In speech, Fischer likens life to giant jigsaw puzzle

Barry Fischer

Barry Fischer

This is the text of "The Puzzle," delivered by graduating coterminal student Barry Fischer, at the Baccalaureate Celebration on Saturday, June 14, 2008

I want to tell you how Stanford has changed me.

When I was admitted to Stanford, I felt that I had just received the opportunity to change the world. Stanford has been churning out leaders for over 110 years. And now me, Barry. A Stanford education would give me the intellectual power to become a real leader, to realize global change.

Now, after interdisciplinary studies, competitive sports and community advocacy, and three continents of international programs through Stanford, I've discovered that my original vision of individually changing the world was naïve: I've come to realize that I cannot change the world. But we can.

I've come to be imbued with Stanford spirit—a spirit recognizing that changing the world requires a community. I've discovered that my spiritual quest—to find true meaning and real answers in this complicated world—can only be achieved by teaming up with those around me. Steeping myself in Stanford's culture of collaboration has shown me the importance of bringing together people and ideas into a unified effort.

Jewish tradition says that the wise person is the one who learns from every person. And Daoism teaches that every aspect of our existence is bound up in a universal web of interconnections. In other words, each of us is just a small puzzle piece in a giant jigsaw puzzle, but we are each indispensable to completing the puzzle. This notion of a puzzle captures my experience at Stanford. Here, there are no extra pieces. We all fit into the puzzle. Together, we can see the big picture.

The Stanford community understands this well. To study human movement, Stanford unites students from biomechanical engineering, anthropology and the performing arts; to investigate new strategies to protect marine biodiversity, I, an economics major, teamed up with biologists and environmental law experts. To improve my understanding of global culture and politics, I simply converse with my closest friends here—a Singaporean, a Kenyan, an Ethiopian and a Michigander. This is Stanford spirit. These are the linkages that bring us one step closer to solving the giant jigsaw puzzle.

Call it boundary-busting. Call it a love for linkages. Call it a global, spiritual application of Jerry Maguire's famous confession: "You complete me."

In fact, my spiritual journey at Stanford has been precisely this—exploring how I can fit together with others in the giant jigsaw puzzle of life. Four years ago, my goals and spirit resided in myself; now, my spirit resides in my union with you and your goals. I was the sum of my actions; from here and on, I am the sum of my interactions.

As graduates from Stanford, we can and should be more than just individually great puzzle pieces: We should be passionate puzzle solvers who constantly seek out diverse puzzle pieces and put them together—creatively uniting individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, religions and opinions.

The jigsaw puzzle at hand is not just one that we might pull out on a rainy day. The puzzle that we face is our world, and we need to start working on it right away. With this in mind, I leave Stanford with a renewed spirit—convinced that I cannot change the world, but we can.