Taking Flight

We invited readers to submit their own stories in response to our March story and video about first-gen and low-income students at Stanford. 

I simply had to express my enthusiastic endorsement of the FLI program. I came to Stanford in 1961, and to put it mildly, there was no such program. I was from a small Pennsylvania town on the West Virginia border, so small, in fact, that we didn’t have a high school. (We did run one bus to a town 7 miles away.) I had to walk 1½ miles to get that bus, but I admit that it was only uphill in one direction.

My family was quite poor and plagued by ignorance and dysfunctionality. I had never actually met anyone who had gone to a “real” university, but after my mother died of cervical cancer in my junior year of high school, I became obsessed with achieving something. God knows why, but Stanford accepted me.

I had to have been close to the most unprepared student, academically, socially and otherwise, to have ever arrived on campus. There were other scholarship students there, but they were all brilliant, whereas I was of average ability at best. But, thanks to a good work ethic and a promise I had made my mother to become a doctor, I did well. After completing medical school at Washington University in St. Louis and training in pediatrics, I got a public health degree at Berkeley. I retired two years ago after nearly 50 years of practice. During my last 20 years or so I was a clinical professor of pediatrics back at Washington University and participated in a mentoring program for rural scholarship recipients, hoping to do what I could to facilitate their transition, but I never encountered a student’s situation quite analogous to my own.

Blaine Sayre, ’65
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Here I am 69 years after graduation just finding out I should be labeled and feel put upon by life!

Being FLI has never ever occurred to me in all these years. Yes, I was the first (and only) in my family to go to Stanford and the family was definitely low income.

Early on, I decided on a nursing career and have never once regretted it. My inspiration was our public school nurse, whose awesome nursing cap with the bright red S on the left side probably helped me decide on Stanford.

There were no extras, no nonessential clothes, but somehow tuition was paid, books were bought and Roble was enjoyed for two years. The next three years were in San Francisco at the old hospital, where many adventures awaited me and my 26 classmates.

No FLI, I . . . just a young lady wanting to be the best trained for a useful role in life, supported by very caring parents, and wanting to make them proud, which I believe I did.

Shirley Juarez Boydstun, ’50
Guadalupe, California

Photo: Erin Attkisson Photo: Erin Attkisson 

One of the most inspiring videos I’ve seen in a while. I relate to Jorge [Cueto, ’16, MS ’18 (above)] so much. I’m not nearly as talented or brilliant, but I greatly sympathize with the underestimation and “writing off” Latinos endure because of the “low-skilled immigrant” stereotype. I probably grew up in a community much like his, and navigating the professional class as an outcast (utterly outside his depth) is something I also feel deep inside my soul.

David Zamarripa
via YouTube

Arriving at Stanford was like a splash of cultural cold water—I had never been around so many well-to-do people (students and faculty) in my life. This, coupled with the stress of a doctoral program, made for some very difficult early years. 

I am now a full professor at UCLA and I try to be open and honest about the difficulties I went through. Feelings of not belonging in elite universities are real and consequential. I managed these feelings by cobbling together a network of similar others who were experiencing Stanford in the same way as me. It makes me very happy to learn that Stanford is recognizing that not every student’s experience is the same, and that first-gen and low-income students can now find support in the FLI community.

Miguel Unzueta, PhD ’06
Los Angeles, California

I arrived on campus in September 1982, full of dreams. I had brought with me a $300 check my father gave me that I used to buy my books and pay for my share of the phone line in my room. The check bounced. Suddenly I was in debt. Not a single person in the dorm seemed to grasp the culture shock I was experiencing, let alone the poverty my family and I were dealing with, no matter how much I tried to explain. I was nicknamed “the f***ing little Mexican,” called “little greaser,” “little beaner” and “little pinhead” (the word “little” was clearly required to identify me). 

My freshman roommates had introduced me to college drinking on the very first weekend, so going to campus parties and getting drunk for free became my escape. Toward the end of the school year, my underage drinking had escalated to the point that I almost died. I returned to South Texas to the fifth dwelling in five years, feeling humiliated and strangely out of place even at home. 

Sophomore year, I was determined to improve my situation. Then, winter quarter, a dormmate who was a drug dealer shared pot and cocaine with me. I also started stealing coke from him, for my use. I came out that spring when I couldn’t lie about my sexuality anymore, but facing significant ostracism in the dorm as well as rejection in my family, I fell into a deep depression. I stayed on campus that summer, barely earning any money. Addicted, confused, literally hungry, desperately alone, I had a suicidal crisis.

I was the first and only person in my family to ever attend a private, top-ranked, world-class university in the United States. I am inclined to think I might have felt more at ease had I attended another university with a more diverse population, where a big percentage of students were not obliviously affluent; or, alternatively, had Stanford as an institution been more sensitive from the beginning to the reality of someone like me. I did get help from an amazing clinical psychologist (now associate dean of students), Alejandro Martinez, who sat next to me at the Stanford Hospital emergency room and, with the most compassionate-sounding voice, tried to reassure me that dying was not the only option left for me. I am grateful to him, to the LGBT community, to the food service staff I bonded with in the dorm kitchen where I worked, and to the friends that stood by my side.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our stories. In the end, they are stories of survival.

Mario Golden, ’86, MA ’93
Elmhurst, New York

I ran out of food toward the end of each quarter, and often went to class hungry. My friends didn’t understand why I couldn’t afford to go on expensive trips or out to fancy dinners. One mocked me mercilessly when she found out my clothes were from Sears. After that, I cut the tags off my clothes.

