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President Casper gives new students advice about making choices

STANFORD -- Incoming freshmen and transfer students should explore widely before making choices that may limit their options in the future, President Gerhard Casper told several hundred people gathered in the Main Quadrangle for the 106th Convocation on Sept. 20.

Casper, who spoke for about 20 minutes under a hot sun, focused his remarks on making choices.

"Alas, the fact that you have chosen well so far will not relieve you of the burden of making more choices, many of them bewildering, all of them with consequences for your own lives and the lives of others," he said.

Most freshmen, for example, will have their first opportunity to vote in a presidential election this year, said Casper, who urged eligible voters to go to the ballot box.

"Admittedly, the choices entailed in voting are most perplexing," he said. "First, you must reason and deliberate critically and decide what you would like to accomplish with your vote. And then, with little truly reliable information, you must pick those who you think would best represent you and attend to the country's needs.

"Well," he continued, "I welcome you to adulthood, to choice, to ambiguity and ambivalence and to the difficulty of making your own choices responsibly."

In college, Casper said, making choices is a part of daily life.

Deciding whether or not to get out of bed, whether or not to go to class, whether or not to eat lunch and what groups to associate or not to associate with are just some of the individual decisions that students must make routinely.

While the university does not presume to tell students what choices to make, Casper said, "the commitment to, and practice of, reasoning clearly and thinking critically is what we must uphold. In that we have no choice."

Part of the process of choosing requires that sacrifices be made in certain areas in order to obtain benefits in others, Casper said. Nonetheless, he cautioned students against making choices that limit their options too early in their undergraduate careers.

"You must seize the initiative and seek out the range of opportunities that Stanford has to offer across the entire spectrum of a full-blown university. And you must participate," he said.

Casper told students that Stanford is flourishing today because of the participation and generosity of students who have preceded them.

"One day," he said, "Stanford will therefore call on you, too, to make another choice, to display the same sense of moral obligation that others now show on your behalf in order to enable the university to do the work of education and research for future generations."

Casper told students not to worry too much about "getting everything just right" during their time at Stanford because chance plays a part in destiny.

"There can be no doubt that serendipity will play a role in your choices, as it certainly has in mine throughout my life," he said.

After Casper spoke, Mary Edmonds, vice provost and dean for student affairs, assured parents that their children will thrive in college.

"My advice to you is to relax," Edmonds said. "Our children have the great capacity to do well in spite of our nervousness, for they are young and they are resilient."

She also told parents to support their children in their "choices of roommates, friends, majors and other activities that enhance our students' ability to understand and respect people from different social classes, races, cultures, orientations, religions and differing abilities."

Edmonds briefed students on university policies that guide behavior and she listed various support services available to them.

Lastly, she advised students to be well-rounded in their activities:

"Get involved, not only in ways that are already familiar to you, but explore new things."



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