President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s remarks at the 132nd Opening Convocation
Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne delivered these remarks at the at the 132nd Opening Convocation ceremony on September 21, 2022.
Thank you, Chinemere. And good morning to all of you!
Students, allow me to join Dean Steinwert, Dean Shaw, Vice Provost Church, Dean Hicks, and Chinemere in wishing you a very warm welcome to Stanford.
We are so glad you are here!
Over the last year, we’ve had the honor of getting to know your accomplishments and your perspectives, and we learned two things about you:
We know you will each bring something special to our Stanford community.
And we see the potential in each of you to do great things.
I’m delighted to have this moment to celebrate together as you embark on your Stanford journey.
It was especially wonderful to meet some of you during move-in yesterday.
Move-in day is always one of my favorite days of the year. The anticipation and energy are palpable across our campus, and it gives me a tremendous sense of excitement for the year ahead.
To the parents, family members, and loved ones who are here with us this morning:
I am delighted to welcome you to Stanford, as well.
I’m sure you’re feeling tremendous pride in your student.
You have put your energy and effort into getting them ready for where they are today.
From that first day you dropped them off at preschool, to running to Target yesterday because they forgot their shower shoes – you have been their chauffeur, their cheerleader, and their greatest advocate and supporter.
I’m a parent, myself, to three kids who attended college. So I know how proud you must be, and I know that today is also bittersweet.
Thank you for all you have done to help your student prepare for Stanford, and thank you, now, for entrusting them to us.
You have raised remarkable young adults. Now, we will be your partners in supporting them through these next, important years, as they refine their own path and build a new community here at Stanford.
Students: you are here because of your drive, your passion, and your promise.
But as you begin your Stanford journeys, I want you to know that Stanford isn’t just about using your talents and skills to better yourself – it’s also about using them in service of building a better world.
When Jane and Leland Stanford founded this university in 1885, they did so to educate students and to generate knowledge not for its own sake, but for the benefit of humanity.
They were living in a time of great change and scientific discovery, and they founded a university that had a spirit of boldness and a sense of purpose at its core.
Today’s world shares much in common with the world of Jane and Leland Stanford.
We, too, are living in a time of great change and innovation.
And our world, like theirs, faces many challenges – from climate change, to chronic and emerging diseases, to geopolitical tensions and misinformation, and more.
But the energy, the optimism, and the sense of purpose from our founding are alive and well at Stanford today.
No matter what field you go into, Stanford offers the opportunity to find your own path – so that you can both find personal fulfillment and also contribute to your own community or to our wider world.
In order to find that path, your time here at Stanford will be spent exploring the things that intrigue you, discovering what you’re passionate about, and forming strong bonds with one another.
Your experiences and your growth will come both from your academics and from our community.
In both domains, I urge you to prepare for the future in two important ways: by exploring broadly and by engaging deeply.
I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss each of these.
First, I want to join Vice Provost Church in encouraging you to engage in broad intellectual exploration during your time at Stanford.
You worked incredibly hard to get here. You put your best foot forward in filling out your applications and writing your admissions essays.
We know that you have what it takes to succeed here.
And I’m sure that some of you are already thinking about the future after Stanford.
But after years of getting college ready, there’s never been a better time to explore your interests broadly.
In fact, you may never again have an opportunity to pursue ideas in as expansive and unfettered a way as during your college years.
So I urge you to take a wide range of courses: from medieval literature to international relations, from astrophysics to art history, and from biomechanical engineering to sustainable cities, a course offered in our newest school, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.
It won’t necessarily always be easy. Exploration can, in fact, sometimes be harder than just doing what you know you’re good at.
But it’s important for a few reasons.
First, it’s fun!
You’ll encounter so many things that will amaze you and inspire you.
When I ask alumni who graduated from Stanford 20, 40, 60 years ago what they remember most vividly and fondly from their courses, they often say it isn’t what they studied in their major, but rather some fascinating facts or perspectives they learned in a course they took just out of curiosity.
Exploring is fun, and it will enrich you deeply as a person.
And it will help you learn more about yourself, as Chinemere articulated so beautifully a few minutes ago.
As he said: try different things, fail a few times, and have new experiences.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. And your university experience will be the richer for it.
A second reason to explore is that you never know when something you’ve learned will be useful down the road.
When Steve Jobs spoke at Stanford’s Commencement some years ago, he shared a story of exploration from his own life.
When he was in college, he took a calligraphy class. He found it fascinating – learning about serif and sans serif type, the space between letters, and what makes great typography great.
It didn’t have practical application for his life at the time. But a decade later, that knowledge proved invaluable as he designed the first Macintosh and made it the first computer to incorporate great typography – revolutionizing computing and desktop printing.
Third, and most important of all: exploration is the best way to prepare yourself for a future that is very uncertain, and about which we know just one thing – that it will be full of change.
