Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, June 20, 2001
A day of pomp and paparazzi
Unusually high-profile, smooth as usual


At Sunday's Commencement ceremonies, there was one particularly high-profile graduate whose high spirits at the Wacky Walk and parents' proud smiles appeared almost instantly around the globe.

But the presence of former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- and a thicket of television and still cameras -- on campus to witness Chelsea Clinton's graduation only added to the buzz of a day with 4,799 stars.

More than 25,000 family and friends were on hand at Stanford Stadium to snap pictures, applaud wildly and cheer the accomplishments of the approximately 1,700 members of the Class of 2001 and more than 3,000 recipients of master's and doctoral degrees.

"Wacky as usual" read a sandwich-board-style sign worn by one undergraduate, summing up the half hour of revelry -- the Wacky Walk -- that has grown into a zany tradition over the last decade. Mortarboards sprouted everything from fake pineapples to floral bouquets and at least six cardboard replicas of the Hoover Tower. As the undergraduates dashed onto the stadium field, seniors dressed in convict stripes underneath their robes unmoored a red-and-white balloon arch and carried it on the field while "The Dudes" -- musicians who met freshman year -- played guitars and a washboard in a farewell concert. (Ryan Blitstein carried an amplifier in a backpack.)

Out on the field, there were not one, but two inflatable pools, and students dumped 10 gallons of water onto a huge plastic Stanford flag before diving headfirst and sliding down its length on their chests. One threesome of students plopped down in the grass to roll the dice on the board game "The Game of Life," while another pair went bowling with a basketball and champagne flutes. (The glasses were plastic, but not shatterproof, it turned out.)

There seemed to be as many cell phones on the field as there were tassels. Put to use by students reporting their stadium floor locations to parents and friends in the stands, cell phones began popping up during graduation two or three years ago, but proliferated this year, said Bruce Krempetz, a 27-year veteran at staging campus events. There were so many calls being made that the Stanford Events staff had trouble getting through on logistical calls, he said.

University Librarian Michael Keller, right, presents a posthumous honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Hamilton College awarded to the late history professor Jeffrey Mass to his widow Rosa Mass at the History Department’s diploma award ceremony. Mass, an authority on Japanese medieval history, developed an interest in the subject while studying for a bachelor’s degree at Hamilton. He died March 30. photo: L.A. Cicero

Even so, Commencement went off like clockwork, and was even a little ahead of schedule, said Elaine Enos, director of public events. "There were no major incidents to speak of -- actually, there were no incidents at all." The weather cooperated, too, staying sunny and warm but well below the sweltering temperatures recorded earlier in the week.

After a welcome by President John Hennessy and the presentation of awards, students listened to a warmly personal keynote address by Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co.

Fiorina, who drew her remarks from her own life experiences at the request of senior class presidents, recounted for students how she could still point out the particular tile in her parents' shower that she was staring at when she made the decision to quit law school and embark on a career in business. "Ask yourselves the tough questions," she advised gradates. "Am I living out a role? Or am I living out the truth?"

Fiorina and others in the crowd acknowledged the fathers in the crowd who also celebrated Father's Day Sunday. "FATHERS" read one side of a large sign displayed by undergraduates during Fiorina's speech. "HIRE ME" implored the other side.

After the ceremony in the stadium, students and their families and friends fanned out across campus to attend diploma award ceremonies and receptions held at dozens of separate venues.

The Clinton family walked toward the Quad together and waved to a phalanx of photographers and reporters before continuing hand-in-hand to the Citrus Grove, where Chelsea Clinton received her diploma with highest departmental honors in a History Department ceremony closed to the press.

There was an enthusiastic burst of applause when the name "Chelsea Victoria Clinton" rang out during the ceremony -- it was a name university officials avoided saying in public over the last four years.

In fact, officials did such a good job at protecting Chelsea Clinton's privacy that Registrar Roger Printup had to make an addendum to the list of candidates for undergraduate degrees presented to the Faculty Senate last Thursday. Chelsea Clinton's name, absent from numerous published documents over the years, did not appear on the list.

The Clinton family kept their on-campus celebrations low key, with the former president issuing only a one-sentence statement: "Hillary and I are grateful for the friendships and great learning experiences Chelsea had at Stanford and we are very proud of her on this special day."

Meanwhile, Miguel Hilario, who was awarded a Master of Arts degree in Latin American studies Sunday, was trailed by his own press corps, a reporter and camera operator from a cable television station in Lima, Peru.

Hilario, a member of the Shipabo tribe, which lives in remote parts of the rainforest, was born in a canoe on the Ucayali River. Hilario was 12 years old when he saw a photograph of New York City in National Geographic Magazine and realized there was a world outside the rainforest, he said. Hilario, who also attended Oxford University and intends to return to Peru to help create sustainable economic development projects with villagers, is the first Shipabo tribal member to study in the United States.

"Relieved," was how Heather Cary was feeling mid-afternoon, as she sat with fiancé Benjamin Zelinski and relatives on folding chairs in the Oak Grove as the bluegrass band that played at the award ceremony packed away their instruments. Cary and Zelinski both earned master's degrees in education, and both will start teaching high school classes in Placerville, Calif., in the fall.

The silicon slowdown wasn't dampening the spirits of Tim Choi, president of BASES, an entrepreneurial student organization celebrating in the Quad with sushi and champagne. Economic conditions are bringing out the real entrepreneurs, not the ones who were just riding the wave, said Choi, who received coterminal degrees in electrical engineering and industrial engineering Sunday. Choi plans to work on his master's degree while starting his own company, which has something to do with fuel cells. "That's all I can say," he said. Silicon Valley was foreign to him when he arrived here as a freshman, said Choi, who was born in Singapore and went to boarding school in Boston. "I didn't even know how to spell entrepreneur. Now I live it every day."

By late afternoon, the campus took on the feel of the waning hours of a family reunion -- which is exactly what it was for the extended family of Tali Figaroa Feliciano, who was awarded a doctoral degree in physics. Family members came from points including Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

After attending three ceremonies in two days, Feliciano, who works for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, had just one thing on his mind.

"I plan to go to the pool and not move."