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Stanford Report, June 14, 2000

Casper, 'Class of 2000,' waxes nostalgic, cautions against 'next new new thing'

BY LARAMIE TREVIÑO

Beneath the shady canopy of Kennedy Grove, President Gerhard Casper, chosen by seniors as speaker for this year's Class Day luncheon, recited a poem about Stanford composed by David Starr Jordan, the university's first president.

In "A Castle in Spain," homage is paid to red-tile roofs, broad arches and the stone-built majesty of the buildings.

"The castle is yours," Casper declared, his arms outstretched in the spirit of presentation, "as it is Leland and Jane Stanford's, David Starr Jordan's, the faculty's, the alumni's, even mine."


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Casper, who is stepping down from his position as president at the end of August, asked "the last class of the second millennium" to regard him as a member of the Class of 2000.

"Having followed you for four years; having taught you in Sophomore College; having read you 'bedtime stories'; having talked to many of you in the Main Quad, at the Rose Bowl or at Senior Pub Night; having rooted with you as a 'Sixth Man'; having watched you in Winter One Act plays; having listened to you sing; having played 'Marco Polo' with some in the Hoover House swimming pool and danced the Macarena with others at Gaieties, I hope that, as I leave the Stanford presidency, you will indeed accept me as a fellow graduate," Casper said.

In keeping with the "graduate" theme, Casper was given a Class of 2000 T-shirt, which he swiftly donned.

Casper recalled that when he welcomed parents of the Class of 2000 in the fall of 1996, he admonished them with a mixed metaphor from President Warren G. Harding: "One must not drop anchor until one is out of the woods." And while that was sound advice for four years of undergraduate schooling, now another was applicable: "Who knows what potholes may lie in the uncharted seas as you scale new peaks?"

Casper imparted what he called three "Gerhard" type points to seniors:

First, "Do not let the future make you narrow in intellect, spirit, pursuits, and values." Quoting physicist Robert Oppenheimer, Casper urged the soon-to-be graduates "to keep an open mind: to cultivate a disinterested and catholic interest in every intellectual discipline . . . so that . . . your choice . . . of work . . . may be a real choice, and one reasonably free." As the "next new new thing" appears on the scene, he said, the graduating seniors should remind themselves that newness is not the equivalent of excellence. "The excellences of the world include much that is old, and they are so many that it will take the rest of your lives to discover just a few of them."

Second, as the students attempt to lead truthful and moral lives, they should attempt "to get things right," for as an unidentified French theologian once said, the most corrupting lies are problems poorly stated. "It will take the rest of your lives to clarify your own, and society's, values, as you must," Casper said.

And finally, the graduating students must resist the temptation to make their future with Stanford too narrow or to hold the university hostage to one issue or another.

"My point here is that Stanford cannot be all things to all people," Casper said. Rather, one must take into account whether on balance the university has served students, faculty and society well.

"And as you find things to criticize about your alma mater, the question will not be whether Stanford is perfect in all respects -- how could it be? -- but whether, on balance, it constitutes one of the most rewarding opportunities in higher education the world over." SR