Prepared text of Sung-Woo Cho's speech at Convocation

The following is the prepared text of a speech delivered by 2004 graduate Sung-Woo Cho at Opening Convocation on Sept. 20, 2004:

Good afternoon! Welcome parents, friends, and family members to this year’s Opening Convocation. To the new students, the newest members of our community: Welcome to Stanford University.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our Orientation staff, as well as our volunteers: Thank you for helping to make this upcoming week an unforgettable one.

I am a graduate of the Class of 2004. Whereas my Stanford experience is coming to a close, you are just about to embark on what will be a truly life-changing journey. With the future roommates, classmates, and close friends that are sitting right next to you at this very moment, you will begin to undergo a series of transformations that will have you and your parents wondering where your old self went! But that change is a good thing. You are now college students, members of a wonderful community of thinkers, and you’ll soon find out that this new you is in fact the real you.

Now, this process of discovery and revelation is by no means one that can be made alone. This journey will be made with some of the most interesting people that you will ever meet. If I had to pinpoint one thing as the most important part of my college experience, it would be the diversity, the richness of differences, that I found within the people I encountered here.

When I arrived at Stanford from a suburb in Southern California four years ago, my family and I lugged boxes up three whole flights of stairs and into my new dorm room. Like those boxes, I was a neatly packaged and self-contained individual who preferred to be carried and led by others. Exploring other boxes, and especially my own, made me very nervous. “What if other people don’t find me interesting enough?” I wondered. “What if I don’t like what other people have to offer?” I was skeptical and hesitant at first of the newness of personalities and backgrounds, simply because of the fact that I had never been exposed to them before. You see, I had grown up in a largely Asian-American church and high school community, and had always stayed within my comfort zone of people who looked like me and had similar backgrounds and experiences.

Needless to say, my comfort zone was shattered when I stepped into my new home in Junipero, and encountered people of all sorts of backgrounds and ethnicities. My roommate was a white swimmer from the Midwest. One of my neighbors was a Jewish debate champion from New York. I became fast friends with an African-American dancer from Tennessee and buddies with a math prodigy from Thailand.

I soon realized that besides a few common interests and the fact that we were now Stanford students, we were very different people. Much like the boxes stacked out in the hallways, their contents about to find new homes in their respective dorm rooms, I was beginning to take items out of my own box ... my own interests and quirks and beliefs and everything else about me ... to lay them down in my new home.

I in turn absorbed as much as I could about my new neighbors. By the end of that first day, I already felt like a worldly and knowledgeable person! I’m still working on the worldly and knowledgeable parts of my life of course, but I will never forget my full immersion into new cultures, backgrounds, and personalities during that first week. That was the beginning of a process that has made me think about things differently and assume a wide array of perspectives before I ever make a decision.

So I urge you: Get out of your box! You will never again see such a diverse, eclectic, and open-minded group of individuals as you will see within the halls of Main Quad right this very moment. Expose yourself to your new surroundings and the new people that you will meet in the next few days and weeks, and in turn, see what others are made of. Your only regret will be if you fail to take a chance at knowing someone different from you. This is how new ideas are born, this is how human bonds are forged, and perhaps most importantly, this is how your parents wanted you to grow up!

Which brings me to my next point: Make sure to thank your parents for nearly two decades of love and support, and fill them in on the ways that you are developing as an individual out to make a difference in this world. As you take advantage of the diversity of your fellow classmates, the wide array of academic choices, and the full assortment of student-run activities, they will be proud of who you are and what you set out to be. I have no doubt that they are sad to see you leave home, as my parents certainly were four years ago. But I am also sure that they are welling up with a certain joy, knowing that you are in good hands, and that this is exactly where you need to be to discover yourself and your true potential.

In a time of great change in our country and in the world that surrounds us, you, the newest students of Stanford University, are about to begin your college journey with much to consider. With privilege comes responsibility, and with so much potential for even greater change in the next few weeks and months, you are in a great position to both educate and be educated. With the privilege of a college education, and especially with the abundance of social and academic resources that can be found here, I believe that you have the responsibility to know more about this world. And what better way to start than to dive headfirst into the myriad of cultural and ethnic differences that you will find within your residences, classrooms, clubs, and teams.

So again, get out of that box! Take the contents out, see what other people have to offer, and be ready to share with others. Meet someone from another country. Take a class that you never imagined you would ever take. Get involved with organizations that share your beliefs and interests. And get involved with those that don’t share your common values. And if you have the privilege of doing so, learn about the issues at stake in the United States and in the global community, and VOTE!

You, the newest members of Stanford University, are in prime position to make a difference in this world, and you have each other to make it all happen. There is no better time to start than right now. Thank you.

And without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce to you Stanford University’s 10th President, Dr. John L. Hennessy.