Prepared text by Provost John Etchemendy at the inauguration of Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne
Following is the text of remarks by Provost John Etchemendy as prepared for delivery at the inauguration of Stanford's 11th president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, on Oct. 21, 2016.
Good morning. I am John Etchemendy, university provost. Thank you all for joining us today.
It is my honor and privilege to close out our ceremony this morning and to invite you to the reception we will hold for Marc and his family in the Main Quadrangle.
But first, I’d like to share with you a story I tell new Stanford parents after they drop off their children at orientation and are preparing to head home. They are exhausted from the day’s activities and in need of reassurance about the university and our commitment to their children. So I share with them excerpts from a letter we received some years ago from an alumnus.
The alumnus – a lawyer – visited an abandoned factory in downtown LA at about 6:30 a.m. for background work on a case. A janitor working there came over to talk to him because he noticed that the alumnus was wearing a Stanford baseball cap.
In broken English, the janitor shared with the alumnus that his daughter had just graduated from Stanford, the first in her family to have attended college. In that most unlikely of places and times, these two men talked about how much Stanford meant to them and to their families.
At the end of his letter, the alumnus wrote, “My own dad dropped out of high school. He worked as a guard at Soledad Prison. I remembered this morning my dad’s pride and joy in telling others that his son had gone to Stanford. That Stanford is special and that there is a Stanford family are not cute fundraising slogans. They are living experiences.”
I share this story this morning because I think we sometimes get so busy that we lose sight of how special this university truly is and how privileged we are to be here. An inauguration, thankfully, gives us the opportunity to stop, to reassess and to renew.
“Any success Stanford achieves is due to its people and to the community we cumulatively create. ”
—Provost John Etchemendy
Much has been said this morning about the origins of Stanford’s success and about the values our university represents. I would like to add my own: I believe that any success Stanford achieves is due to its people and to the community we cumulatively create. There is a strength of purpose here, a generosity of spirit and a sense of connection that I have seen nowhere else. It creates the foundation for everything we do.
We arrive here from all over the world, in a delightful testament to diversity in its many forms. We are attracted to Stanford for many reasons. There is the weather, yes, but there are many other admirable traits that bring us here, including the university’s ideals, the moving story of two grieving parents committed to helping other people’s children, and Stanford’s relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Those are just three of many.
Whatever our reason for coming, something happens to us while we are here. We are transformed. That happens whether we are an undergraduate, a graduate student, a postdoctoral researcher, a faculty member, a staff member or a parent. We become something more – something better – together as a community, and we carry that feeling of optimism and loyalty to the institution’s values forever, wherever we go and whatever we do – just as the janitor and alumnus in my story have.
If we ever lose sight of that sense of community, there is somewhere we can go. The Main Quadrangle is something of a metaphor. The sandstone archways are like a warm embrace, especially when the sun burns off the fog in the morning and everyone is hurrying to his or her class or work. The architecture holds a visitor close when you are within, but insists that we look outward from its sandstone embrace to the world beyond.
The time capsules that line the walkways contain the hopes, dreams and remembrances of those who have come before. They hint in their unfinished progression of those who will follow. They are like a tap on the shoulder, reminding us of the legacy we have inherited and must nurture going forward.
And that brings me to my reason for bringing up the subject of community this morning.
Community is a responsibility that requires constant affirmation. Community has to be renewed as the university grows and stretches with each new challenge and with each new member. We are partners in this shared Stanford experience. Partners watch out for one another, help one another, respect one another’s contributions and support one another.
So let me conclude by welcoming Marc to our community in his new role as president. I hope, Marc, that you draw strength, inspiration and encouragement from this community. I hope you find in it, too, as much challenge, excitement and wonderment as I have since – 40 years ago this fall – I first arrived here as a graduate student.
Like everyone on the Stanford campus, I cannot wait to see how Stanford is transformed under your able leadership, and how you will be transformed by Stanford’s embrace.
Now, I hope everyone will join us in a true expression of our welcoming community for a reception honoring Marc and his family in the Main Quadrangle.
Thank you again for coming.