Be thirsty for knowledge, Hennessy advises new students

114th Opening Convocation channels lessons of Roosevelt

 John Hennessy and student staff

President John Hennessy and student staff from Florence Moore Hall welcome incoming freshmen with much fanfare during the kickoff of New Student Orientation on Monday morning.

Weaving a biography of Theodore Roosevelt into his speech during Monday’s 114th Opening Convocation, President John Hennessy implored the 1,650 freshmen and 78 transfer students seated with their parents in the Main Quad to strive to emulate the former U.S. president’s many achievements and harbor an equally unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

During his eight years in the White House, Roosevelt won a Nobel Peace Prize, shook up the Republican Party with progressive policies and, in the summer, read everything from Euripides and Sophocles to Dickens and Shakespeare.

He also was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Stanford, although Roosevelt himself went to Harvard, Hennessy joked, adding that the Farm had not been founded when Roosevelt entered college.

“Like Roosevelt, you live in a time of great change,” Hennessy told the assembled students and parents, who enjoyed a balmy afternoon with temperatures the 70s. “Events around the world remind us that our small planet is shared by peoples with vastly different beliefs and cultures.”

Other speakers included John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Sung-Woo Cho, who graduates this year and served as head orientation coordinator for the freshmen Class of 2008 and transfer students.

Robin Mamlet, who announced last month that she would be stepping down as dean of admission and financial aid in June, was the first speaker. In what was her last convocation address, Mamlet reminded the new students that they have been given a rare opportunity.

“You were chosen from over 20,000 students who applied to Stanford this year, in part because of your future promise,” she said. “This was one of the most competitive years for admission in the history of this university.”

She and subsequent speakers urged students to seize opportunities to enrich themselves outside the classroom, in hopes that they graduate as well-rounded and socially enlightened individuals.

“We want you to question yourselves and your own beliefs,” Bravman later said. “We want you to experience things that are wholly new in your life.”

Cho likened himself to a neatly packed box when he first came to the Farm—a closed and comfortable unit that he later learned to open. “So I urge you, get out of your box,” he said. “Your only regret will be if you fail to take a chance at knowing someone different from you.”

Earlier in the day, frosh were greeted by resident assistants who had memorized their faces.

Students and their families had lined up in front of the dorms well before 8 a.m. that morning, with lamps and linens in tow. A full 40 percent of incoming students are from California, but the rest represent every state except North Dakota. Eight percent are from another country, and for the second consecutive year, the incoming class is more than 50 percent students of color, according to Stephanie Mika, senior coordinator of new undergraduate housing.

Hennessy stopped by some of the dorms to personally greet the students and their families. Joining him were Gene Awakuni, vice provost for student affairs; Greg Boardman, associate vice provost and dean of students; Lorraine Sterritt, assistant vice provost and director of undergraduate advising programs; and Alan Acosta, associate vice president for public affairs and director of university communications.

Working the crowds, Hennessy shook hands and asked families where they were from. Repeatedly, he dropped the presidential pretense and introduced himself simply with, “Hi, I’m John.”

Parent Kevin Case pushed a dolly with boxes stacked almost to head level, while his 18-year-old daughter, Siobhan, took in all the excitement. Her mother, Mary, said she’d even packed postage stamps so Siobhan would write home often—although mom conceded that instant messaging might replace snail mail.

“I’m just looking forward to meeting all sorts of new people,” said Siobhan, who came down from Seattle over the weekend. “Just knowing that it’s a really great school, and it’s not as rainy.”

Parents unloaded SUVs, assisted by orientation volunteers wearing T-shirts that said, “I’m here to help” and “Can I carry that for you?”

“I’ve been up since 6 a.m.,” said sophomore Cristina Richieri, who had already helped three families move in. “I’m assigned to the dollies.”

Elizabeth Hiyama, associate director of residential education, has worked at Stanford for almost 30 years. But the smile on her face as she watched Monday morning’s activities suggested that move-in day never gets old.

“It is like a new beginning. Look at all these parents—they’re smiling,” Hiyama said. “It’s just exciting because people are jazzed.”

This year’s orientation week includes more than 200 social, academic and administrative events for students and their parents. Activities kicked off on a Monday this year to accommodate Rosh Hashanah. Upperclass students gradually are returning to campus for the start of the school year on Monday, Sept. 27.