The world is, in fact, changing extremely rapidly. Encountering different ways of thinking and different fields of study in college will help you develop the ability to continually take in new information and to adapt to new ideas throughout the course of your life.
The last few years have shown us how things can change in an instant. We never know what will come our way, and we all need to know how to adapt.
Exploration will teach you nimbleness, openness, and prepare you for a lifetime of learning.
My point is this: your life will not be a straight path from beginning to end. We all walk a winding road, no matter how carefully we try to plan.
The best way to prepare for an uncertain future is to explore widely and to learn as much as you can about everything you’re interested in.
It will set you up to succeed not only here at Stanford but throughout the course of your lives.
At the same time as you explore broadly, you will, of course, choose a major. And once you have, I encourage you to engage deeply in your chosen field.
Developing the ability to dig deep in a field will also serve you well in your life after Stanford, whatever your area of activity.
One important way to engage deeply in your chosen field is by finding mentors – people who can help you expand your knowledge, point you toward exciting new developments in your field, and show you possibilities that you didn’t know existed.
It can also mean participating in hands-on research. Engaging in research will help you develop strong bonds with your professors and your peers, and it will give you the exhilarating experience of contributing to discovery.
It will also help you refine your abilities to ask precise questions and assess data. It will, broadly, exercise and improve your critical thinking skills.
You can also deepen your engagement by putting your knowledge into action and finding internships in your chosen field.
Above all: pay attention, ask questions, and get actively involved in your area of focus.
Beyond your academics, I also want to encourage you to engage both broadly and deeply in our community.
By supporting one another throughout your time here and engaging with one another across areas of difference, you will enrich your own experience.
In the neighborhoods and beyond, you have the opportunity to develop rich social networks and great friendships, many of which will last a lifetime.
You are joining a community where people help and support one another through hard times.
For every one of you, there will be times, here at Stanford, that feel very challenging – as there are for me!
You will encounter setbacks. You will receive critical feedback. You may even get your first poor grade.
These are the moments when you will need, for support, to draw on the connections you have made with one another and with our university faculty and staff, including your resident fellows, professors, coaches, and student affairs staff.
There is help and support for you here. And, importantly, you will recover from these discouraging moments.
Navigating setbacks is how we build strength and set ourselves up for future success.
In addition to being a community of support, this is also a vibrant and diverse community – one in which we strive to meet one another respectfully, even when we disagree.
During your time here, you’ll meet fellow students, faculty, and staff members from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe.
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 will ever be a part of.
This provides you with a crucial opportunity to broaden your worldview, sharpen your perspectives, and better understand how people can see common issues very differently.
This is important. Because as you move through the world – here at Stanford, and beyond – you’ll continually encounter a diversity of perspectives, and you’ll need to know how to engage in productive conversation across areas of disagreement.
This is one objective of a program you will all be participating in this year – Stanford’s first-year shared intellectual experience, called COLLEGE, which, as you know, stands for Civic, Liberal, and Global Education.
The two-quarter program will provide you with a forum to think 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 provides a setting for you to engage in productive discussions, even about contentious topics.
I like to say that it models how to disagree – without being disagreeable.
One focus of COLLEGE is what it means to be an active citizen.
Of course, one of the primary ways to be an active citizen in a democracy is by exercising your right to vote.
If you are eligible to vote in the U.S. elections this November, I hope you have already registered or will soon.
On election day, Stanford will hold Democracy Day. Classes will be canceled to give students time and space for democratic participation, civic engagement, and community building.
But you don’t need to wait until election day to get involved.
Active citizenship at Stanford begins with being an engaged and involved university citizen and working to co-create a thriving environment.
You can do that through Cardinal Service, which supports students in finding ways to put their academic talents to use serving the broader community.
And you can also contribute to building a better future here on campus through your residential community, through student organizations, and through our many community centers.
The work of building community and supporting one another is a central part of the Stanford experience.
It will make your time here more fulfilling, and it will help prepare you for futures where you can have impact in your communities and beyond.
Students: as we embark on this journey together, I urge you to explore and to engage intellectually and to work to expand your knowledge during your years here.
And, just as crucially, I urge you to engage in our community – to commit to supporting one another and to learning from one another.
And parents and loved ones, if I could offer a final piece of advice to you:
Give your student the space to explore and to find their own path – to change and to grow.
But, at the same time, let them know that you will always be there for them when they need you. They will still need you.
You will be astonished – and so proud – of how they grow and evolve during their time here.
Students, I am so happy that you have chosen to spend the next few years with us. I cannot wait to see the wonderful things you do – here at Stanford, and beyond.
Transfers and Class of 2026: Welcome to Stanford!
Now, it is my honor to introduce our student soloists: Sarah Lewis and KeeSeok Lee, who will lead us in singing the Stanford Hymn.