Rites of Spring: Lou Henry Hoover’s Commencement Address at Stanford, 1941

Lou Henry Hoover at commencement ceremonies at Stanford Univerisity. ca. 1941

While on the subject [howsoever narrow] of Hoovers speaking at Stanford commencements, I would be remiss not to note that Lou Henry Hoover contributed to the oeuvre.   Lou Henry Hoover was one of three speakers tapped to address the graduates at Stanford’s fiftieth anniversary, June 15, 1941.  She was the first woman to address Stanford’s graduating class; the next woman to speak at Stanford’s commencement did so thirty-five years later.

She opened her address to ‘Stanford boys and girls of the last four years; Stanford men and women of the fifty years to come’ by having the other dignitaries on the stage join her in saying: ‘We salute you.’  Ever humble, Lou then went on to say, ‘There is no academic subject that I could present that would hold your attention for five minutes on such a momentous occasion.’  So she harkened back to her own time at Stanford, noting that she was first year student when the ‘Pioneers,’ the first group of students to attend Stanford for four years, graduated in 1895.

Lou neatly segued to 1941, reminding the current graduates that pioneering opportunities still exist: ‘Geography is not the only field to offer alluring frontiers to explore and conquer.  Science, social sciences, historical research, economics and medicine all afford pioneering opportunities.’  It was incumbent on the graduates to recognize this, to draw practical lessons from the old captains, and to base future explorations on the accomplishments of the past.  Lou closed her brief remarks by challenging the graduates to imagine themselves fifty years in the future [‘1991!’] and face this question: ‘How much will your activities have been influenced by your four years at Stanford?’  By closing with such a provocative question, Lou made her point.

Strangely, her husband Herbert Hoover, was not among the more than eighty Stanford alumni joining the festivities that Sunday afternoon.  Herbert spent the day travelling from the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where he’d met with cereal magnate Will Keith Kellogg, to the Chicago-area home of businessman and publisher Arch Shaw.  Eventually Herbert Hoover wended his way to Palo Alto, reaching the Hoover home there on June 16, 1941.  On June 19th, he delivered the keynote address at the symposium celebrating Stanford’s fiftieth anniversary.  The next day, he spoke at the dedication of the Hoover Library for War, Revolution and Peace.  I do not know whether Lou Henry Hoover attended these events.

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