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Stanford University President's Opening Speech: Always Be Curious

On September 14, local time in the United States, Stanford University held the 2021 opening ceremony. This year marks the largest enrollment in Stanford's history, with 2,131 freshmen and 66 transfer students. Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President of Stanford University, said in his opening speech: The world is currently facing many challenges: from a global epidemic, to racial and economic inequality, to the proliferation of fake news, to the climate crisis. This pandemic has shown that we must rely on each other to solve the enormous challenges we face.


Here is the full text of the speech:

All new students and families: Welcome to Stanford! Over the past few days, I hope you've spent some time discovering all our campus has to offer: exploring the beauty around us, discovering new places to eat, and enjoying Fun late night chat with roommates and new friends. After a busy stay, I'm so glad we got together this morning.

Commencement is one of my favorite events of the year. It's always a wonderful thing to celebrate the arrival of our new first-year students as you embark on the next step in your academic journey. And this year, it feels even more special. As you know, our campus has been quiet for the past 18 months. This fall, our entire student body has been invited back, as have many faculty and staff, and it really feels like our campus is coming back to life.

Your arrival, the Class of 2025 — the largest class in Stanford's history — brings new energy and excitement, reminds us of what we missed in the past year, and gives us reason to be hopeful for the future . I'm glad you are here. I also want to thank your parents, families and loved ones. Whether it's people who come here in person for the rally, or people who join us via livestream. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Stanford family today. As the father of three college-going kids, I know this is a complicated day for you all—deep pride, hope for the future, and nervousness about leaving home for your kids. During these uncertain times, you may feel more apprehensive as you prepare to say goodbye to your child. I want to assure you that we are committed to supporting your children, helping them thrive at Stanford, and giving them the skills and knowledge they need to live happy and fulfilling lives.

The health and well-being of our students is our top priority, especially as we deal with the current outbreak. For their safety, we take every decision we make with great care, and we will continue to care for and support them throughout their years at Stanford. This pandemic has highlighted how interconnected we are and how, living in a community, we are interdependent for our health and well-being.

Over the past year or so, the pandemic has disrupted our original plans, many of us have missed milestones in our lives, and some of us have lost loved ones due to COVID-19. This is a very difficult time. But now, a year and a half after our lives have been turned upside down, this is a moment to commemorate the changes you have made in this experience - how your own priorities and values were changed or reinforced. It's time to consider what exactly gives your life meaning and fulfillment, and use that as inspiration to shape your life at Stanford.

Jane Stanford and Leland Stanford established this university in honor of their son to generate knowledge: not for their own sake, but for the benefit of humanity. If there’s one thing we’ve gained from the experience of the past year and a half, it’s been reconnecting with the world, with each other, with a new sense of purpose, with a sense of urgency to make the most of the opportunities before us. During my time with you today, I want to encourage you to use your time at Stanford to engage deeply and purposefully in three ways: with your academics, with your community, and with our wider world .

Over the next few years, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore freely across a wide range of interests and learn from leading academics in every field. This will enrich you personally and prepare you for the future. It will help you discover interests you didn't know you had before, develop new skills, and discover new ways of seeing the world.

As part of your academic exploration, I also strongly encourage you to engage in hands-on research while at Stanford. Research will make you a better critical thinker and help you prepare for the challenges the world throws at you when you leave campus. Plus, in addition to your academic pursuits, there are countless extracurricular opportunities where you can further explore your interests. Stanford has more than 600 student-led organizations. I encourage you to seek out things that spark your curiosity - it will further enrich your experience. In short, during your time here, I hope you will always remain curious.

Second, I encourage you to get involved in our community. Just as important as your academic experience is your relationship with your fellow students, faculty, teaching assistants, and more. What I'm particularly excited about is that this fall, when you join Stanford, we're launching our new residential program, Res-X. Under the Res-X system, each of you has a community "base" that will be the focus of your Stanford residency experience. Our goal is to build a strong foundation for a healthy and vibrant student community that prioritizes belonging, well-being, equity and inclusion. Most importantly, here you have the opportunity to develop rich social networks and deep friendships with your peers, many of which will last a lifetime. Whether in residence halls or elsewhere, you'll meet fellow students, faculty and staff from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe.

Stanford is a place that values the diverse experiences and perspectives that all members of our community bring to the table. Offers you an important opportunity to broaden your worldview, better understand the lives of others, and hone your own perspective. Learning from each other and from our differences enriches each of us, and our entire community, as we strive to create a more accessible, diverse and equitable university.

My third point: I encourage you to use your time at Stanford to engage with and open up to the wider world. Outside of the classroom, you will have many opportunities to get involved through the "Cardinal Service". "Cardinal Service" supports students using their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems through real-world work, both at Stanford and in communities locally and around the world. In the classroom, each of you has the opportunity to grapple with challenging ethical and social issues. You begin your journey at Stanford during a time of historic change.

In order for you to fully engage in this quest, you must encounter a variety of perspectives and deep-rooted beliefs. This means we have an obligation to provide you with an environment in which ideas can flourish and each of you can make a difference on our campuses, fostering open, tolerant and productive dialogue.

So as you begin your careers at Stanford, I want to ask you three things: First, reach out to each other with curiosity rather than condescension. Second, encourage your peers to express their ideas so you can have discussions and debates with them, you can persuade them or be persuaded by them - but don't yell or try to stop them. Third, bring your best selves to our community. Respect your own values, but also humbly learn from others. You'll be surprised to meet an unusual group of classmates, many of whom don't have views that match yours. Engage with them - challenge them when appropriate, but be polite at the same time - and most importantly, learn from them!

Finally, we continue to live in challenging times. But each of you came to Stanford because we believe in your ability to rise to the challenge - to use your curiosity, connect with each other, connect with our world, and dedicate your energy, enthusiasm and talent to make the world a better place good. I can't wait to see what your time here is and what you'll be able to do at Stanford and beyond.

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