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Stanford Report, September 24, 1997

Convocation speech by B. Harris: 9/24/97

This is the text of B. Harris' speech for Convocation. Harris was head orienation coordinator.

My dad made a serious mistake in the Spring of 1963 ­ he declined Stanford's offer of admission. But 30 years later he came to his senses and together we dropped off our Stanford applications ­ mine addressed to the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, and his to the Graduate School of Education.

In 1993, Stanford accepted one member of the Harris Family ­ but only one. As the lucky winner, I would like to thank Stanford for choosing the right Harris. Dad is presently recovering from the blow at the "Stanford of the East" in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is there that I send him the same postcard every January: "Dear Dad, 70 degrees and sunny at Stanford! Your loving son."

Unlike my father in 1963, you made no mistake in choosing schools! Congratulations to each of you, and congratulations to your parents as well. Remember the folder the acceptance letter arrived in? . "For all the times you stayed up late to get it right; took an AP class when you know it meant more work . . . volunteered instead of just hanging out . . . congratulations. I think we should start printing those up for the parents. "For all the times you drove your child to hockey practice . . . for all the times you helped with homework . . . for all the hours you spent teaching parallel parking, congratulations." Mom and Dad, you've done an amazing job and, let's face it, your child would not be here without you. Can you believe this day has arrived? After nearly two decades of teaching them all you know, your son or daughter is about to send you back home while they stay and register for golf lessons and make plans for spring break.

Parents, you have done your best. And you will miss your child when you leave here tonight. And, they will miss you also ­ in about a month ­ and for about fifteen minutes.

Take my parents for example. My mom cried when I went to visit colleges. When we arrived on this day to move me into Rinconada my mom was just dying to get in that last little bit of mothering. She decided it was absolutely crucial that she line my dresser drawers with contact paper. And I let her. I just didn't have the heart to tell her that if my clothes were ever clean, it was unlikely they would ever find their way into a drawer.

When my parents first returned from dropping me off, they told me they missed me. They honestly missed having a house full of my friends to clean the fridge out. They missed the constant ringing of the telephone. . . Then they went fly fishing in Vermont. Then they threw a block party for the entire neighborhood. What happened to the empty nest syndrome? Why were these people so relaxed? Their secret was that they trusted me. They trusted that they had given me the tools I needed to make wise decisions. And you must believe that you have done the same. Know however, that your child will also make unwise decisions. The most important thing I can tell you is to support your child in ALL of their choices. Let them do things differently. Support them when they make mistakes. Your child is resilient and strong.

Don't panic when you receive unhappy phone calls. Remember, we call home when we need the support that only a family can give. For a more balanced indicator of how your child is doing, I encourage you to come back for parent's Weekend on Feb. 28th and 29th. Your child's life will be more settled and you will get a better picture of what they are involved in - and how they spend your money. It's a reassuring time.

New Stanford students, I welcome you. And I am excited for you. The first few days at Stanford can be overwhelming. We give you more information than you can process. You have to adjust to new surroundings, you meet hundreds of new people, you get lost, and undoubtedly you'll try to play it all off like you know what's going on. The good news is you don't have to. It's more fun this way. I promise that the next five days will be unique, crazy and unforgettable. One hundred and seventy orientation volunteers are here to make sure of it. Thank you to each of them and a special thanks to the Orientation staff: Heather Dunn, Holly Hindman, Melora Krebs-Carter, Cherisse Harper, and Celia Garcia.

For me, the college adjustment period was especially unique. Coming from a small prep school in Minnesota, not only was I introduced to the beauty of wearing shorts year round, but I was also introduced to the privilege of living among a diverse student population. So many different backgrounds, so many different stories, so many different claims to fame. Right away I assumed Dean Montoya had made a mistake. I thought to myself, maybe they really meant to accept Dad after all.

Soon I realized that although I had no plans to win a gold medal, aspirations to hike Everest or background as a child actor, I too had something to contribute to Stanford. And so do each of you. The most important thing I can say to you is this ­ you don't have to impress anyone here, only yourself. And Stanford gives you the daily opportunities to amaze yourself. Stanford also gives you the opportunity to improve yourself. You are constantly learning here, and the classroom is just a part of that process.

But while you are here I urge you not try to find yourself. And please don't invent yourself. Stanford allows you to become yourself.

You've no doubt heard that these are going to be the best years of your life. But somedays, you will hope that that is not true. You will feel frustrated, scared, stressed, and uncertain ­ sometimes all at once. But don't worry, Stanford is an incredibly safe place to make mistakes and to challenge yourself. Like I said, you are constantly learning here ­ and you will learn during the rough times also. Don't be afraid to admit that you are struggling, or that you need help. The Stanford support network is one of a kind. Today you have already met a few of those people, the RAs in the dorm, your Resident Fellows and tonight you will also meet your faculty advisor. You are sent off to college alone, but you don't have go through it on your own. There are 1,654 others going through the exact same experience.

Today is one of mixed emotions for me. Mostly I feel jealous that you are just arriving and I will be graduating. If I could, I would relive my Stanford experience in an instant. Same mistakes, same successes, same friends. I now know why Stanford is the right place for me. I urge you to figure out for yourself why it will be the right place for you. Explore. Get involved. Who knew we had an ice hockey team? Who knew they were really good? Who knew you could take a class in "topics in sociocultural studies of biotechnology?

Orientation is a preview of the adventures that await you. I welcome you to Stanford.