Prepared remarks of Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne at the 131st Opening Convocation
Thank you, Sreya, for sharing your story with us this afternoon.
And to all of our new students and families: Welcome to Stanford!
I hope you’ve spent some time over the past few days discovering all our campus has to offer: exploring the beauty of our surroundings, discovering new spots to eat and enjoying late-night chats with roommates and new friends.
After a busy move-in period, I’m so glad that we are all here together this morning.
Convocation is one of my favorite events of the year. It’s always wonderful to celebrate the arrival of our new first-year students, as you embark on the next steps of your academic journey.
And this year, it feels even more special.
As you well know, our campus has been pretty quiet over the past 18 months.
With our full student body invited back this fall – and with many faculty and staff members returning, as well – it really feels like our campus is coming back to life.
And your arrival, the Class of 2025 – the largest class in Stanford’s history – your arrival has brought renewed energy and excitement, a reminder of all we have missed over the last year and a reason for great hope for the days ahead.
I’m delighted you are here.
I also want to thank your parents, families and loved ones – both those who are here at Convocation in person and those who are joining us via livestream.
I’m delighted to welcome all of you to our Stanford family today.
As a father of three children who went to college, I know that this is a day of mixed emotions for you – of deep pride, hope for the future and nervousness about your child leaving home.
In these uncertain times, you may be feeling even more apprehensive as you prepare to say goodbye to your student.
I want to assure you that we’re committed to supporting your students, helping them to thrive here at Stanford and equipping them with the skills and knowledge they will need to live happy and fulfilling lives.
Your students’ health and well-being are our top priority, especially as we navigate the ongoing pandemic.
We are taking the utmost care in every decision we make for their safety, and we will continue to care and support them throughout their years here at Stanford.
And to our students: we’re committed to providing you with as normal an experience this fall as possible, including in-person classes, opportunities for hands-on research and a residential living experience.
The pandemic has highlighted how interconnected we are, and how much all of us living together in a community rely on one another for our health and well-being.
We’re all responsible for making this a productive and enriching fall quarter, and I’m grateful to each of you for doing your part by participating in surveillance testing, indoor masking and our other health and safety measures.
We very much hope that many of these measures will be temporary.
The adjustments we’ve had to make throughout the pandemic point to how much this experience has altered our world – and how much it has affected each of us personally.
Each of you is arriving with a different experience of the last year:
- Some of you have spent the last year taking on additional family responsibilities. Perhaps you’ve assisted with caregiving or helped younger siblings learn remotely, even as you juggled your own classwork.
- Some of you had planned to start at Stanford last year, only to defer and join us in person this fall.
- Some of you may have struggled to find community and connection throughout the pandemic.
- Many of us have missed personal milestones, and some of us have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
It has been a very difficult time.
But now, after a year and a half in which our lives have been upended, this is the moment to honor the ways in which you have changed through this experience – how your own priorities and values have shifted or sharpened.
Now is the moment to consider what truly gives you meaning and fulfillment, and use that as inspiration to shape how you spend your years here at Stanford.
The past year and a half have laid bare the many challenges the world faces – from global disease, to racial and economic inequities, to misinformation, to the climate crisis.
And the pandemic has revealed how much we must rely on one another to solve our great challenges.
Stanford was created to do just that. Jane and Leland Stanford established this university, in memory of their son, to generate knowledge: not for its own sake, but for the benefit of humanity.
If we take anything from our experiences of the last year and a half, it should be to re-engage with the world, and with one another, with a renewed sense of purpose and with an urgency to make the most of the opportunities in front of us.
In the time that I have with you today, I want to encourage you to use your years at Stanford for deep and purposeful engagement in three ways: with your academics, with your community and with our wider world.
First, I hope you’ll use this time for deep intellectual engagement and to explore, broadly, Stanford’s exciting academic offerings.
The next few years present you with a unique opportunity in life: to explore freely across a broad variety of interests and to learn from leading scholars in every field.
Some of you may feel certain about what you want to study here, while others may not know yet.
Either way, I join Vice Provost Church in encouraging you to look beyond what you already know and to be open to unexpected paths and possibilities.
This will be both personally enriching and excellent preparation for your future.
It will help you discover interests you didn’t know you had, develop new skills and uncover new ways of seeing the world.
I experienced this myself when I was at university.
I have always had a great love for math and science. When I began college, I was certain I would become a physicist.
But a course in biology changed my scientific focus, and then an introductory philosophy course piqued my interest in that discipline.
The blend of those two interests led me to neuroscience, which combines biology with the bigger questions about consciousness and what it means to be human.
It’s a field I have made my career in, and it was an early lesson for me in the twists, turns and departures that life will take, and that you cannot foresee.
As part of your academic exploration, I also strongly encourage you to participate in hands-on research while you’re here at Stanford.
