Text of President Hennessy’s prepared remarks for Commencement 2013

Following is the text of the address by University President John Hennessy, as prepared for delivery at Stanford University’s 122nd Commencement on June 16, 2013.


Graduating Students, Faculty Colleagues, Former and Current Trustees, Government Officials, Distinguished Guests, Family Members, and Friends:

I warmly welcome all of you to the 122nd Commencement Exercises of Stanford University. I would like to start this morning by wishing all of the fathers here today a happy Father’s Day. A special welcome to the seniors and to the graduate students from Stanford’s various schools. Today, we shall award 1,701 bachelor’s degrees; 2,325 master’s degrees; and 1,055 doctoral degrees.

The undergraduate class of 2013 includes 302 seniors graduating with departmental honors, and 276 graduating with university distinction. Seventy-five students have satisfied the requirements of more than one major and 23 are graduating with dual bachelor’s degrees. One hundred forty-eight are graduating with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and 363 students have completed minors.

Throughout its history, Stanford has attracted students from around the world. This year 113 members of the undergraduate class of 2013 are from 43 countries other than the United States; 82 countries, in addition to the United States, are represented by 1,161 awardees of master’s and PhD degrees.

You may notice that I have started out this morning with a lot of statistics. Now before you jump to the conclusion that I do this because I am a computer scientist, let me say that reciting these statistics is an historical tradition at our Commencement ceremonies. And as such, it is one that I am proud to carry on.

Universities are prized for their traditions and are often the primary home for discussions and debates about the ancient and timeless questions facing humanity. At the same time universities must look forward, they must be bold as they contemplate the future and their opportunities. This balancing of old and new, the innovative and the traditional, is a challenge that universities have faced for hundreds of years, and it has been a theme in the speeches of many of my predecessors. Our first president, David Starr Jordan, in his inaugural address in 1891 reflected on this balance, when he said:

“It is for us as teachers and students in the university’s first year to lay the foundations of a school which may last as long as human civilization. … It is hallowed by no traditions; it is hampered by none. Its finger posts all point forward.”

Today, 122 years later, we have established some traditions, but we have not forgotten President Jordan’s exhortation. We remain mindful of the need to reinvent and move forward. As you leave Stanford, I hope you carry a deep appreciation of the values and traditions that are everlasting as well as a willingness to be bold and to approach challenges with a fresh perspective.

It is with the recognition that traditions remain vibrant when they are enthusiastically embraced by succeeding generations that I now invoke a very special Stanford Commencement tradition. Graduating students, in the stands are many of those who have made your Stanford years possible: parents and grandparents, spouses and children; siblings, aunts and uncles; mentors and friends – whoever played a role in helping you get to Stanford or in supporting and encouraging you once you were here. I invite you to please turn to the stands and join me in saying: “Thank you!”

Introduction of Michael Bloomberg

It gives me great pleasure to introduce this year’s Commencement speaker: Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City.

Stanford University is known for its bold, entrepreneurial spirit. We encourage students to think big and to consider how they can make a difference in the world. This is a characteristic shared by our Commencement speaker. Businessman, entrepreneur, mayor and philanthropist – Michael Bloomberg thinks big, and he has an extraordinary range of accomplishments.

The son of a bookkeeper, he was born in Boston and raised in Medford, Massachusetts, where as a boy he demonstrated a quality that would serve him well in life. His mother called it “stick-to-it-ness.” As Mrs. Bloomberg said years later, “If he liked it, he worked hard at it. … But he had to find something he wanted to do.”

He earned his undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins University, where – according to Mayor Bloomberg – “I had a good time … I burned the candle at both ends.” But he also worked hard, paying his way through school – taking out loans and working as a parking lot attendant – and putting in serious hours in the lab to get his degree in engineering. After Johns Hopkins, he attended Harvard Business School, where he earned his MBA.

In 1966, he moved to New York City, where he took a job with Salomon Brothers. He rose quickly through the ranks until he was overseeing the trading firm’s information systems. In 1981, after Salomon Brothers was acquired by another company, he left to start his own company. He realized that information could be used more effectively by trading firms, and Bloomberg LP offered a host of tools and information critical for making good financial and business decisions.

Today – with more than 13,000 employees and more than 300,000 subscribers – the company is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in the financial news and information industry. In 2009, almost three decades after its founding, the New York Times wrote, “The data behemoth that Michael R. Bloomberg created and named after himself in 1981, long before he became mayor of New York, finally has the reach, resources and appetites to try snaring the mantle of Most Influential – at least in the rarefied world of business news.”

As a young boy, Mike Bloomberg learned the importance of public service and giving back from his parents, and as his company became more successful, he became more involved in philanthropy and civic affairs. In 2001, he ran for public office, and in 2002, he became the 108th Mayor of New York City. This year, he concludes his third – and final – term as mayor.

Over the past 12 years, he has been the city’s champion. Through innovative programs that nurture entrepreneurship and develop new job skills, he has worked to diversify its economy by revitalizing well-established industries and encouraging new ones. Under his watch, New York rode through the economic downturn and avoided the terrible job losses many cities experienced.

He has been a fierce and passionate champion for New York City. As he said on one occasion: “No place epitomizes the American experience and the American spirit more than New York City.” As a native New Yorker descended from Irish immigrants who came to NYC in the early 1800s as laborers and farmers, I couldn’t agree more.

He has championed school reform aiming to ensure that every child in NYC has an equitable and high quality access to public education.

