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Stanford Report, June 14, 2000

'The joy and sadness of last days'

These are the prepared remarks of President Gerhard Casper at the 109th Annual Commencement, Sunday, June 11, 2000, at Stanford Stadium.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I warmly welcome each and all of you to the 109th Commencement Exercises of Stanford University.

A special welcome to the seniors and to the graduate students from Stanford's various schools. Today, we shall award 1,799 bachelor's degrees, 2,094 master's degrees, and 922 doctoral degrees. That will bring the total of degrees awarded while I have served as president of Stanford to the rather incredible number of 36,506.

The college class of 2000 includes 314 seniors graduating with departmental honors, and 260 graduating with university distinction. 162 students have satisfied the requirements of more than one major, 79 are graduating with dual bachelor's degrees, and 318 with both a bachelor's and a master's degree. 318 students have completed 329 minors.

Many of you know that I am fond of saying that, at a university, all days are first days. And yet today--there is no getting around this--it is a last day for many of us--myself included. Today, we share the joy and sadness of last days. As we look back to our first Stanford days, and all that has happened in-between, there is one adjective that comes to mind--I learned it from you, it is your favorite: these years have been awesome!

They have also been the final years of the 20th century, "the age of extremes," according to one historian. Centuries and millennia are, of course, wholly arbitrary fictions of calendar makers. Yet, it is convenient to divide up the past and place ourselves into a context of events. This is especially appropriate today, with the Secretary-General of the United Nations as our honored guest.

Politically, the 20th century has been the century of the first World War, of the Russian Revolution, of the Stalinist evils, of the horrors perpetrated by Nazi Germany, of the second World War that was followed by the third, the cold, world war. Its second half has seen decolonization, Mao, and the emergence of the People's Republic of China as a major player. It has seen the increasing significance of the global economy with Japan and the world's second most populous nation and its largest democracy, India, and other Asian countries as important factors. It has seen the increasing impoverishment and human devastation due to AIDS of large parts of Africa. In the second half of the 20th century, Western European nations have joined together in ways that are breathtaking if judged against the history of the entire second millennium. Finally, in what has probably been the most significant political event of your lives so far, with the Berlin Wall fell the Soviet Union and its dominance over Central and Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.

During all of this, the United States increased its influence, while also undergoing significant internal evolutions, most importantly the extension of civil rights protection. The United States has seen many aspects of the "American way of life," constitutional, cultural, and material, embraced abroad, as we have come to think of the Earth as a global village.

What would that village look like if we could shrink the population of the Earth to a village of precisely 100 people with all existing human ratios remaining the same? It would look something like this:

As that 1 in 100 with a college education, much will be asked and expected of you in addressing the problems of the world you now enter. If I may repeat what I said to the Seniors at Class Day yesterday: As you attempt to lead truthful and moral lives, and as university graduates, remember what an unidentified French theologian once said: The most corrupting lies are problems poorly stated. It is hard to get things right but, with a sense of intellectual probing and moral humility, it can be done.

All of you, seniors and graduate students, in the class of 2000 have done your best. And, your families are justifiably proud of you.

So, let me invoke a wonderful Stanford Commencement custom. 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!"

Now it is my pleasure to introduce Provost John Hennessy, who will present awards recognizing outstanding teaching, research, and service to the university. This will be one of the last formal occasions at which he will be referred to as provost. Beginning September 1, he will be President Hennessy. I am indeed fortunate to have worked so closely with John; first during his three-year tenure as dean of the Engineering School, and then, during his short but definitely productive term as provost. During that time, I have come to know and appreciate his many qualities, not the least of which is his deep commitment to Stanford. He is a gifted scholar and respected teacher; he possesses a generous spirit and fine sense of humor. Please join me in welcoming Stanford's current provost and next president. John....

[Award presentations]

Thank you, Provost Hennessy, and my warmest congratulations to those who have been honored.

It is now my great privilege to introduce this year's Commencement speaker, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.

In 1960, I had occasion to visit Mr. Annan's home town, Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region, in southwestern Ghana. 1960 was a pivotal year in Ghana's history. Having gained independence from Britain three years earlier, Ghana that year became a republic and Kwame Nkrumah, one of the era's most prominent African leaders, its first president. It is not easy to reconstruct for you the sense of promise, even excitement, that pervaded much of Africa in the immediate post-colonial period. Though even then, as western constitutional models were adopted, there were the continuing puzzles over historical allegiances that did not easily fit modern notions of legitimacy. In Kumasi, my group was received by the Asantehene, a king whose Golden Stool continued as the symbol of Ashanti unity.

Mr. Annan himself studied at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi and, in 1961, completed his undergraduate work in economics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He pursued graduate studies in economics at the Institut universitaire des hautes études internationales in Geneva. As a Sloan Fellow at MIT, Mr. Annan earned a master of science degree in management.