No matter what your discipline is, you have opportunities to pursue independent research, undertake departmental research, or join a team working on faculty-led research.
By doing so, you’ll create satisfying partnerships with faculty members and have the opportunity to make real contributions to human knowledge.
Perhaps even more importantly, doing research will help you learn how to ask and answer precise questions, and how to assess the strength and limitations of conclusions that can be drawn from the data you generate.
In short, research will make you a better critical thinker, helping prepare you for the challenges the world will throw at you when you leave.
In addition, beyond your academic pursuits, there are endless extracurricular opportunities, where you can further explore your interests.
Stanford has more than 600 student-led organizations. I encourage you to find the ones that spark your curiosity – it will further enrich your experience.
In short, during your time here, I urge you to be endlessly curious.
Second, I encourage you to engage in our community.
As important as your academic experiences are your relationships with your fellow students and with faculty and staff mentors.
I’m especially excited that this fall – as you join a community that is newly reunited in one place – we’re launching our new residential initiative, Res-X.
Under Res-X, each of you has a neighborhood “home base” that will be the focal point of your residential experience here at Stanford.
The neighborhoods aim to develop strong foundations for healthy and vibrant student communities that prioritize belonging, well-being, equity and inclusion.
Each neighborhood will also provide academic and intellectual enrichment outside the classroom.
Most of all, they will be a place where you have the opportunity to develop rich social networks and deep friendships with your peers, many of which will last a lifetime.
Both in the residences and beyond them, you’ll meet fellow students, faculty and staff members from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe.
Stanford is a place that deeply values the diverse experiences and perspectives that all members of our community bring.
For many of you, this may be the most diverse community you’ve been a part of. It may even be the most diverse community you are ever a part of.
This provides you with a crucial opportunity to broaden your worldview, to better understand the lives of others and to sharpen your own perspectives.
Learning from one another and from our differences enriches each of us, as well as our entire community, and we are continually working to create a more accessible, diverse and equitable university.
That brings me to my third point: I encourage you to use your time here at Stanford to engage with and open your mind to the wider world.
Outside the classroom, you’ll have many opportunities to get involved through Cardinal Service, which supports students in using their knowledge and skills to address real-world problems through hands-on service work, both here at Stanford and in communities locally and around the world.
Inside the classroom, you’ll also each have the opportunity to contend with challenging ethical and social problems.
You are beginning your Stanford journeys during a time of historic change.
The world needs leaders who are devoted to active citizenship, who think deeply about the world’s problems, and who are prepared to contribute to the advancement of human society.
In order to make a real impact in our world, you’ll need to know how to encounter a diversity of perspectives and engage in productive conversation across areas of disagreement.
This is one objective of the new Civic, Liberal and Global Education course – also known as COLLEGE – which will be a shared experience for all of you throughout the year.
The course will provide you with a forum to think deeply about what it means to be an engaged citizen in today’s world and to examine your own views and preconceptions in a rigorous academic context.
It also provides a setting for you to engage in productive discussions, even about contentious topics.
The course will, in fact, model how to disagree without being disagreeable.
This is an important skill for you to hone as you prepare for the complex and multifaceted world that awaits you.
It is also an expectation that we, at the university, have of each of you – that in your time on campus, you will engage with fellow students, faculty and staff in a manner that honors the dignity of each member of our community and their right to their opinions, even when you disagree strongly with what they are saying.
Why do we have that expectation?
One of the most important tasks that lies ahead of each of you, during your time at Stanford, is to experiment with ideas – to explore challenging issues and test solutions to problems in every field.
For you to engage fully in this exploration, you must encounter a variety of opinions and deeply held beliefs.
That means that we have an obligation to provide you with an environment where ideas can flourish, and each of you has a role to play in contributing to open, tolerant and productive discourse on our campus.
So as you begin your careers here at Stanford, I would like to ask three things of you:
- First, to engage each other with curiosity – not condescension.
- Second, to encourage your peers to express their thoughts so you can discuss and debate them, to persuade or be persuaded by them – don’t shout over them or otherwise try to shut them down.
- And third, to bring the best version of yourself to our community. Honor your own values, but keep an open mind to learning from others’ perspectives.
You’ll be amazed at what a remarkable group of fellow students you will encounter, many with views that don’t necessarily square with your own.
Engage them – when appropriate, challenge them, but do so respectfully – and above all, learn from them!
In closing, we continue to live through challenging times.
But each of you is here at Stanford because we believe in your ability to rise to the challenge – to engage your curiosity, to engage with one another, to engage with our world and to devote your energy, your enthusiasm and your talents to making it better.
I can’t wait to see what you make of your time here, and the wonderful things you will do both at Stanford, and beyond.
So I have just one final message for you –
Class of 2025: Welcome to Stanford!