Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stanford Graduation

Two weekends ago (I'm so behind on posting!), Jeff and I flew to San Francisco to go the Jeff's brother's graduation. He's completed his bachelor's degree in Math and Computational Sciences. The graduation was a lot of fun - the weather was beautiful the activities were pretty entertaining.

On Saturday, we headed to campus to see the class lecture, which is a lecture that is given by a professor at the university - chosen by the students. This year, the lecture was given by Professor Durham, who is in Anthropology and Evolution.

He said that they had done an informal survey of Stanford students and found that more than half of them could not accurately define evolution - even given four options to choose from. People sometimes confused it with survival of the fittest or with the definition of intelligent design. So, he said he felt that every Stanford graduation should have had at least one lecture on evolution before graduating.

His lecture talked about Charles Darwin and his life and related that to the graduating students and their futures. He pointed out that Darwin did not have clear plans about what he wanted to do and switched majors and schools a number of times (No need to worry if you don't have your life plan determined yet). He planned to be pre-med, then to enter the clergy, and developed an interest in beetles (Go where ever your interests take you). He was only 22 when he began the voyage to South America where he would collect the samples that led to his famous theory (Even very young people can do incredible and important things). It then took him almost 50 years to go through his findings (what's important is keeping your curiosity and interest alive), discuss with other prominent scientists (stay in touch with your adviser!), and write "The Origin of the Species." It was a very interesting and entertaining lecture, where I felt like I learned a lot about Darwin's life and some about evolution. It was relevant and inspiring without being a cookie-cutter graduation speech.

After the lecture, we went to see Dave's funk band play. It was a great show, and there were lots of bbq-related foods, which was nice. The weather was very good, and a lot of Jeff's family was there. I guess John Elway was also there. (I guess he's a football player, and Jeff and his dad are flabbergasted every time I ask who he is, so he must be important.)

Sunday was the actual graduation. We got up early to go to the Stanford Band Shack - Dave is the drum major in the Stanford Marching Band - which is pretty infamous for being rowdy and out of control (see the "controversial actions of the band" section of the wikipedia article about them). They were having a breakfast - champagne and bagels (A graduation step up from their regular "breakfast of champions" - beer and doughnuts). Very nice. Dave had some great graduating band attire.

The graduation ceremony was pretty different to anything I've been to before. Instead of the slow, somber procession of the graduates into the stadium, Stanford graduates dress in costume and run into the stadium, in what's referred to as the "wacky walk". There are a wide range of costumes...

After about an hour, when everyone is on the field and in their chairs, the graduation speeches began. Oprah was the graduation speaker this year, and her speech was ok. She talked about her life and how she got where she was. She talked about her godchild (Gail's daughter) who was graduating that day. She then gave the advice to essentially: go with your gut feelings, learn from your mistakes, and do what you believe in. So a fairly standard graduation speech.
After the large group graduation, Stanford grads put on their regular graduation robes and go to smaller ceremonies on campus put on by their departments. At these ceremonies the professors say a few words about each student and give them their diplomas. Overall, it was a very entertaining graduation.

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