Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, June 20, 2001
Bradley to graduates: Hold onto your ideals


Former U.S. Sen. William "Bill" Bradley, speaker at the Senior Class Day luncheon Saturday, has a special connection to the Class of 2001: He arrived on campus -- as a visiting professor -- at the same time the class members entered as freshmen. Now a Stanford alumnus in his own way, Bradley touched on his experience at the university in a speech that urged students to hold onto their sense of idealism.

His message was received with enthusiasm by around 4,000 listeners in Ford Center Plaza.

Bradley, both an athlete and a powerful intellect, was the event's featured speaker. Captain of the 1964 Olympic gold medal U.S. basketball team, he played for the New York Knicks from 1967 to 1977. He then turned to politics, representing New Jersey as a senator for three terms -- a full 18 years of "public servitude," as class president Delphine Tuot put it when she introduced him.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley told members of the senior class that they didn't have to abandon their idealism in order to be sucessful in America. Bradley was the keynote speaker at this year's Class Day luncheon. photo: L.A Cicero

"You and my wife both agree on the nature of service in the United States Senate," Bradley quipped. The audience of seniors, families and friends -- many seeking oases of shade to avoid the brutal noontime sun -- responded with laughter.

After welcoming all manner of listeners, from "people of height" to "the vertically challenged," from "people of hair" to "the differently coifed," Bradley continued to sprinkle humor into his talk.

"Today, remember: There are only 24 hours left of the best years of your life," Bradley joked, poking fun at those who look back with unmatched fondness on their college years.

"I've always felt a special bond with the Class of 2001," he continued. During 1997-98, when the class was beginning at Stanford, Bradley visited the university as Payne Distinguished Professor at the Institute for International Studies. While students have "kissed in the Quad in full moonlight" and have "come to accept the reality that you can't run to the Dish without an environmental impact statement," Bradley said he used some of his time at Stanford to prepare to run for president. (Bradley challenged Vice President Al Gore for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination.) He also rekindled his love for basketball and admired Stanford's team.

"Although Stanford never won the NCAA or I the presidency, we both put up a good fight," he said.

Turning back to the seniors, Bradley reflected on their education. "In addition to honing your intellect, I hope you've developed the capacity to see, to feel, to give," he said. He cited some U.S. social problems that call out for a more giving spirit and more farsighted approach.

"Today there are 44 million Americans who don't have health insurance," he said, explaining that the number totaled more than the population of 12 American states. But since these people are spread out, they often escape notice, Bradley said. He made the same point about children in poverty. "Every day we ignore more than 13 million poor children in America," he said.

Instead of despairing, he suggested a way to address these issues. While many Americans scoff at today's mud-slinging elections, Bradley evoked politics as a positive force.

"That's where politics comes into the picture -- a certain kind of politics. A politics that appeals unabashedly to idealism, which is the belief that good can triumph over bad," he said. "You don't have to give up your idealism to be successful in America."

Bradley entreated students not to become complacent. "You should be outraged over the poverty of so many American children, the absence of health care, the shame of racism, and if you get angry enough, and are smart enough, and work hard enough, you can change things," he said.

Urging graduates not to focus on others' definition of achievement, Bradley counseled them to follow their inner voice. It "will sometimes take you far from the crowd," he warned, but this voice will lead to a unique path.

"Go out, have a beautiful life," Bradley told his audience. "Have that beautiful life without regard to how you measure up against others," he said.

"Live with the awareness that you're part of something that's bigger than you are and will last longer than what you do, and that your own life offers a continuity between what was and what will be, " Bradley concluded. The audience stood to applaud him.

After the event ended, the former senator shook hands and smiled for photos as people greeted him on stage. The speech left some visibly elated. "I'm voting for Bradley!" proclaimed graduating senior Holland Smith.

Better late than never.