There’s been a lot of talk recently about our record-shattering low admission rate. We ended up admitting somewhere around 5.7% of all applicants. Let’s all just sit for a second and recognize how small that number is.
For the class of 2017, it’s conceivable that congratulations are in order. I imagine that most of you have worked hard or endured some sort of hardship to get here, and you’ve been rewarded with admission to one of the greatest universities in the history of man. It’s an exciting time to relax for the latter part of senior year with all your friends in tow. You’ll have fantastic parties to attend, hands to shake and praise to receive from your respective schools.
But at some point in the near future, after the last hand has been shaken, the last party has been partied and the last award has been accepted, you’ll find yourself alone in your bed, trying to fall asleep. Your mind will be tossing and turning as much as your body, and you’ll have to come to terms with what your admission to Stanford means. Many of you may pause here, never realizing that, yes, your admission and subsequent presence here means something. It’s currently in vogue to say that meaning is entirely up to you. Forge and temper your own steel, or, to paraphrase Alexis Carrel, you are both the marble and the sculptor.
To some extent, yes, your presence here, your actions, agenda and trajectory are and should be entirely up to you. But, at the same time, an admission to Stanford is an obligation.
Allow me to give you an example. An old high school acquaintance contacted me not long ago and we got to talking. At one point, she said, as a compliment, that I “was a very gifted person.” I thought that so untrue. We here at Stanford are not gifted, we are obliged.
That is to say, our presence here is not an endowment from on high, it is a mandate to do good in the world. While here, you will have at your disposal resources – people, material and capital – that are, frankly, unfathomable. You’ll have peers with a wealth of experiences, the best professors in their field, generous stipends and fellowships, as well as access to organizations like the Haas Center for Public Service. It is your duty to use the tools and services this campus provides to make a positive impact on the world.
That impact does not include coding apps that convenience the lives of already convenienced people. It also doesn’t include aspiring to be a corporate lawyer or a high-powered, emotionally void businessman. I encourage you, admits – and my peers already here – to check your privilege and have a long, hard reflection about how best you can serve humanity.
The burden of curing HIV, solving world hunger, ending war, bringing justice and expanding the human literary corpus fall on the shoulders of elites like us. You – we – literally represent some of the most brilliant people in all the world with the resources to do things formerly thought incomprehensible. You are not here by some fluke. You are here to do those things.
You are a mountain climber who is approaching the top. Do not reach the top so the world can look up at you. Do not reach the top so you can sigh and look down at the world. Don’t do it to pat yourself on the back or revel in the accolades of others. Summit so that when you descend, you can guide the less capable to the top. Go forth.
Start doing some good in the world with Chris by emailing him at email@example.com.