Prepared text by President Emeritus John Hennessy at the inauguration of Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne
Following is the text of remarks by President Emeritus John Hennessy as prepared for delivery at the inauguration of Stanford's 11th president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, on Oct. 21, 2016.
I am very pleased to be here this morning and to have this opportunity to celebrate the inauguration of my successor, Marc Tessier-Lavigne.
I have spent more than half of my life at Stanford; it has been my academic home since 1977. Before becoming president in 2000, I was fortunate to serve on the faculty during the tenure of three outstanding presidents: Richard Lyman, Don Kennedy and Gerhard Casper. Each brought his unique talents to bear on the challenges of the time, giving us the Stanford we know today.
As President Tessier-Lavigne said, a university is about the future. Of course, we build on the foundations of the generations who preceded us. But the work that we do is always about discovery, about advancing the boundaries of knowledge or educating new generations of students who will make their own contributions to the world.
That is particularly true for Stanford. As David Starr Jordan – our first president – said in 1891 at the opening of the university, the “finger posts all point forward.”
Stanford has come a long way over its 125 years. Its impact is now felt worldwide. Its recognition as a global leader is the result of work that we – the entire Stanford community: faculty, students, staff and alumni – have done together.
“Stanford’s recognition as a global leader is the result of work that we – the entire community: faculty, students, staff and alumni – have done together.”
—President Emeritus John Hennessy
When I was president, I was often asked about the challenges of leading Stanford. Or – as the alumni would put it – what keeps you up at night? While we have certainly come a long way, there are definitely new challenges.
These range from the issues on our campus, such as eliminating sexual assault, to Bay Area issues, such as the high cost of living and the overburdened transportation system; to national challenges, such as a paralyzed political system, inequality of opportunity for our youth, and lingering racism and discrimination. And global problems – climate change, terrorism and civil war, poverty and corruption – are even more formidable.
Although these are very difficult challenges, like President Tessier-Lavigne, I am fiercely optimistic that Stanford’s great strengths can make a real difference. The incredible excellence of our schools, departments and institutes combined with our breadth of disciplines, position Stanford to be a leader.
Furthermore, our ability to collaborate across disciplines and schools allows us to bring those strengths to bear in unique ways. And, when it comes to developing creative entrepreneurial approaches to difficult problems, Stanford is unmatched.
Our Pacific Rim location, which perhaps isolated us in the earliest years of the university, has endowed us with a sense of optimism and has made us a bridge to Asia.
Perhaps my greatest source of optimism comes from our students; they are determined to make the world better for themselves and the generations to come.
If we are to contribute to a better future, we must balance our attention between the immediate problems we face and the long-term health and improvement of the university. As Dwight Eisenhower reminded us: “What is important is seldom urgent.” We need to remember that Stanford is one of a small number of institutions that can provide the knowledge and educate the talent needed to address the most important global challenges.
Fortunately, Marc Tessier-Lavigne understands this, as his inspiring remarks this morning make clear.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Marc for a number of years. I had a hand in recruiting him when he joined the Stanford faculty in 2001, and I know his remarkable qualifications as a scholar, educator and leader. I share his optimism about the future of our university and its ability to be of even greater service to the world. From my perspective, he is eminently qualified to be Stanford’s 11th president.
And, we are fortunate that Marc agreed to take on the challenge. I have great confidence that, with our enthusiastic support, he will lead Stanford to new heights!