Very soon, we will greet you in person and welcome you to Stanford – a university, a place, and an intangible culture that all of us here love and respect, and take great pleasure in sharing with you. A summer at Stanford will be “a place apart” for you – and an opportunity to explore new interests and establish new habits.
It would be a mistake, I believe, to come here and settle into your old routines, no matter how successful they have been for you. I urge you to think of the eight weeks of Stanford Summer Session as a precious intellectual, academic, social, and cultural immersion in new experiences that will transform your life. This goal of transformation is not out of reach. It is, in fact, what thousands of Summer Session students over the years have told us happens to them during their stay here. As a matter of fact, you will have to work very hard not to be transformed by your summer at Stanford.
To begin with, you will be in class and in dormitories with a truly remarkable cohort of students – from all over the world and from every conceivable cultural, social, and religious background. As your roommate and on your floor and in your Psychology discussion section, you will be with students from China and Chicago, Pennsylvania and Pakistan, Sweden and South Carolina. And many of them will become life-long friends, business associates, and – who knows? – spouses and partners.
The other transformative experience you will have is almost guaranteed by the remarkable location of the campus. Hugging the Santa Cruz Mountains, on the Peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, just 35 miles south of San Francisco and in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford is a jumping off point for weekend exploration of some of the most magnetic places in the country (we’ll organize fieldtrips for you). But you don’t need a car to “get out.” Adjacent to the campus are the rolling oak hills affectionately known as The Dish, with miles of trails, waiting for your early morning run or a sunset stroll. The 8,000 acre campus itself (by some estimates the largest in the country because it started out as Governor Leland Stanford’s horse farm) is a walker and bicyclist’s paradise, and its swimming pools, golf course, and playing fields are at your disposal.
But you’re not coming to Club Med, right? You are coming (we proudly say) to one of the six best universities in the world — the others being Harvard, Cambridge, Berkeley, MIT, and Oxford — and it will be your time in the labs and libraries, classrooms and lecture halls, in informal office hours with faculty, and in late night discussions with fellow students where you will be most transformed. You will leave Stanford with new knowledge, there’s no question about that, but you will also leave with greater comfort and confidence in your ability to enter into the compelling conversations of humankind, and to help to answer the most urgent questions facing us today: “Can we avert climate change?” “Where will we find alternative fuels?” “Can we live to 100?” “Do we want to?” This list of questions, and many you have that I can’t even imagine, could be extended indefinitely.
As somebody who teaches literature, I’d like to close this post by quoting a poem full of questions — one aptly entitled “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. And I look forward to greeting you all at the end of June, and sharing questions and answers with you for eight glorious weeks this summer.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean – the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver