Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 25, 2000
'Be not only a credit to the university, but also a credit to yourselves'

This is the prepared text of ASSU President Seth Newton's speech at the inauguration of John L. Hennessy on Friday, Oct. 20, 2000.

In his address at the Exercises of the Opening Day, Oct. 1, 1891, Leland Stanford concluded saying, "You, students, are the most important factor in this University. It is for your benefit that it has been established. We hope and believe that you will fully realize and live up to this fact. To you our hearts go out especially, and in each individual student we feel a parental interest. We want you all to be not only a credit to the University, but also a credit to yourselves."

In my brief remarks on this tremendous occasion, and in looking forward to Stanford's dynamism under the leadership of President Hennessy, I would like to address what it might mean for us students to be a credit ­ as Leland Stanford urged ­ to ourselves.

One of the questions I hear most often from my peers, relating precisely to how we might be a credit to ourselves, is: "What am I going to do with this incredible resource and privilege that is my Stanford education?" I have an idea. Most of you know the story of the Underground Railroad, one of the treacherous pathways that led to freedom for African American slaves. But there is one integral part of the Underground Railroad that is not as well known, and to this day scholars are attempting to unlock its mystery. Black women have told stories of how quilts were used by slaves to communicate on, and find their way along, the Underground Railroad. Through patterns, images, color, stitching and knotting, quilts hung on windowsills or fences identified escape routes and helped slaves prepare for their long journey North. Women passed down codes through the generations, codes that made the quilts legible for those who needed them to claim their freedom.

What would it mean, and what would it take, for us students to use what we have learned here at Stanford to craft quilts ­ each according to our own discipline ­ for the underground railroads of today? At Stanford we are well on our way to building the means to aspire to such a task through the diverse manifestations of public service education found in our departments, programs, community centers and student organizations.

The thought I leave with you today, in offering President Hennessy a warm welcome from the students of Stanford, is that perhaps being a credit to ourselves means being one of many quiltmakers in an intricate web of students and alumni dedicated to the act of creating for human liberation. Thank you and welcome.