President Hennessy to Class of 2016: Find something you love doing

University President John Hennessy was one of several speakers who addressed incoming freshmen and transfer students Tuesday at the 122nd Opening Convocation Ceremony in the Main Quad. The other featured speakers were Morgan Duffy, '13; Richard Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid; and Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Drawing inspiration from the Commencement address Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005, President John Hennessy urged new students Tuesday to follow the example set by the late co-founder of Apple Inc. to find their passions and live them.

Hennessy quoted from Jobs' speech, delivered on a sunny day in Stanford Stadium:

L.A. CiceroJohn Hennessy speaking at Convocation

'Most important, don't settle,' President John Hennessy told the incoming students.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

Speaking at the 122nd Convocation Opening Ceremony, Hennessy, who said he recently read Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, told incoming students that their undergraduate education was a foundation for life – not just a ticket to their first jobs, but an opportunity to develop the skills and passion of lifelong learning in areas related to – and outside of – their future careers.

"Our request then is simple," he said. "We ask that you become an enthusiastic member of this academic community. We ask you to take advantage of this opportunity. Have the determination and conviction to make this next four years the springboard to a life lived with passion and commitment."

"Most important, don't settle," Hennessy continued. "Find something you love doing. You will be better at it and the challenges that await you later in life will be easier. Ask your parents for their insights and guidance, but remember that it is your passion you need to discover. Your parents already have theirs. And, as Steve said in concluding his address, 'Stay hungry and stay foolish.'"

Hennessy was one of several speakers who welcomed incoming freshmen, transfer students and their friends and families to Stanford from a stage set up in the inner courtyard of the Main Quad.

The other speakers were Morgan Duffy, '13; Richard Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid; and Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education.

The ceremony, which inaugurates the academic year, was the official welcome to the 1,768 freshmen in the Class of 2016 and 31 transfer students who will join the classes of 2014 and 2015. The one-hour ceremony began with a processional and ended with a benediction.

You are not the future generation, but the now

As a sophomore, Morgan Duffy, the student Convocation speaker, received a research grant from Stanford to travel to a city in central Indonesia – her first trip outside the United States – to study children with disabilities and to understand how wheelchairs helped or hindered their social development.

"You may nod and think, 'that makes sense,'" said Duffy, a senior majoring in human biology who uses a wheelchair. "However, my journey to Indonesia was not predictable.

"My family, although always supportive, never really expected me to be sitting before you today," she said, noting that her grandfather owned a pizza shop and her mother managed an emergency room in Scranton, Pa.

Duffy said it "wasn't normal" for her to move across the country to go to one of the best universities in the world. Still, it was the perfect decision for her.

"It did not take me long to realize that normalcy was not an attribute I needed to strive for at Stanford," she said. "I could dress in bright neon clothes, enjoy conversations with people from every corner of the world and participate in courses titled not Introduction to Biology but Biotechnology in Everyday Life, taught by professors devoted both to academics and social change."

In the summer of 2011, on her first trip to Indonesia, which took a year of planning, Duffy spent her time absorbing the culture that surrounded health, disability and development. Last summer, she returned to co-author a project to begin support groups for parents of kids with disabilities.

"I came away with a sincere appreciation for the thing that I sit on and the power of community and compassion," she said.

Duffy said the project, which has defined her Stanford experience, was made possible by mentorships, a fellowship and never-ending encouragement.

"Here, in this world of innovation, you are not the future generation, but the now, the thinkers who can influence one another, your professors and your communities back home," Duffy told the students in the audience.

She said the best friends she made in her freshman dorm – a nerdy guy, a determined girl, a third-generation Stanford student and two varsity athletes – were drawn together by their idiosyncrasies.

"When I was designing my project, they gave me a helping hand – one friend reading every word of each proposal," she said. "When I got my first grant, they jumped onto my wheelchair in excitement. And when I hit road bumps, they encouraged me to keep going. I could not have done it without them."

Raw beginnings of extraordinary potential

Richard Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid, told the incoming students that the fall of 2012 was a unique time to begin their educational journey.

"On the near horizon is the U.S. presidential election, which will pervade your fall quarter and expose you to the workings of democracy in conversations in classrooms and dorms," he said. "On a farther horizon is a small rover called Curiosity engaged in daily discovery that challenges our imagination and symbolizes the awesome potential of the human mind."

Shaw said the Class of 2016 – 1,768 freshmen – is composed of 52.8 percent men and 47.2 percent women.

Among the incoming freshmen, 13.3 percent are first-generation students – the first in their families to attend a four-year college. International students with foreign visas comprise 7.4 percent of the incoming class.

He said the Class of 2016 had arrived from 55 countries and 49 states.

"Blast you, Rhode Island," he joked. "But only momentarily," he added.

Among 31 incoming transfer students are five veterans – of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps – and four international students.

"And guess what – one is from the state of Rhode Island," Shaw said.

Shaw said the incoming students represent an extraordinary diversity of backgrounds and life experiences.

"You are artists, writers, musicians, actors, school leaders, journalists, editors, scientists, community volunteers, athletes, explorers and military veterans," he said. "We discovered your unique accomplishments, your leadership beyond titles and the depth of your humanity."

Shaw said those who wrote recommendations talked about the incoming students as "alarmingly talented" and "scary smart."

"And the one pursuit that you all have in common is a profound intellectual inquiry," he said. "You shared with us your passion for what you love to do, for who you dream to be and for how you live your life. We see in you a world of possibilities as your lives unfold at Stanford and beyond. I am so lucky to observe in each class the raw beginnings of extraordinary potential."

This is your day, treasured students

Harry J. Elam, Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education, told incoming students that their time at Stanford would be a "transformative adventure" that would take them to new intellectual heights and expose them to fresh territories of introspection and reflection.

"The limits of your expedition extend well beyond the classroom, for what happens on the playing fields and in the laboratories, on the theatrical stages and in the dormitories, on community-based research and in music rehearsal rooms is critical to the processes of learning here at Stanford," he said. 

"Without doubt, this is not a one-size-fits-all adventure; no need to walk in someone else's shoes. Rather, you will be able to find your way to innovation, whatever your major, to discover new directions, according to your compass. For as you determine your own productive and purposeful academic pathways, you will in fact be able to craft your own Stanford." 

Elam said that while students will chart their own courses, they will not be alone.

"We will be there to advise you, to support and guide you, to point you to vast resources and opportunities on your way," he said.

He noted that Stanford is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, a place where invention and innovation regularly emerge from people under 30 years old.

"We don't buy into the traditional educational hierarchies of the old and supposedly wise imparting knowledge to acolytes," he said. "We trust you already have wisdom within, and we want to help you cultivate it to your highest potential."

Addressing the parents in the audience, Elam said he knew the day was bittersweet, noting that he had sent his only child off to college two weeks ago.

"Please know that Stanford is a place that works hard to provide a nurturing and strengthening environment," he said. "So fear not. From this day forward, they and you are members of the Stanford family."

Elam concluded his speech with a warm exhortation to the incoming students.

"To our new treasured students, this is your moment," he said. "Embrace it, enjoy it, relish it, make it your own and do not be afraid to let it remake you as well. For rest assured, Stanford will change you. But all of you will also, by your very presence here, make Stanford a better institution. And that is why we are so very, very thrilled to welcome you here. Now is your time."