Prepared text for closing remarks by Stanford President John Hennessy at the 2015 Commencement ceremony
Graduates of Stanford University, on behalf of all members of the Stanford family, I congratulate and commend you.
Today is a day of celebration, but before we close, I would like to reflect for a few minutes on a phrase you have heard several times this morning. As each group of students was presented to me for the conferral of degrees, I responded by admitting you to the “rights, responsibilities, and privileges” associated with a degree from Stanford University.
These rights and privileges bring a responsibility to make good use of your knowledge. Today you join a long line of distinguished alumni who – like our speaker, Richard Engel – have taken that responsibility seriously and worked to make the world a better place.
So, I ask you now: How will you put your education to use? What will your gifts to the world be?
Will you be a mentor to others? A philanthropist? A lover of libraries … passionate about music and the arts? A supporter of the environment? A dedicated ambassador for Stanford?
Any one of these would be a great legacy. But today I want to talk about a member of the Stanford family who is all of these things – and more.
Our story begins on a warm fall day in the early 1950s, with a newly arrived student walking up Palm Drive from the train station, suitcase in hand, to the men’s dormitory, then in Encina Hall. Like most of us, he has never forgotten that first trip up Palm Drive. He was, by his own admission, a shy student. Each evening after dinner, he headed for the library. He loved its great oak tables and vaulted windows. That’s where he felt most at home, and when the Loma Prieta earthquake devastated Green Library, he was quick to help us restore it.
As some of you may have guessed, that young student was Peter Bing. At the rededication of the library, almost five decades after he had first walked up Palm Drive, Peter said that the library had been central to his undergraduate life. It was where he felt he belonged. And he wanted every Stanford student to have that experience.
For more than half a century, the Stanford community has benefited from Peter’s extraordinary vision, service, and support. He and his amazing wife, Helen, have had a profound impact on the lives of individual students, faculty, and staff – as well as on the continued excellence of this university.
Before I continue, however, I have to state that I speak about Peter today without his knowledge, and had I told him I intended to do this, I suspect he might have tried to dissuade me. But, choosing the topic for this final address is one of the few prerogatives the president of Stanford has, and I intend to use it!
One of Peter’s first gifts to his alma mater helped provide laboratory space and equipment for the first basic science department created in the medical school. He gave that gift with his mother, Anna, when the school moved to the main campus in 1959. That department, biochemistry, would later claim two Nobel laureates among its six founding members.
Throughout Stanford’s history, the university has sought to provide an education that cultivates the imagination, enlarges perspectives, and prepares students to be global citizens. Stanford’s overseas studies program is one of the oldest and most well-established. Many graduates here today have participated, and over the past half-century, the Bing Overseas Studies Program has given more than 30,000 Stanford students the opportunity to experience the world.
Peter’s philanthropy is coupled with deep personal engagement. The Stanford in Washington program is a telling example. Helen and Peter made Washington their home early in their marriage, when Peter held a position in the Kennedy White House. In 2004, the Bings endowed Stanford in Washington’s cultural program, ensuring that students get the most from their time in our nation’s capital.
The arts have no greater champion than the Bings. Since the university’s founding, the arts have played an important role in educating our students and in serving the public. Peter and Helen encouraged us to develop a new vision for the Arts at Stanford, and the concert hall was a dream for many years. But it was the Bings who helped make it a reality. And, Peter not only helped support it with his philanthropy, he devoted himself to ensuring that it would be a world-class facility in every way: from the lobby, to the seating, to the restrooms, to the visual aesthetics, to the acoustics.
But Peter’s real gift to Stanford is in the many ways he strengthens our community. He and Helen understand the importance of each generation guiding the next. They have provided invaluable support for faculty and students, endowing professorships, fellowships, and scholarships that have enabled so many to pursue their research and education. And between Peter and Helen, they hold the world record for attending Stanford events: from student send-offs, to alumni events, to graduations – their devotion is unmatched.
Among those who know him personally, Peter’s dedication, compassion, and extraordinary generosity are legend. Peter served as a University Trustee for 31 years, and when he stepped down in 2007, many people commented on the personal impact he had had on their lives.
- Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor of Environmental Science, said, “No one has influenced me more than Pete Bing. … He’s shown me how to dream – and how to reach for dreams, with passion, courage, stamina, and grace.”
- Labor attorney and former basketball player Sonja Henning – who helped the Cardinal win the 1990 NCAA championship – wrote, “He is a living illustration of how one person can change the course of history for many individuals … His interest in my Stanford experience made me feel as if I were a member of a big family… “
- During my 15-year tenure as president, I have sought and valued Peter’s wise counsel on numerous occasions, knowing that his advice was always offered with the best interests of the university in mind.
Peter’s great love for Stanford has taken many forms over the years: the Bing Nursery School, the Bing Wing of the library, the Bing Stanford-in-Washington Program, the Bing Overseas Studies Program, the Bing Honors College, the Bing Concert Hall, the cultural programs, professorships, and fellowships. That devotion is evident in every corner of the university and extends beyond campus to generations of alumni, students, faculty, and staff whose lives have been enriched by Peter and Helen’s support.
Indeed, it would be almost impossible to go through your time here without benefiting in some way from Peter’s devotion to his alma mater. I know that of all the “thank yous” that Peter and Helen have received, the ones that matter the most to them are simple notes and letters from students whose time at Stanford has been enhanced by the Bings’ dedication and generosity.
It is, however, a rare opportunity that I have today with thousands of graduates and tens of thousands of their friends and family in the stadium and with Peter and Helen both present. Won’t you all join me in a show of appreciation for everything that Peter and Helen Bing have done for Stanford and its students over the past five decades?
Today, I hope you leave here with a deep appreciation of your time at Stanford and a strong commitment to put your education, energy, and enthusiasm to good use to make this a better world for succeeding generations. And, I hope you will always remember that first time you walked up Palm Drive and will cherish the friends and the memories you have made during your years at this special place between the foothills and the Bay.
Congratulations and best wishes!