Grads bask in sun, hear about ethics

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

STANFORD: Grads bask in sun, hear about ethics

Students celebrate while ABC's Ted Koppel talks about today's morality

More than 4,000 Stanford students were already in the stadium and having fun as the faculty processional was beginning on Sunday, when a lone student appeared at the runway entrance.

She took a minute to make sure her video camera was working. Then, with a trumpet in her other hand, she balanced on her unicycle and peddled into the stadium, her video camera on.

Welcome to commencement, Stanford style.

ABC newsman Ted Koppel talked about "that mess in Washington," the graduating students stood on cue and warmly cheered their family and friends in the stands behind them, and there were the usual assortment of beach balls, balloons, funny hats, homemade signs and gleeful cavorting in the sun by the graduating seniors before things settled down.

And that took awhile.

The students twice did an impromptu stadium "wave" while Stanford President Gerhard Casper was speaking. The first one brought chuckles, the second brought a "let's settle down" from Casper.

Stanford awarded 1,754 bachelor's degrees, 2,038 master's degrees, and 886 doctorates on Sunday at the university's 107th commencement.

Casper, in his remarks, reminded the graduating students that "the search to know is an unceasing and ultimately inexhaustible task." He urged them to remember why they had first come to Stanford, as they leave.

"The love for truth," Casper said, "implies that one must search not just for evidence, but also for the counter-evidence as well."

Koppel, the host of ABC's "Nightline" and a Stanford alumnus, talked about the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal in Washington and about public and private morality, at Casper's earlier suggestion to him.

Casper, Koppel said, is concerned that society "obliterates all distinction between the public and the private" and wonders what that means for ethics in the long run.

Koppel noted that in an age where the lowbrow Jerry Springer television show is popular among viewers, the public seems to have forgiven the president any infidelities "because the economy is strong," which he said sends a disturbing message suggesting a different morality when the economy is limping. "We mix ourselves a toxic little cocktail of hypocrisy and privacy" in forgiving the president of any alleged sexual affairs, Koppel said.

Koppel said the coverage of Monica Lewinsky and the allegations surrounding Clinton has been excessive. But, he added, "The media has the right to report unproven allegations," and if it didn't, no potential wrongdoing would ever be printed or broadcast until there is a court verdict.

"Is the president entitled to a private life?" Koppel asked rhetorically. "It depends," he answered. For a president, a case of athlete's foot isn't news, but a heart problem is, Koppel explained.

Koppel noted that news shows about car chases and the O.J. Simpson trial blur the line between the real and the imagined. "Almost everything is reduced to a form of entertainment," he said. "And it hardly seems to make a difference anymore whether the chase is real or fiction."

--Don Kazak 

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