One of the things I most admire about Mayor Bloomberg is his willingness to take a stand, especially on issues that may seem divisive. As he said: “Every one of my positions cuts out half the country. I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-gay rights. I’m pro-immigration. I’m against guns. I believe in Darwin.”

Increasingly, he has dedicated himself to improving society through his philanthropic efforts, and through Bloomberg Philanthropies, he has been extraordinarily generous. In 2011, the Chronicle of Philanthropy placed him in the top five of its list of 50 most generous philanthropists in the nation. And a wide variety of causes and organizations has benefited from his generosity – including those involved in the arts, education, the environment, government innovation and public health.

Throughout his life and career, Michael Bloomberg has also demonstrated a willingness to think differently. He has tackled difficult issues and searched for innovative ways to address them. This is very much in the Stanford spirit, and we are pleased to have him here today.

Please join me in warmly welcoming this year’s Commencement speaker, Michael Bloomberg.

Concluding remarks

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.

This is a day of celebration, and before we close, I would like to reflect for a few minutes on a phrase you have heard several times today. 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 from Stanford University.

We believe the rights and privileges of a Stanford education bring a responsibility to make good use of your knowledge, to work to make the world better and to help ensure that succeeding generations have the same kinds of opportunities you have had here at Stanford.

I have made it a Commencement tradition to talk about a member of the Stanford family who took his or her responsibilities to the next generation seriously.

This year, that alumna is the late Pamela Ann Rymer, former Stanford trustee and distinguished judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Known for her incisive wit, Judge Rymer was a warm, brilliant, no-nonsense and enormously caring woman – who had a passion for all things Stanford.

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, she was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. After earning her undergraduate degree from Vassar College, she came to Stanford and earned her law degree in 1964.

Like many of you, she had a passion for justice that manifested itself in many ways over the years. Just out of law school, she worked on Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential election campaign before turning to private practice. In 1966, she became the first woman partner at the law firm of Lillick, McHose & Charles.

She had a great sense of humor and was known to appreciate a good prank, and it was there that she pulled the stunt for which she is most known. She presented one of the senior partners with a live frog – and for the rest of her life, that amphibian became her unlikely icon. If you knew nothing else about Pam, you knew about her frogs. She had frogs everywhere – ceramic frogs, stuffed frogs, glass frogs, frog jewelry.

That frog collection livened up her chambers years later, when she was appointed a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by President Ronald Reagan in 1983; six years later, President George H.W. Bush named her to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

As a jurist, she was widely praised for her carefully reasoned opinions and great productivity. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said, “Her passion for the law and dedication to the work of the court was inspiring.” Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Trott noted: “Not only was she a brilliant jurist and a joy to work with, … because of her experience in private practice and as a trial court judge, she was acutely aware of how important it is to resolve controversies as quickly as possible.” In her 22 years on the appellate court, Judge Rymer sat on more than 800 three-judge panels and wrote 335 panel opinions.

Off the bench, Pam Rymer was known for her passionate commitment to higher education. Early in her career, she chaired the California Post-Secondary Education Commission. Later, she served on the faculty of the Byrne Judicial Clerkship Institute at Pepperdine University and was often invited to speak as part of Federal Judicial Center programs for new judges.

But it was to her alma mater that she was most loyal, and Stanford benefited from her leadership and wisdom in a host of ways. From 1991 to 2001 she was a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, where she served as vice chair of the board – helping lead the presidential search committee – as well as chairing the Academic Policy, Planning and Management Committee and the Committee on Athletics. She was always concerned about the impact higher tuition might have on students and their families and endeavored to keep a Stanford education accessible to all. She also served as chair of the Law School’s Board of Visitors and the Dean’s Strategic Council. Her service extended to other parts of the university as well, as a member of the Advisory Council for the Bill Lane Center for the American West, the National Advisory Board for the Haas Center and the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors.

And she always made time for Stanford sports. She followed all of the teams and attended as many games as she could. I remember her telling me that she did not like to fly, but would happily get in her convertible, put on some great music and drive six hours from Southern California to watch a Stanford football game in this very stadium. She also made it a goal to come to year-end athletic banquets. And when the football team went to the Rose Bowl in 1999, she hosted a party in her chambers in Pasadena – where I understand she had frog tiles in the bathroom!

Condoleezza Rice, who was the provost for most of Judge Rymer’s tenure as a trustee and who became a good friend, described her in this way: “Pam Rymer was through-and-through a Stanford person – irreverent but deadly serious about the educational enterprise, determined that we were going to do the best by our students.”

Fittingly for someone so dedicated to the student experience, after her death, two new Stanford scholarships were established in her name, one for undergraduates, the other for law students – the Judge Pamela Ann Rymer Undergraduate Scholarship Fund and the Judge Pamela Ann Rymer Law Scholarship Fund.

When Pam Rymer was presented with the Stanford Medal in 2010 for exemplary service to the university, she said: “One of our greatest callings is to give back to a place such as Stanford that has given so much to us. We all have something different to offer, but whatever we can do, it will help Stanford give even more to others.”

Just as Mayor Bloomberg has given back to New York City through his service as mayor and to others through his philanthropy, Pam Rymer through her career as a jurist and her decades of volunteer service worked to make a difference in this world and helped this university “give even more to others.” Through her commitment and her caring, she exemplified the Stanford spirit.

Today, I hope that you leave this campus with a strong reservoir of the same Stanford spirit, a reservoir that will grow over the years. And I hope this spirit inspires you – just as it did Pam Rymer – to make your own contributions to the world, and to come back often to this special place where the Stanford spirit was born in you.

Thank you and congratulations!