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A Castle in Spain

Photo: Linda Cicero

By Gerhard Casper

In this, my last column, I should like to quote a few passages from the talk I gave to graduates and their families on Class Day 2000 at the invitation of the senior class. I hope you will accept my farewell to them as also my farewell to the readers of this column. I addressed the seniors as "My Fellow Graduates":

Having followed you for four years; having taught you in Sophomore College; having read you "bedtime stories"; having talked to many of you in the Main Quad, at the Rose Bowl or Senior Pub Night; having rooted with you as a "Sixth Man"; having watched you in Winter One-Act plays; having listened to you sing; having played Marco Polo with some in the Hoover House swimming pool and danced the macarena with others at Gaieties -- I hope that, as I leave the Stanford presidency, you will indeed accept me as a fellow graduate. Since the red 1985 Chevy, in which you so often spotted me, is actually owned by the University, I must buy a new car. Thus, with my usual foresight, I have secured a Class of '00 license plate holder. I shall display it proudly and with feeling.

Dear parents, when I welcomed you on September 20, 1996, I admonished you by quoting President Harding's mixed metaphor: "One must not drop anchor until one is out of the woods." You must admit that that was and is sound advice. It has been a great pleasure getting to know some of you personally over these four years.

My fellow graduates, I now apply the advice about not dropping anchor until out of the woods to you. Indeed, I remind you with another mixed metaphor that "the future is an uncharted sea full of potholes," or, with a triple punch, "Who knows what potholes may lie in the uncharted seas as you scale new peaks?"

My welcome to all of you was entitled "On Making Choices." Since making choices, for you, has obviously just begun, I hope you will permit me to make two points. They are very simple points, and they are very much "Gerhard" types of points -- by which I mean they will not surprise you.

Here is the first: do not let the future make you narrow in intellect, spirit, pursuits, values. I return to an author I quoted to you four years ago. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist, in 1932 wrote to his younger brother: "[L]et me urge you with every earnestness to keep an open mind: to cultivate a disinterested and catholic interest in every intellectual discipline, and in the nonacademic excellences of the world, so that you may not lose that freshness of mind from which alone the life of the mind derives, and that your choice, whatever it be, of work to do may be a real choice, and one reasonably free."

As "the new new thing" dominates our environment, we need to remind ourselves that newness is not necessarily the equivalent of excellence. The excellences of the world include much that is old, and they are so many that it will take the rest of your lives to discover just a few of them. The great news is: the pleasures that come from minds moving and studies blossoming do not disappear once the life of the mind has become a habit.

And -- my second point -- as you attempt to lead truthful and moral lives, remember what an unidentified French theologian once said: the most corrupting lies are problems poorly stated. It is hard to get things right, but with a sense of moral humility, it can be done. It will also take the rest of your lives to clarify your own -- and society's -- values, as you must.

You will now go down "the four wide ways in the great world, each to do your part in a brave and reasonable fashion." And wherever you will be, dream of Stanford. David Starr Jordan, the University's first president, wrote a poem that he entitled with the ancient phrase "A Castle in Spain." His poem is about a "castle in Spain" that is real and not just imagined: it is about Stanford. Though not a great poem, the "little" poem tries to express something of Stanford's grace and, therefore, let me conclude by passing it on to you.

There stands a castle in the heart of Spain,
Builded of stone, as if to stand for aye,
With tile-roof red against the azure sky;
And skies are bluest in the heart of Spain.

Castle so stately men build not again;
'Neath its broad arches, in its patio fair,
And through its cloisters, open everywhere,
I wander as I will, in sun or rain.
Its inmost secret unto me is known,
For mine the castle is. Nor mine alone --

The "castle" is yours, as it is Leland and Jane Stanford's, David Starr Jordan's, the faculty's, the alumni's, even mine. And, most mysteriously, as you now metamorphose into alumni, the castle must be and will be there for future generations of students and faculty.

I wish you all the very best!

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