Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, June 20, 2001
Cardinal Chronicle / weekly campus column


IN THE REGISTRAR'S OFFICE, THE THURSDAY before Commencement is known as "Holy Thursday," the beginning of three-day work marathon whose goal is what students have been working toward for years: a diploma in hand. Stanford is one of the few universities that still gives students diplomas with their names on them, rather than handing them an empty diploma case with the actual diploma to follow in the mail, said Administrative Services Manager SUSAN MAHER. The office pace picked up at noon last Thursday, when grades were due from professors. "Of course, they straggle in all day," said Maher, and the work of creating lists of who will graduate on Sunday, and with what honors or distinctions, can last until the wee hours. Staffers who worked until 3 a.m. got off easy this year, Maher said. Last year they worked until 4 a.m. Staff member who commute -- to Stockton, to Modesto, to Fremont -- crash at a dormitory, because work starts early on Saturday, when stuffing and sorting diplomas begins at 6:30 a.m. It takes all day, and a security guard comes in to keep an eye on the towering stacks of sheepskins overnight. "There's really no other way to properly protect them here," said Maher. "At the very least, that's four years of work."

RIGHT BEFORE SHE WAS DUE TO WALK INTO Stanford Stadium for Commence-ment, ALEXA VAN DAAM GERRITY was gingerly touching the back of her graduation robe -- to see if it was dry. This was the first year that graduates were required to purchase their own robes and Gerrity, an art history major, made hers truly her own. Just hours before graduation, she used acrylics to paint a splashy mandala-like abstraction on the back of her black gown in yellows, pinks, blues and greens.

THE E-MAIL TO KIMELI WILLSON NAIYOMAH came on Sunday at his apartment in Escondido Village, and he jumped on his bicycle for the fastest ride to campus he'd ever made, arriving at President JOHN HENNESSY's office less than 10 minutes later. The message carried an invitation from former President BILL CLINTON, asking Naiyomah if he cared to come in and say hello. Naiyomah, a premed student and a member of the Masai tribe from Kenya, had been half-hoping to hear from Hennessy's office, because the university president had mentioned Naiyomah in his welcome remarks at Commencement and earlier had promised to present gifts from Naiyomah to the former First Couple -- a beaded necklace for Sen. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON and beaded belt to the former president. Still, on Monday Naiyomah remained a little stunned by the invitation. "It was an amazing thing to happen to me. I wondered how just three years ago, I was poor and homeless in a remote village in Kenya, and yesterday I am shaking hands with a U.S. president. Some experiences in life are quite humbling." Naiyomah said the former president actually recognized his face from a Washington Post feature story about how Naiyomah's village in the Masai Mara district southwest of Nairobi had raised money to send Naiyomah, an orphan, to school to study to become a doctor. President Clinton patted him on the back and said he was pleased "I had made it this far," said Naiyomah, consulting the diary in which he recorded the day's events. Naiyomah also met Sen. Clinton and her mother, DOROTHY RODHAM, whom Naiyomah called a "charming grandma." "She sympathized with the fact I hardly get home and how difficult it is to communicate back home. The post office is some distance away."

ELAINE ENOS, WHO STARTED WORKING AS director of public events in August, has been preparing for last weekend's Commencement events from almost her very first day on the job. Working from a 70-page handbook and another 70-page supplement she wrote, Enos and her staff oversaw a thousand details, from ordering the 25,000 bottles of water that were passed out to spectators and participants to color coding the folding chairs on the stadium floor -- white chairs for undergraduates, brown for advanced degrees. They even organized a "Dew Crew," charged with mopping up the moisture collected on dignitaries' chairs overnight. Enos and her staff also served as consultants to organizers of Commencement-related ceremonies held in 63 separate campus locations. Enos and her staff were accepting a steady stream of thank-you flowers on Monday, but weren't resting on their laurels. Enos isn't even planning on taking vacation any time soon. "The July 3 concert at Frost is coming right up," she said.

THE OFFICE for multicultural development, which oversees compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, fielded 230 requests for accommodations during Commencement, ranging from providing programs in braille to transporting students and guests with mobility problems in golf carts, reports Director ROSA GONZALEZ. Her most memorable accommodation, however, was made for a female graduate in the School of Medicine. The graduating student had a baby on Thursday and wanted to be on the field for the graduation ceremony. "Dad was in the press box with a newborn and a 2-year-old," Gonzalez said. "He looked pretty tired."

Write to Barbara Palmer at or mail code 2245 or call her at 724-6184.

On Saturday, Peter Huang and Daniela Fontana of the Registrar's Office placed diplomas into their folders for the ceremonies on Sunday.
photo: L.A. Cicero