Remarks by Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne at the 2019 Commencement ceremony

Following is the prepared text of remarks by university President Marc Tessier-Lavigne for delivery at Stanford’s 128th Commencement on June 16, 2019.

Members of the Class of 2019, Stanford faculty and staff, former and current trustees of our university, government officials, distinguished guests, and cherished family members and friends:

I thank you for joining us on this very special day to celebrate Stanford’s 128th Commencement. It is my great honor to warmly welcome all of you.

To all those who are receiving degrees today, I offer a special welcome:

Our senior class members and our graduate students – congratulations to each and every one of you. Today, we celebrate your accomplishments during your time at Stanford, and we look ahead with anticipation to everything that you may do next.

We gather this weekend in joy and celebration. But as we do, we also are thinking of those in our community who have left us this year – including, tragically, within the last few days.

The loss of any member of our Stanford community is a loss to all of us.

And so, as we begin this morning’s program, I’d like us to take a moment to acknowledge their passing and to reflect on how they have enriched our lives.

Please join me in a moment of silence.

Thank you.

To the Class of 2019: I want to express how proud we are of all that you have accomplished during your time at Stanford, and of all the hard work that brought you to this stadium this morning.

Today, we will award 1,792 bachelor’s degrees, 2,389 master’s degrees, and 1,038 doctoral degrees.

For those students who are receiving bachelor’s degrees:

  • 313 will graduate with departmental honors and 301 with university distinction
  • 106 have satisfied the requirements of more than one major
  • 33 are graduating with dual bachelor’s degrees
  • 451 of our seniors completed minors
  • 201 will graduate with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree

Stanford is proud to enroll students from all around the globe. Many of our international students will receive their degrees today:

  • 162 members of our undergraduate class hail from 55 countries
  • 79 countries are represented by the 1,077 international students who will receive their master’s and doctoral degrees

All the numbers I have cited illustrate the tremendous accomplishments of Stanford’s graduates and their potential to have a positive impact on our world.

Graduates, during your time at Stanford, our faculty and staff have dedicated themselves to nurturing that potential in each of you. I want to take this moment to thank them for their ongoing support and encouragement.

Your accomplishments are also due, in part, to the dedication, to the loving encouragement, and to the extraordinary support of the family members and friends who have championed each one of you in the years you have worked toward your Stanford degree.

Many of those family members and friends are here today, in the stands of our stadium. Others are watching this ceremony from around the world, via livestream.

They include your mothers and your fathers; spouses and children; your siblings; your grandparents, aunts, and uncles; your mentors; and your peers – people who helped you along the way to Stanford and through your years as Stanford students.

And so, I’d ask all the members of the Class of 2019, seniors and graduate students, to join now in one of Stanford’s treasured Commencement traditions.

Please rise. Think of all those family members and friends who supported you on this special journey. Turn to your family members and friends, if they are in the stands or if they are watching from around the world.

Please join me in saying these words to them: “Thank you!”

To the family members and friends of our Stanford graduates, I say “thank you,” as well. Thank you for entrusting your loved ones to our university in their time here, and thank you for all that you have done to ensure their success.

Main remarks

It is one of my great honors, as Stanford’s president, to address our graduating seniors on Commencement day.

Class of 2019, your years at Stanford have been a time of intellectual exploration, remarkable accomplishment, and extraordinary hard work and dedication.

Today, we honor everything that you have achieved during your time at Stanford, and we celebrate as you embark on the next stage of your journey.

Today’s ceremony marks the conclusion of your time as Stanford students. But I have great hope that, here at Stanford, you have acquired the tools and skills to remain learners for life. Even as you leave our campus behind, you will remain a cherished part of our Stanford family.

This is my third Commencement ceremony as Stanford’s president.

Since I returned to Stanford three years ago, I have been reflecting on the fact that Jane and Leland Stanford founded this university with a specific purpose – namely, to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity.

They wanted Stanford’s faculty, students, and staff to pursue knowledge and excellence not just as ends in themselves, but for the sake of humanity and the world.

I’ve often wondered what motivated the Stanfords to place this greater purpose at the heart of our university.

I think I got a clue, when, in January, I visited the Stanford Family Collection at the Cantor Arts Center.

Jane and Leland Stanford were some of the most influential citizens of California in the late 19th century, and the Cantor holds a number of artifacts relating to their lives. The collection also includes some childhood journals that belonged to their son, Leland Stanford Jr.

Reading these journals was, to me, a revelation. They are a record of Leland Junior’s childhood studies and interests: from arithmetic practice to sketches and photography.

But what truly leaps from the pages is Leland Junior’s extraordinary curiosity.

He was learning and absorbing everything he could about the world. Though he was just in his early teens, he had ambitions in anthropology and history and art. He was fascinated by other cultures.

He spent his time studying and reflecting on contemporary and historical objects – from fossils to armor, to buildings and monuments, to the ruins of ancient temples.

