behalf of all members of the Stanford family, I congratulate and commend you. You have made many contributions to our community of scholars during your time at Stanford, and you have our deep thanks.
I would like to reflect for a few minutes on a phrase that I have repeated several times since this ceremony began. As each group of graduates was presented to me for the conferral of degrees, I responded by admitting you to the “rights, responsibilities and privileges” that are associated with a degree granted by this university.
At Stanford, we believe the rights and privileges of an education bring a responsibility to make good use of your knowledge, to change the world for the better and to help ensure that succeeding generations have the same opportunities you have had here at Stanford.
In recent years, I have made it a Commencement tradition to talk about alumni who demonstrated great personal vision and who took their responsibilities seriously. One of those distinguished alumni was Daniel Pearl.
Most of you know Danny’s story. A member of the Class of 1985, he studied communication while at Stanford and graduated with honors. By all accounts, he was an enormously charming, brilliant, funny, compassionate man.
Like many of you, he had a passion for justice and a desire to understand the complex world in which we live. He liked to challenge the status quo and explore controversies from different perspectives. As an undergraduate, he launched Stanford Commentary, a publication that reflected those interests. He developed a passion for journalism and honed his skills through internships at the Palo Alto Weekly and at the Indianapolis Star.
He also was passionate about music and its ability to transcend differences. As a late-night deejay on KZSU, he served up a mix of music as wide-ranging as his own eclectic interests. His friends said he was an excellent musician—equally comfortable on classical violin and bluegrass fiddle—and he made a point of joining musical groups every place he called home.
And like many of you, he was not quite sure what he wanted to do after graduating. He spent some time on the ski slopes of Sun Valley patching together a living by working at a convenience store. As classmate Karen Edwards told the Stanford Report years later, the resulting boredom was a great help in clarifying his thinking.
He began his career as a journalist working for three small newspapers in Massachusetts before moving to the Wall Street Journal in 1990. He worked for the Journal for a dozen years on stories that were as diverse and quirky as their author.
He found his stories in every corner of the globe—from posts in Atlanta, Washington, London and Paris, where he met Mariane, the French journalist who became his wife. In 2000, he became the Journal‘s South Asia Bureau Chief, based in Bombay, India. Wherever he went, he was interested in promoting understanding and tolerance, in connecting people through their stories.
On Jan. 23, 2002, Daniel Pearl was abducted in Pakistan while covering a story for the Wall Street Journal; a month later, he was murdered. His murder played out on the international stage in videotape released by his captors. It was horrific—a tragic loss for his family and friends, for the Stanford community and for the world at large. His wife, Mariane, was pregnant with their first child, Adam, who was born in May 2002.
Daniel Pearl’s death brought about an outpouring of grief and indignation from people across the world. But as tragic as his death was, it is his life—and his deep commitment to promoting communication among all people—that we remember and honor today.
Five years have passed since Daniel Pearl’s death, but his legacy of courage and connection continues.
In 2002, the Daniel Pearl Foundation was established. Through the foundation, Danny’s parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, carry his legacy forward: through the Daniel Pearl World Music Days held annually on the anniversary of Danny’s birthday, through a variety of fellowships and internships for journalists, and through annual lectures at Stanford and UCLA that focus on improving the understanding of people around the world.
Fifty of Danny’s best pieces live on in the collection, At Home in the World: Collected Writings of Daniel Pearl from The Wall Street Journal. I encourage you to read it. In the foreword, Mariane Pearl writes about the responsibilities she and Danny felt as journalists and educated citizens of the world:
“Our commitment to journalism as our means of changing the world deepened every day. … For us—for Danny—journalism epitomized the path for charting a better world future. … It is our task to educate, inform and provide keys to people so that they will not be held hostage to the ignorance bred in every corner of the world. It takes courage.”
In his work and his life experiences, Daniel Pearl demonstrated remarkable bravery and endeavored to make a real difference in the world. His personal story is one of deep commitment, dedication and service to the highest purposes—everything we know today to be the Stanford spirit. It is not necessarily the length of one’s life that matters most but, rather, the quality and intensity with which one lives that life. In that way, Daniel Pearl’s story will continue to inspire people and his legacy will live on at Stanford as an example of how one person—acting with integrity, commitment and compassion—can influence the world in which we live.
Today, I hope that you leave this campus with a strong reservoir of the Stanford spirit, a reservoir that will grow over the years. I hope this spirit inspires you—just as it did Daniel Pearl—to make your contributions to the world, and I hope it brings you back often to this special place where the Stanford spirit was born in you.
Thank you and congratulations!