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Stanford Report, June 18, 1997

President's Commenecment Address: 6/18/97


President Gerhard Casper's Commencement address

This is the text as prepared for delivery of President Gerhard Casper's commencement address on June 15 at Stanford Stadium.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

I warmly welcome each and all of you to the 106th Commencement Exercises of Stanford University.

A ten-year old by the name of Duncan Rimmer had this to say about commencement 1995. Duncan apparently kept a diary. I quote from it:

Today I got to see my two cousins Jenny and Tor. And I got to see Jenny graduate! It was pretty fun. . . . We first had to go to the stadium of Stanford to hear a couple of speeches from the president of the college [that's me] and one from the secretary of defence of the U.S.A. [that was Secretary William Perry who has, to our delight, since returned to the Stanford faculty and who spoke yesterday at this year's Senior Class Day]. No afence on them but to me the speeches were pretty boring. But beside that you should have seen the graduates! They were crazy, you could see champagne chords [sic!] pop out and all the wine with it ecsploding every where. And they had all this confetti being thrown at each other. . . . And they keeped throwing this beachball the size of me all around. But see this was only for the under graduates. The graduates which Jenny was However were very mature.

You will have to wait for the printed version of these proceedings to appreciate Duncan's exquisite spelling. I am sure you agree that Duncan captured the spirit of the Stanford commencement pretty well. Alas, my speeches haven't become any less boring, but we are trying a new commencement speaker this year, Justice Breyer.

Well, you "crazy" undergraduates and you "mature" graduate students, there is much that we have shared in our years together - from Gaieties to winning back and retaining the Axe. Some of you have even been my students in the Constitutionalism seminar. Among the law graduates is one, Leslie Hatamiya, who, as my research assistant, helped me finish a book.

Let me take us back a bit. A year after my inauguration as Stanford's ninth president, I offered my first September welcome to new students and their parents. It was in Frost Amphitheater, on a balmy day - just like today - and my talk was entitled "Concerning Culture and Cultures." If any of this sounds familiar to you, it is because the year was 1993, and many in the audience were there as anxious new students and parents. You will be greatly relieved to hear that I shall not repeat that entire talk now . . . though those of you who are interested may find it at

That day, we gathered to mark a rite of passage and prepare for a great adventure ahead. Today, we gather for very much the same reasons. And today, as four years ago, my favorite mixed metaphor remains appropriate: "The future is an uncharted sea full of potholes."

It is nonetheless my hope that your time at Stanford has given you the skills to navigate that sea. And, though we have not taught you to avoid all the potholes, I trust Stanford has equipped you with good shock absorbers.

As your imminent degrees would indicate, you somehow learned how to go to, and get out of, bed without assistance from your parents; to turn off the television; and to eat your dinner - even if it was dorm food. With the ever-ready help of Student Affairs, you have done some growing up - for which the Wacky Walk may be evidence or counter-evidence.

The one thing I hope you have not learned at Stanford is "to avoid strangers." Quite to the contrary, one of the most important skills we have taught undergraduate and graduate students is to go out of your way to meet strangers, to talk to strangers, to understand strangers. Stanford consciously brought together wonderfully varied individuals as a vital part of your mutual education. The success of that effort may be measured in how many of those who once were strangers now sit around you as cherished friends.

By now, you may have become oblivious to the pluralism of Stanford: the exceedingly diverse academic achievements and interests, artistic and athletic accomplishments, and geographic, national, religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds of its people. You may be so accustomed to multifaceted Stanford that you notice it only when you leave campus, for almost any place you have come from or will go to will be more monochromatic and uniform than this campus.

As each of you crossed bridges to meet strangers at Stanford, the going was sometimes rough. But while the news media - and even our own students, faculty, and staff - sometimes seize upon and magnify the inevitable rough spots, the fact is that no segment of American society can match college campuses in bringing together such a mix of people in such close contact - living, eating, working, and playing together - with such success.

As you leave Stanford, and go on to other places, you will cross many more boundaries, enter many more worlds, and play many more roles. Throughout my life, my different roles have included son, student, husband, father, professor of constitutional law, dean, provost, president, friend, citizen - to mention but a few. The content and demands of these roles, and the stages upon which they are played, have constantly changed for, and changed, me. They will do the same for all of you. An acquaintance of mine who had come to the United States through various way stations from Eastern Europe, once said: "I would go back to where I came from, if I hadn't come from so many places." Each one of us has come from "so many places" and each one of us will go to many more. From now on, however, Stanford is the place we all have in common.

There is a wonderful Stanford Commencement custom at this point. Graduates, in the stands are many of those who have made your Stanford years possible: parents and grandparents, spouses and children; siblings, aunts, and uncles; mentors and friends: whoever played a role in supporting you, encouraging you, sticking with you. I invite you to please turn to the stands and join me in saying: "Thank you!"

Before introducing the Commencement speaker, The Honorable Justice Stephen Breyer, I should like to call your attention to the many awards and honors received by Stanford faculty and students this last year. They are listed in the Commencement Bulletin. We shall today award 1763 Bachelor's degrees, 1904 Master's degrees, and 880 doctoral degrees. The college class of 1997 includes 371 students graduating with departmental honors, and 270 graduating with university distinction. 144 students have satisfied the requirements of more than one major, 75 are graduating with dual Bachelor's degrees, and 219 with both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree. 159 students have completed minors.

More important, all of you, as undergraduate or graduate students, have done your best. You have permitted yourselves to be challenged and you have challenged: inside and outside the curriculum, at Stanford and abroad, in the university and in service to the public, in athletics and in the arts. You, your families, your friends have every right to be proud of your wondrously varied accomplishments. Your alma mater, among whose alumni you will count in a short while, is indeed very proud of you.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce today's Commencement speaker, not only because he is a Stanford alumnus - undergraduate Class of '59 - but because, like many of you here today, he is the parent of a graduating senior.