Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, June 18, 1997

Class of '97 celebrates last day as seniors


"Pick your heads up."

That's what senior Jamila Wideman said to her teammates in the shocked, reflective moments after Stanford lost in overtime to Old Dominion in the semi-finals of the '97 NCAA women's basketball tournament. And that is what coach and director of women's basketball Tara VanDerveer told Wideman's classmates and their families at the Senior Class Day luncheon on Saturday, June 14.

"Things are not going to go your way every day the way you want them to," said VanDerveer, who is one of the most successful coaches in the history of sports. "Dealing with adversity is really important. Go out and make a difference, and when things don't go your way, pick your heads up."

VanDerveer said she had a special affection for the Class of '97 because its graduates include three of the Stanford team's student managers and four of its players: Tara Harrington, Charmin Smith, Kate Starbird and Wideman. At their final regular season game, she said, "I wondered if I could ever feel that good again."

To illustrate what is unique about coaching at Stanford, she told about turning up Palm Drive with a young recruit, a top player who had also been class president all through high school. VanDerveer asked what she was thinking, expecting to help calm a case of away-from-home jitters.

Instead, the young woman turned to her and said, "Tara, I want to make a difference in this world."

"I almost drove into a Palm tree," VanDerveer said.

Seniors' choice

The graduating class presidents chose VanDerveer, human biology Professor Herant Katchadourian and former defense secretary - now engineering professor - William Perry as speakers for the luncheon, held under the oaks in Kennedy Grove.

VanDerveer told the graduates, "Follow your passion, whatever your discipline is." Katchadourian offered predictions from his own research about the varied paths the graduates will take in the next decade as they find a calling that fits their talents and inclinations. Perry offered a personal story on those themes: how a life that zigged and zagged through several careers led him to an opportunity to de-fang the weapons that threaten global nuclear destruction.

Saturday was the seniors' last full day as Stanford undergraduates. Led by class presidents Nima Farzan, Jason Herthel, Yu-Jin Kim and Sarah Wolf, they took time after the morning's baccalaureate ceremony to bury a time capsule under the Class of '97 plaque in the Quad. Among the items stowed inside were mementos of the four class members who died during these four years: Evan Chen, Bart McCormick, Henry Tien and Jessica Williams.

There also was a compilation of the 18 NCAA championships and 12 individual Olympic medals earned by Stanford athletes in this period; a snipping of the orange construction fencing the seniors dodged for four years; tickets to major events like the Senior Pub Crawl; and a Weeble, a furry toy, that says, "Kiss me: I gave my senior gift." The capsule commemorates the 20th anniversary of Star Wars, the return of Hong Kong to Chinese control and the tiger salamander - a rare amphibian that spends dry summer and fall seasons burrowed in the mud beneath Lake Lagunita. The Big Game bonfire long was held on the dry lakebed, but to protect the hibernating salamander, the Class of '97 went without the traditional bonfire all four years.

The Class Day luncheon served as an opportunity for seniors to present a check for $212,000 to President Gerhard Casper, who promised to add a personal donation of his own to the total. The gift included contributions from 62 percent of the Class of '97 - a record percentage, even for reunion classes. The student donations were augmented by matching funds and incentive bonuses from former trustee Peter Bing, from the 28 families of the Stanford Parents' Advisory Board and from an anonymous donor who topped off the fund with a $20,000 bonus when class participation passed 60 percent.

Dispelling the nuclear cloud

Perry returned to Stanford this year after serving as secretary of defense and deputy secretary of defense. He is the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor at Stanford, with a joint appointment as professor of engineering-economic systems and operations research, and professor and senior fellow at the Institute for International Studies.

He began his talk with Robert Frost's observation: "I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Perry said he started doing just that when he left college to join the army of occupation in post-World War II Japan. Later, he earned his undergraduate and advanced degrees in mathematics, held dual careers as an entrepreneur and in academe, and served two stints in the Department of Defense.

The Cold War occupied international politics for most of those years. Perry called it "the most dangerous period in the history of the world. All during the Cold War, we lived with a dark nuclear cloud hanging over all of our heads, threatening the extinction of all mankind."

With the Cold War ended, he said, his primary goal as secretary of defense was to keep the nuclear cloud from drifting back into place. He told a story of the effort to dismantle some of the tens of thousands of nuclear warheads that remain. Beginning in 1994, he made a series of visits to the Ukrainian town of Pervomaysk, one of the most important missile launch bases in the former Soviet Union.

The first visit occurred two months after Ukraine agreed to dismantle its nuclear arsenal. In an underground bunker, Perry watched a drill of the countdown to a launch capable of delivering 700 nuclear warheads to U.S. cities. But he also was taken to the lip of a silo to peer down on a missile that had its warheads removed. On subsequent visits he watched the dismantling of the missiles themselves and joined in a ceremony with the defense ministers of Russia and Ukraine; together, they pushed a button that blew an SS-19 missile silo to pieces.

On the fourth visit in 1996, Perry toured a defense factory that had been converted to make prefab housing using U.S. technology. He attended a traditional Ukrainian bread-and-salt blessing of one of the new houses, installed in the town of Pervomaysk. The ministers of the three nations joined in planting sunflowers on the site where the missile silo had been - symbolic, Perry said, of the end of the balance of terror and the hope for a lasting peace.

"Probably none of you will become secretary of defense," Perry said. "But there are many ways you can contribute to peace." He said that hundreds of Stanford alumni and faculty have worked on post-Cold War peace efforts. He listed several, including Franklin "Pitch" Johnson, a venture capitalist who flies his own plane to Eastern Europe to teach how the free market system works, and Strobe Talbott, the deputy secretary of state who negotiated the agreement that led to the dismantlement of the missiles at Pervomaysk.

Perry closed with a quote from John F. Kennedy: "One person can make a difference. Every person can try."

The cream of the crop

Class president Sarah Wolf introduced Katchadourian as a Senior Class Day favorite, chosen for the seventh time to speak at the luncheon. Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences as well as human biology, he is renowned among students for his dynamic lectures and approachable teaching style, and for a class in human sexuality that has attracted 20,000 students since he introduced it in 1968.

Katchadourian's most recent book is Cream of the Crop: The Impact of an Elite Education in the Decade After College (Basic Books, 1994), and he delved into some of the research from that book to make predictions about how the Class of '97 will go about choosing their careers.

The choice is important, he said, "since in American society it is the work you do that defines you as a person more than anything else." However, parents shouldn't worry too much about the one in four graduates who haven't found their life's work yet: Almost all will do so within the next decade, earning incomes far higher than the national average. They will be following the imperatives of a social clock that narrows the opportunities as the years tick by. For those who feel paralyzed by the choice, Katchadourian offered comfort: "No career decision need be a life sentence."

For the small percentage - mostly women - who will concentrate on their families instead of their careers, "They can look forward to other forms of deep personal satisfaction. This is a choice that ought to be considered by men as well."

For the majority of new graduates who are prepared to barrel down already-discovered paths toward graduate school and careers, he offered congratulations and a warning: "Clarity of purpose can be a blinder. It can crowd out the other aspects of life." A career can influence one's personality "like the setting of plaster," but it need not be so. The word "career" is from the Latin for "vehicle," he said. "A career should be a vehicle to get us some place worth getting to, rather than an end in itself."

Finally, Katchadourian offered three pieces of advice for choosing a career.

Do something that gives personal satisfaction.

Do something that fits your abilities and your liabilities.

Do something that will help and not hurt other people. "You have been given much; you must give back much in return," Katchadourian told the seniors.

"And whatever your path," he concluded, "Godspeed." SR