Prepared remarks of student Zev Karlin-Neumann at 2010 Convocation Ceremony
Thank you, Vice Provost Elam, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty, families, freshmen, transfers. It's a pleasure to share this exciting afternoon with you all, and I thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. As I was thinking about what I wanted to say here, I came across a quote in a student's letter to a friend that nicely encapsulated my thoughts.
"Have become very fond of Stanford," this student wrote. "Everyone is very friendly – the gals are quite attractive – and it's a very good life." While I could have written these words myself freshman year, they were in fact penned in 1940, by a young John F. Kennedy.
I can still recall the flash of excitement I felt when I discovered the little-known fact that JFK walked these sandstone-and-tile corridors for a few brief months while auditing Business School classes. I had recently returned from a quarter studying and interning with the Bing Stanford in Washington program, and hungered for a link to that world of politics and public service. I identified with JFK's youthful uncertainty. If he could transform himself from an aimless student into a visionary leader, could Stanford similarly reveal and focus my potential? I threw myself into research, intending to write an honors thesis about Stanford's influence on JFK.
So you can imagine the disappointment when I opened up the papers of a Stanford professor who supposedly knew JFK here and discovered that he could not recall meeting him. With only a few old newspaper articles and interviews to go on, I had hit a dead end. I couldn't prove that one of our most dynamic and inspirational presidents was indelibly shaped by the innovation, optimism and egalitarianism of Stanford University.
I did learn, however, that I have been. These years have passed in a whirlwind of extracurriculars, social events and academic excitement. This is the only place where Bill Gates and Afroman can be on campus simultaneously, or where you'll see more former Latin American presidents than rainy days. Long runs to the Dish and Nerf wars in Green Library gradually gave way to studying in the Bender Reading Room, with late-night conversations on politics, religion and philosophy thrown in over a midnight snack. I have road-tripped to Nevada for political campaigns in the fall, cheered on Cardinal basketball in the winter, and fountain-hopped in the spring. Throughout it all, my incredible professors have encouraged me to think deeply within and across disciplines, to question the world around me, to learn for learning's sake.
Every one of these instances has affected in some way the person I am still becoming, the person I sought to find through my exploration of JFK's time here. Stanford has provided, to paraphrase the artist and architect Maya Lin, space in which to think, but not what to think. That space is one of engagement and excitement, challenge and triumph, friendship and discovery.
In that same box of papers, for instance, I discovered a promising new thesis idea linking JFK and the Senate where I interned. This idea would ultimately enable me to work with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Kennedy – no relation to JFK. It would put me in touch with a personal hero, JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen. It would let me read and write and rewrite, experiencing new cities and romantic, dusty archives along the way. In fact, I've only just returned from a thesis research trip to Boston and Washington, D.C. last week.
So I didn't find a president. But I found and developed my passions. I found thoughtful, creative, brilliant people to share this journey with. I discovered that I didn't need to prove how meaningful Stanford was to one particular person I admired, because I realized how much my years here have meant to me, just as you all will discover what they will mean to you.
Exactly 50 years ago, JFK returned to deliver the 1960 Convocation address at this very ceremony. Though perhaps little impacted by Stanford, by then he was a war hero, an experienced Congressman and senator, recently declared for the presidency. That is likely not my path, but it may be yours. Or maybe you will bring needed integrity to the business world, develop a revolutionary alternative energy source, create an NGO. Maybe you will enter the world of professional sports or academia, netting a free throw or a Nobel Prize. You may even become the next generation of scholars and teachers who shape our paths here. Because whether or not I can prove that Stanford influenced JFK, I do know that Stanford will have a profound and transformative impact on all of our lives.
So open those dusty boxes in the archives, risk disappointment and failure, question your preconceived notions. Lean on friends and family, develop your passion, engage in your surroundings, find and make meaning in your time here. Above all, love to learn and learn to love. Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2014, welcome to Stanford. "Everyone is very friendly – the gals are quite attractive – and it's a very good life."
It is now my honor to introduce the President of Stanford University, John Hennessy.