Text of Hennessy's speech

Following is the text of President John Hennessy's concluding remarks at Commencement 2006:

Graduates of Stanford University, on behalf of all the members of the Stanford family, I congratulate and commend you. You have made many contributions to our community of scholars during your time on the Farm, and you have our deep thanks.

Every June, as graduates are presented to me for the conferral of degrees, I admit them to the "rights, responsibilities and privileges" associated with a degree from Stanford University. You have worked extraordinarily hard to earn this degree and accomplished much in your time here, and you certainly deserve your day of celebration.

But at Stanford, we believe the rights and privileges of an education also bring a responsibility to make good use of your knowledge, to change the world for the better and to help ensure that succeeding generations have the same opportunities you have had. …

Today, you join a long line of distinguished alumni who have made good use of their knowledge. In recent years, I have made it a Commencement tradition to talk about alumni who demonstrated great personal vision and who took their responsibilities to the next generation very seriously. One of those distinguished alumni was Dr. Albert E. Manley.

Believed to be the first African American to receive a doctoral degree from the Stanford University School of Education, Albert Manley was the first male and the first African American to serve as president of Spelman College. He led that institution from 1953 to 1976. It was a very turbulent time in this nation's history, yet the Manley years at Spelman were a time when the academic excellence of the college grew significantly, and today it is ranked as one of the 75 best liberal arts colleges in the country.

Albert Manley was born in 1908 in Spanish Honduras to Jamaican parents as the fifth of seven children. As Dr. Manley noted in his autobiography, A Legacy Continues, his father was not actively involved in his children's lives. But he was a proud man, and he taught his children to be proud of their accomplishments, to be independent and to have respect for themselves and others.

His mother, Anita Manley, assumed direct responsibility for the children's day-to-day lives. Although she did not have a high school degree, she placed a high value on education, and she decided early on that one of her seven—Albert—would "make his mark in the educational world abroad."

To that end, she sent him to Guatemala City for kindergarten. Spanish was the only language spoken in Guatemala—a fact that his mother had not realized. When Albert returned home two years later and answered her questions in Spanish, she promptly sent him off to Belize, where 6-year-old Albert received instruction in English.

Thus began the first of many adventures in education. Albert soon traveled to the United States, where he studied and lived with family in Virginia. Subsequently, he majored in physics and mathematics at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina. He graduated cum laude, in the middle of the Great Depression. Initially only able to find work in a men's club, he was later hired to teach English and mathematics at his high school alma mater in North Carolina. Several years later, he became the school's principal.

Throughout his years as principal, he pursued his master's degree in secondary school administration. Seven years later, in 1941, he earned his MA from Teachers College at Columbia University.

The 1940s was a time of great personal and professional growth for Albert Manley, though the years were not without difficulty. In 1941, he became the state supervisor of black high schools for North Carolina. His task was to measure their performance against state standards, but he soon learned that regardless of performance, black high schools were never given full accreditation. He also realized just how disparate the budgets were between white and black schools of equal size. He noted:

"In the 1940s … segregation lines … remained clearly defined and there was no crossing the color bar. Racism continued to manifest itself in many ways, including inadequate budgets and facilities for black secondary education. I had to confront these problems head-on."

In 1943, Manley received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to study secondary schools and colleges on the West Coast. Albert Manley then made a critical decision and chose to pursue a doctorate in education at Stanford.

After completing his PhD, he joined North Carolina College as its president. His years leading North Carolina College offered important lessons. One faculty member graded so severely few students earned better than a C. Although he thought the professor unduly harsh, Dr. Manley soon realized those students excelled. They were admitted in greater numbers to graduate school, where they continued to achieve. That experience taught him the importance of challenging students and of setting a standard for excellence.

In 1953, Spelman College, the nation's most distinguished college for African American women, was in search of a new president. Albert Manley soon had the endorsement of the search committee and the board to become the first male and the first African American president of Spelman.

It was a tremendous opportunity, and he was well prepared to seize it. He had realized education was not a series of degrees but a lifelong process. He wrote:

"My experiences with racism and poverty deepened my conviction that education had to play a fundamental role in social change and that the institutions of school, home and church had to be central to the struggle for justice not only in the United States but everywhere."

Dr. Manley was Spelman's president during a momentous time in U.S. history. In 1954, the United States Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The 1960s and 1970s brought protests and historic changes in the areas of racial equality and women's rights. The nation was torn by a great debate over the Vietnam War, and several of the country's leaders were assassinated.

Just as it was a time of change for the country, it was a time of tremendous growth and great academic achievement at Spelman. Under Dr. Manley's leadership, the college strengthened its liberal arts curriculum to promote independent critical thinking and develop leadership skills for "the purpose of making maximum contribution to human welfare."

Albert Manley believed in the transformative power of education. At a time when there was great inequity in opportunity, accessibility and distribution of resources, he took on the challenge of leadership, increasing the excellence of the institutions he led and creating opportunities for the next generation.

In his final commencement address at Spelman in 1976, he exhorted the graduating class:

"Remember that the real challenge of your education is its ability to enable you to know how to think. … Remember that self-respect … is never for sale. It cannot be fabricated out of public relations. It comes to us when we are alone in quiet moments, in quiet places, when we suddenly realize that, knowing the good, we have done it, knowing the beautiful, we have served it, knowing the truth, we have spoken it."

Albert Manley's life exemplifies the Stanford spirit. Throughout his career as an educator, he took his responsibilities seriously. He focused on the betterment of succeeding generations by teaching his students to be contributing citizens.

I hope that your time here has provided you with a deep reservoir of the Stanford spirit and that you leave this campus inspired to make your own contributions to the world—inspired that by knowing good, you will do it; that by knowing beauty, you will serve it; and that by knowing truth, you will speak it.

Thank you and congratulations!