Cory Booker speaking at Commencement

Cory Booker, who graduated from Stanford with degrees in political science and sociology, has led the city of Newark, N. J., since 2006. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Cory Booker tells Stanford grads to be courageous, work together

Inspired by his father and grandfather, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker tells Stanford graduates to join a "conspiracy of love" that will lift them in times of need and challenge them to go beyond what they think is possible.

Steve Fyffe

More than 25,000 people honored the Class of 2012 at the Commencement ceremony, which began with the Wacky Walk.

Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., challenged Stanford graduates to be courageous, never lose faith and always work together. During a Commencement speech Sunday – Father's Day – he extolled lessons from his own father and grandfather through stories of hardship, hope and humor.

The mayor's remarks during Stanford's 121st Commencement celebrated what Booker called a "conspiracy of love" that encircled his patriarchs as they grew up and built careers and families in racially segregated America.

Booker encouraged graduates to find and join their own conspiracy – people who will help lift them up in times of need, provide a community and challenge them to go beyond what they think is possible.

"I say to you on this graduation," Booker said, "to join the conspiracy. To be a class of people that rejects cynicism. … Be lovers. Join the conspiracy and love with all of your heart and all of your courage."

Booker told the graduates that "conspirators" run toward challenges, show up for the fight and embrace discomfort.

"People who get comfortable of mind and intellect get dull," he said. "People who get comfortable in their spirit, they miss what they were created for."

Booker, who graduated from Stanford with degrees in political science and sociology, has led the city of Newark since 2006.

He described a community of people willing to help their neighbors, and said Stanford graduates should strive to do the same.

"The change we make really comes about when we come together across party lines, come together across religious lines and racial lines," Booker said. "This nation is nothing if it stands apart but everything if it stands together."

Commencement began with Stanford's nontraditional processional, dubbed the Wacky Walk. Graduates paraded into the stadium in costume to a picture-snapping crowd of about 25,000 relatives, friends and well-wishers.

There was a group dressed like a kelp forest, another like the periodic table of the elements. Some seniors carried balloons and several brought to life characters from the Star Wars movies. Members of the swim team wore bathing suits with their gowns.

They all smiled with excitement as they entered the field.

"I feel at home with my classmates," said Samrawit Tessema, a political science major from Seattle. "I feel very privileged to be graduating from Stanford and very fortunate. I'm also a little anxious. There's a range of emotions," she said.

Parents swelled with pride, though they also felt a range of emotions.

"I'm bursting at the seams. I'm so proud of her," said Tammy Hershfield, whose daughter Jessica graduated with a degree in human biology and whose twin sons just finished their freshman year. "We are lucky to be here and my heart sings, but it's a bittersweet moment marking her really moving on."

On Sunday, 1,763 bachelor's degrees were conferred, along with 2,302 master's degrees and 1,023 doctoral degrees. Departmental honors were awarded to 307 undergraduates; 279 graduated with university distinction; 102 graduated with multiple majors; 355 completed minors; 34 graduated with dual bachelor's degrees; and 124 graduated with combined bachelor's and master's degrees.

Among international students, there were 113 undergraduates from 50 countries and 1,066 graduate students from 70 countries.

The undergraduates included high-profile athletes, including Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 draft pick in the National Football League, and professional golfer Michelle Wie. The Class of 2012 also included Nnemkadi Ogwumike, the No. 1 draft pick in the Women's National Basketball Association.

President John Hennessy in his remarks honored not only the graduates but also Stanford's seventh president, Richard W. Lyman, who died in May at age 88. Lyman, a professor of history, served the university as provost from 1967 to 1970 and as president from 1970 to 1980 – a time of civil rights unrest, anti-war protest and social change.

Hennessy told the graduates they have all benefited from his leadership.

"Today, I hope that you leave this campus with a strong reservoir of the Stanford spirit, a reservoir that will grow over the years. And I hope this spirit inspires you to make your own contributions to the world and that it brings you back to this great and much-loved university," Hennessy said.

Brooke Donald, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,