As a Minnesota college student, he is rumored to have refused to wear earmuffs until an unfortunate midwinter outing nearly froze his ears. He later explained the lesson he had learned: "Never walk into an environment and assume that you understand it better than the people who live there"--a sentiment that has served him well during almost forty years as an international public servant.

As the seventh Secretary-General, Mr. Annan has been instrumental in restructuring the United Nations organization and in formulating approaches to the complex uncertainties of maintaining peace in a post-Cold War world. He has done, probably, more than any other person to define multinational peacekeeping and to respond to devastating regional and ethnic conflicts.

Mr. Annan's long tenure at the United Nations has also been marked by a strengthening of its traditional work for economic development, human rights, the rule of law, and the values of equality, tolerance, and human dignity.

We particularly welcome him to Stanford for his support of education as a means for increasing global understanding. In 1998, Mr. Annan said--and I quote--"Civilizations have always been enriched, and not weakened, by the exchange of knowledge and arts, the freer and more peaceable the better. In the relations between nations, it is rather the lack of education, and the dearth of knowledge which is a chief source of dispute and conflict. Never the opposite."

Upon recommending to me that I invite Mr. Annan to speak to us today, the senior class presidents said that they hoped--and I quote--"that Mr. Annan's speech will carry with it a message of wisdom and optimism about what it will mean to be a citizen of the world in the next millennium."

I ask you to join me in extending a warm welcome to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

[Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Commencement Address]

Thank you, Secretary-General Annan.

[Conferral of degrees]

Graduates, on behalf of all members of the Stanford community, I congratulate and commend you.

Today, you join a worldwide body of remarkable alumni. Permit me, for the last time, to conclude by singling out one of them and relating him to my own life. In the persons of these two Stanford people who overlapped but never met, my very short tale spans the entire 20th century, indeed it spans all of Stanford's history from 1891 to the present. At one level, it is a simple tale about generosity, but on another level, it is a complex story about the challenges our world poses, about human suffering, and about the values of our country and our university.

At the beginning of World War I, when Belgium, under German occupation, faced famine, it was Herbert Hoover--a member of Stanford's first entering class, a celebrated mining engineer and, later, a less celebrated president of the United States--who organized, from London, a private relief agency to deliver food for the beleaguered Belgians. Stanford faculty, students, and alumni took an active part. Hoover's wife, Lou Henry Hoover, also a Stanford alumna and one of the very first women in the United States to major in geology, made urgent pleas for the cause. Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover were following the example of Jane and Leland Stanford who, having lost their son, established this university to do something for "other people's children."

The cause of helping "other people's children" and the fact that after the second World War, President Truman had placed Herbert Hoover once again in charge of famine relief in Europe, bring us to the other person in my story. At the end of World War II, I was a 7-year-old living in the devastated port city of Hamburg. There and then, I heard the name Hoover for the first time as the label attached to American food supplies that reached our schools. They were known as "Hoover foods."

Certainly neither I nor anybody present here today could possibly have predicted in 1945 that the American wind of freedom, the American Luft der Freiheit, that liberated Germany along with her victims, would one day, through a number of way stations, lead me into the presidency of Hoover's alma mater. Nor could anyone have imagined that my wife, Regina, and I would one day reside in the Lou Henry Hoover House, the Hoovers' family home on campus that Herbert Hoover had given to the university in 1945, the very year that World War II ended.

Less than half a century after my first exposure to Hoover's name during the Allied occupation of Germany, Stanford chose me as its president and thus made it possible for me, at these occasions, to express the gratitude of countless children in remembrance of a Stanford alumnus, who on behalf of a merciful nation helped alleviate the scars of war and hunger twice in the course of the 20th century.

When we arrived at Stanford eight years ago, I was as keen about the future as you are today. It has been a challenging, intense, and greatly rewarding undertaking for both, Regina and me. It is my deepest hope that, as you travel to unforeseeable destinations, your undertakings will be every bit as challenging and rewarding.

Remember as you leave here today that Stanford stands for common purpose, for fortitude, faith, and good cheer. It stands for perseverance in adversity. Stanford stands for the wind of freedom. It stands for diversity. It stands for generosity, for doing, as Jane and Leland Stanford did, something for "other people's" sons and daughters. It stands for understanding the importance of higher education and its support. And, first and foremost, it stands for a continuous commitment to the power of reason and the unceasing process of inquiry.

To quote our first president, David Starr Jordan: "It is said that Rome was not built in one day, nor Stanford in a century; but it is being built, quietly, honestly, steadfastly, stone after stone."

As you yourselves continue to build your lives "stone after stone" on the foundation in part laid by and at Stanford, on behalf of your university, I wish you the very best.SR