Stanford president urges new students to explore, connect and contribute

In a ceremony that marks the beginning of the academic year, Stanford leaders and a Stanford senior encouraged first-year and transfer students to embrace their new community.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne gives the presidential address at the 128th Opening Convocation Ceremony on Thursday. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

At the 128th Opening Convocation Ceremony on Thursday, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne encouraged new undergraduate students to “look beyond what you already know and seek a breadth of experiences” at the university.

“No matter what field you plan to go into, employers want to hire graduates who are trained to think and to see the world for all of its complexity and nuance,” he said, speaking during the ceremony, which was held in the inner courtyard of the historic Main Quad.

“The world is changing rapidly. The best jobs of tomorrow may not even exist today. So, explore. By actively exploring new experiences and remaining open to changing your plans, you will set yourself up to succeed not only here at Stanford, but in the years that follow.”

Tessier-Lavigne also advised new students to seek connections – by nurturing friendships with peers and establishing relationships with faculty and mentors.

“There may be moments where you feel discouraged in the search for your purpose,” he said. “That is when you will need to draw on the connections you have made with others. In those moments, I encourage you to seek guidance and support from peers, resident assistants, professors, coaches or staff from the Office for Religious Life or Student Affairs. You are not alone. There will always be help and support for you here.”

Finally, Tessier-Lavigne urged students “to go out into the world and find your own way to contribute,” noting that the university was established with the goal of educating students and benefiting the world.

“You will find many opportunities at Stanford to put these ideals into practice,” he said. “Through the Cardinal Service program, you can address community needs while pursuing your academic interests and developing your leadership skills.”

Tessier-Lavigne was one of several speakers who welcomed new students and their families and friends to campus during the ceremony, which inaugurates the academic year.

The hourlong event also featured senior Jasmin Kamruddin; Richard H. Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid; and Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education.

One student’s journey

Kamruddin said she arrived on campus with a plan – take premed courses and go straight to medical school. But that changed after she heard Abraham Verghese, a professor of medicine at Stanford, describe his experiences treating AIDS patients at the start of the epidemic. It was an emotional lecture in which Verghese spoke of his connection to patients and his deep commitment to a community.

Jasmin Kamruddin, ’19, shares her Stanford journey at the Opening Convocation. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“The questions I had considered after Dr. Verghese’s lecture – who I wanted to be at Stanford, what difference I wanted to make – forced me to shift my focus from only looking forward to taking a look back at my family and where I had come from,” said Kamruddin, who described herself as a low-income student with disabled parents. “This made me realize that I wanted to explore the connections between race, medicine and policy.”

She decided to major in political science and African and African American studies.

“I found incredible professors willing to not only listen to my rants about social justice and health care, but also guide me to explore nontraditional approaches to health care and advocacy work,” said Kamruddin, whose studies led to an internship in kidney cancer research at Stanford Medicine, and a public policy internship in the health equity, policy and planning division of the Alameda County Public Health Department.

“Through this time, I came to realize that belonging at Stanford didn’t mean having it all figured out,” she said. “Belonging at Stanford meant finding what I was passionate about and figuring out how I could best contribute to these fields through my time here.”

You represent the world

Richard H. Shaw, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid, said the new undergraduates – including 1,698 first-year students in the Class of 2022 and 24 transfer students – bring an extraordinary breadth of life experiences and perspectives to Stanford.

“You are 49 percent women and 51 percent men, hailing from urban, suburban and rural communities,” Shaw said. “Two of your classmates here today are from the Republic of Mauritius. That is 11,200 miles away, as the crow flies, one of the farthest hometowns away from Stanford. Together you represent the world, and all of you arrived with absolute intelligence and fantastic potential.”

Shaw said the new students hail from all 50 states and from 62 countries.

“Eighteen percent of you are among the first in your families to attend a four-year university,” he said. “Nine of you are military veterans – and we salute you.”

Shaw encouraged the new students to listen to and engage with those around them, and to reach out and give back with a generosity of spirit.

“This is your time, and it will afford you the greatest freedom of your life,” he said. “Be open to each other. Be open to opportunity.”

You are all now part of this community

In his welcome address, Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education, told new students they are all now part of the community that is Stanford.

“Here, at home on the Farm, away from home, you will find the encouragement to think critically, the opportunity to engage new perspectives deeply, the singular potentiality to conjoin service, social commitment and intellectual inquiry productively,” Elam said.

“Here, diversity, equity and inclusion are not just an empty mantra but fundamental principles. Amid the uncertainty of recent events that have further revealed the terrible fissures still present in our society, Stanford offers all our students, regardless of their beliefs or their background, community and support, opportunity and acceptance.”

Elam encouraged new students to honor and embrace their new community.

“As you realize your own individual dreams and aspirations at Stanford, we trust you will find your way, and also find your people,” he said. “Rest assured, Stanford will change you. And in turn, all of you will change us. The communal adventure that is your undergraduate experience here begins today. Welcome to Stanford.”