Friday, September 20, 2013

Jotthe Kannappan: Freshman Convocation

Most universities have an entire class assemble only once- on the day they graduate. On the other hand, Stanford starts the undergraduate career of every new student with Convocation, an assembly of the class at large, to mark the beginning of their Stanford adventure.

Three weeks ago, President Hennessy mentioned that he was struggling with his speech for convocation, because he always drew inspiration from the book he had been reading. Well, this time, he read Peter the Great: His Life and World, which is about a Tsar of Russia that clearly accomplished great things, but also many bad things. Nonetheless, President Hennessy was able to tell the tale of a man who had a vision for his country, and though most people thought it was impossible, he shouldered the responsibility, and fulfilled that vision.

Yet, at this Convocation, what stuns me are the number of themes from this class that are expressed in the speeches. Richard Shaw, the Dean of Admissions who we also met with, spoke about a past student who graduated and worked with NASA to land "Curiosity" on Mars. He came from a background that didn't play to his strengths, "but Aaron Yazzie was talented. He had a puckish smile and a cheerful outlook and a capacity to dream big." Dreaming big has definitely been a theme in this seminar, as most all of the people we have talked to have mentioned their desire to make an impact on the world.

Moreover, we have heard time and time again in these three weeks that following your passion and making the most out of your time here is invaluable. Similarly, student speaker Jessica Anderson said "Your voice is as powerful as the next and it has a place here – on the Mock Trial team, in the Spoken Word Collective, on the football field, or in the Mechanical Engineering Department. So create your stages. Find your mics. And raise your voices." Vice-Provost Harry Elam also articulated that Stanford is not a "one-size-fits-all" adventure. You are your experience at this tremendous place.

Though we have definitely learned so much more than just those things in the past three weeks, it is interesting to hear such similar concepts being thrown. One has to wonder whether those themes are integral to the Stanford experience. I definitely do believe though, that those words in freshman ears would have seemed empty. But hearing them a year later, in a group of 13, from many people across disciplines and backgrounds, all of whom ARE Stanford, in an honest and earnest conversation? THAT is life-changing.

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