Reading his journals, it was clear to me that from a very young age, Leland Junior was focused and working hard toward a life of intention and purpose. And it dawned on me that his drive to give his life greater purpose must have been nurtured and encouraged by his parents. It must have been a foundational value for the family, even before the tragedy that was about to befall them.

Because, as you know, Leland Junior’s life was cut short when he fell ill from typhoid fever while traveling in Europe.

He died when he was just 15 years old.

In the depths of their grief, when it would have been entirely understandable for them to look inward, the Stanfords instead looked outward.

They chose to use their platform to ensure not just that their son would be remembered, but that a new university, built in his name, would exist to benefit others.

Since the Stanfords didn’t have the opportunity to give their son the future he had envisioned, they devoted themselves to creating a university that would both produce fundamental knowledge and apply that knowledge to tackle real-world problems – a university that would help countless other students build their own platforms and launch their own lives of purpose.

As Stanford graduates, you have built and earned your own platforms.

Your education and experiences here will give you opportunities to pursue your interests and follow your own unique path.

Of course, you have worked tremendously hard to achieve this success. And I know that it hasn’t always been easy. Each of you has overcome obstacles to get to where you are today.

And all of that hard work – the midnight coffee breaks; the final exams; the hours spent in the library, or the studio, or the laboratory – have brought you to today.

And you haven’t stopped there.

You’ve thrown yourself into activities and experiences here – whether sports or the arts, student government or the student newspaper, service work, sketch comedy, the Band, or – especially as I’ve seen in the last week – fountain hopping!

These experiences have enriched your lives, and they, too, have brought you to where you are today.

You have a world of opportunity in front of you, and it is for you to decide what to do with this platform that you worked so hard to earn.

No matter what field you enter after graduation, you have the opportunity to use your gifts to make a difference in the world.

This can feel daunting, at the outset of your post-Stanford life. Some of you may know exactly what contribution you want to make in the world, while others may still be searching for your way to make an impact.

But whatever you do, whatever profession you pursue or journey you take –whether you become a teacher or a community leader, a lawyer or a physician, an engineer or an artist, or a mother or father, a caregiver to the next generation – whatever you make of your life and of the opportunities before you, I hope you will use your gifts to change the world for the better.

Having a platform also comes with a responsibility. It requires an ongoing process of self-examination and a continual return to your guiding values.

You may find, at times, that the path forward is unclear. Or you may realize, in hindsight, that you have made missteps along the way.

All of us make mistakes. I certainly do – just ask my wife and kids!

And all of our lives require self-examination.

In those moments, it is important to return to our foundational values to guide us forward.

For myself, I always return to the founding purpose of this university – that we are here to generate excellence for the sake of all humanity.

That idea serves as Stanford’s North Star.

Introduction of Commencement speaker

And that brings me to today’s Commencement speaker, Tim Cook.

Tim is a brilliant example of somebody who has used his own platform to achieve a greater impact beyond his own company.

He is a clear voice for leading with vision and values to address the challenges and responsibilities that confront society today.

A native of Alabama, Tim earned a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from Auburn University and then an MBA from Duke University.

Tim joined Apple in 1998 and became the company’s chief operating officer in 2005. He was named CEO in August 2011.

Apple is a large organization, with more than 100,000 employees worldwide. It would be understandable if Tim focused all of his attention on the company and its operations.

But instead, he has also used his position to speak out about issues related to privacy and to address the ethical and societal implications of the technology revolution he’s helping to lead.

Tim is also known as a strong advocate for environmental issues, broader educational access, racial equity, and for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

He has been vocal in his belief that corporations should do their part to make the world a better place.

In May, Tim was once again named to Fortune’s annual list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.

He was named Person of the Year by the Financial Times in 2014, and he has been honored with the Newseum’s Free Speech Award for using his spotlight to take a public stand on important social issues.

In 2018, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference presented Tim with its Keeper of the Dream Award for Human Rights during its observation of the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tim is truly using his influence to focus beyond his own company’s operations and to address the broader societal context.

And I hope that you, the Class of 2019, embrace his example.

Wherever your own path takes you, you will have opportunities to use your platform to address the challenges of our time and to make your corner of the world a little brighter.

As Tim Cook has – as the Stanfords did – I hope that you let your values guide you on your journey to living a life of purpose and a life of impact.

Please join me in welcoming Tim Cook.

Closing remarks

Again, to the members of the Class of 2019:

On behalf of Stanford University, congratulations to you on this very special day.

You have graduated from the family of Stanford students, and you have joined the family of Stanford alumni.

From this day forward, wherever you go in the world, whatever path you explore, and whatever contribution you seek to make – you will remain forever Cardinal, and forever a part of the Stanford community.

And so, in closing, as you start a new journey as graduates of Stanford, I hope you will remember these words:

Let today serve as a beginning, and not an ending.

Follow your talents, your interests, and your foundational values to discover your own unique path to living a life of purpose.

And most importantly: Embrace the opportunities ahead of you and use the platform you’ve earned to change the world for the better.

Congratulations, Class of 2019!