Over the weekend, Stanford University held commencement ceremonies for the graduating classes of 2020 and 2022. Despite being separated by two years, both graduating classes share a common experience — losing a large chunk of their college experience to the pandemic.
On Saturday, the Class of 2020 finally celebrated its achievements in front of friends and family at a ceremony two years in the making. A day later on Sunday, the Class of 2022 was honored as well, though the ceremony was marked by the absence of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, the keynote speaker who tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the event.
In Saturday's ceremony, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne related the plight of the Class of 2020 to the Class of 1906, who dealt with two epidemics and a 7.9-magnitude earthquake during their time at the university. As told by Tessier-Lavigne, students from the class of 1906 came together and formed a community through the hardships.
"We learned what it means to keep one another safe and to support each other in times of great challenge," Tessier-Lavigne said of the resolve of the Class of 2020. In the following remarks, commencement speaker France A. Córdova echoed the importance of resilience.
"Despite this adversity, you rewrote your college experience in a way that future generations will recognize as epitomizing resourcefulness and grit," Córdova said.
Córdova emphasized the importance of going on unexpected career paths. Ten years after she received her bachelor's degree in English from Stanford, Córdova completed her doctorate degree in physics at the California Institute of Technology.
To conclude her speech, Córdova urged students to use all the knowledge they have accumulated, whether in their field of study or not, to influence their futures.
"There are no typical lawyers, there are no model doctors or model artists and no standard scientists," Córdova said.
Although the Class of 2022's commencement ceremony wasn't postponed, the pandemic still had a major impact — namely, in the absence of commencement speaker Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix and a philanthropist.
Prior to Hastings' scheduled appearance on stage, Tessier-Lavigne announced to the audience that the entrepreneur would not be in attendance. Hastings tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the ceremony, which led him and event organizers to pre-record his speech to play at Sunday's event to ensure that his speech was given to the graduates. Hastings instead watched the ceremony through a livestream, according to Tessier-Lavigne.
In his speech, Hastings urged graduates to learn from the mistakes that his generation made on global issues, such as climate change and world peace.
"Leaders in my generation have been working to economically net the whole world together through trade, so that war between any two countries would be unthinkable," Hastings said.
To combat the tendency for war, he called on the graduates to pursue peace through inventions and stories — "one is about harnessing the natural world; the other is about harnessing the human spirit," according to Hastings.
To conclude his remarks, Hastings referenced the story of "The Tortoise and the Hare" to understand the paths many graduates will take. As a self-identified tortoise, Hastings explained how he didn't know what he wanted to do with his career until he invented Netflix at the age of 37.
"If you're a tortoise, embrace it. Collect experiences and wisdom that will serve you later on. Applaud your hare friends and their successes, but don't let it bother you," Hastings said.