Jonathan Harvey, ’05
Camarillo, California 

I loved every minute at Stanford and my friends never cared about my financial situation. They were a little surprised, during summer visits, to see how many people can fit in a small home. I was surprised at how large their houses were. My world expanded and was enriched by the diversity at Stanford. The financial help I received was amazing. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Joyce Moore, ’84
Greenwood Village, Colorado

Even with a Pell Grant, scholarships and loans, I worked over 20 hours a week. I also picked up odd jobs off campus—cleaning and house sitting—for extra cash. Part of it was still trying to help out at home, like buying eyeglasses for my younger sisters. 

Although I missed out on some experiences, like study abroad, because of lack of resources, I loved my time at Stanford. I always felt like I fit in because my friends and classmates always cared about me and my ideas rather than the things I had (or didn’t have). 

Jessica Hughes, ’96, MA ’96
Alexandria, Virginia

I am one of nine children of an immigrant Mexican family. My parents’ schooling ended in grade school as they were needed to contribute income to their respective families. My parents valued education, but we all had to contribute to the survival of our family by waking up at 5 a.m. on the weekends and during summers to go work in the fields. My siblings and I were the first generation to go to college.

What I enjoyed about Stanford was that even though many came from privilege, most did not act like it. Upon reflection and considering the disparity in educational opportunities, those who did not need to work to finance their education continued to have an advantage in their education that we did not: the luxury of extra time.

Miguel Huidor, ’94
Los Angeles, California

I was first-generation college from a family of seven that earned less than $10,000 a year. As a white person from an enlisted military family, I didn’t fit into any specific group and felt ostracized and out of place. 

Henry Rausch, ’83
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia 

To have unknowingly carried the burden of the “stigma” of poverty and that of being the first generation to attend college and to not have been recognized as such is clearly a cross from which we will not easily be relieved, having suffered under anonymity these so many years. Would that we had the good fortune to attend Stanford currently, where the banner of our poverty and the intellectual shortcomings of our family would be used to free us from those taints. The article only confirms that the poor must be told they are poor; otherwise, they will not recognize their condition. 

Sanctifying stigmas, handicaps, obstacles and shackles does not eliminate them. Most of us came to Stanford to be more like Stanford and less the way we used to be. What an expensive way to stay the same. 

Myron Gananian, ’51, MD ’59
Menlo Park, California

The heavy backpack of fear I carried, that I wouldn’t be able to continue for lack of funds, barely diminished over four years. Too often my twice-divorced mother, focused on feeding toddlers and keeping a roof over her head, would be late returning financial aid forms, or return them to me incomplete. Excruciating. I never dreamed of studying abroad, nor of accepting an unpaid summer internship. Afraid to reveal to anyone where I really came from, I graduated with very few close friends.

Despite the difficulties, and the opportunities I missed for lack of economic means or social confidence, I am grateful for the Stanford ticket out of the rootlessness and chaos of the first 18 years of my life. 

Joanne Ernst, ’81, MBA ’94
Boulder, Colorado

I didn’t even realize just how separate my world was from that of the privileged students who viewed elite university education as a birthright. They were aspiring to careers I had never even heard of. The only bankers I had met were tellers. What, even, was a consultant? All my parents ever wanted of me was that I earn a doctorate, any doctorate.

It was many years later that it finally dawned on me how isolated we were, the brown, the immigrants, the poor, the unsophisticated; how cut off we were from most of the gilded paths to opportunity. I have mixed feelings about it. I know that everything I’ve achieved, I earned. But the inequality of opportunity still makes me angry. I hope the young “woke” generation can change that.

Charles Hsu, MBA ’90, PhD ’85
San Francisco, California 

I first learned of Stanford in the sixth grade, and it became my goal, my dream. I took a four-year detour through Harvard College. However, Stanford is my identity and my passion. Many doors opened with my Stanford MD. Now, I hear I am a FLI, and I am proud to announce this! In the past, I was embarrassed by my poverty, my family background and my filthy work clothes. I was embarrassed by my mother signing her name with a + sign. I was embarrassed by my sibling dropouts. Today, all those negative feelings are gone. All that remain are pride and fulfillment. I hope to meet other Stanford FLIs. I want to hear their stories and to share mine. 

Ricardo Romero, MD ’81
Chula Vista, California

The most exciting day of my senior year of high school was crushed in a moment with three words: “Great! Can’t go.” That was my dad’s initial response to my acceptance letter from Stanford. My dad is a good father, but at the time he only saw a price tag he and my mom couldn’t afford. So I opted for some student loans and my parents contributed what they could when they could. I paid my year’s tuition in the spring of my freshman year. I worked three on-campus jobs. I could not afford to purchase my books, so I read them in the bookstore, then placed them back on the shelf. When they eventually began to clear textbooks from the store I had to sign up for a credit card, purchase the books, make copies of entire textbooks in Green Library (copies were free there), then return them in time to get the money refunded to my card. In some courses, I didn’t have a book for much of the quarter. That was my introduction to college academics.

My freshman experience was in stark contrast to that of my roommate, who was wealthier beyond what I had ever known. He could afford tuition, room and board, and the latest in technology. It was as though Stanford was conducting an experiment by pairing a rich student with a poor student on campus just to see what happens.

Fast forward to sophomore year: I was late again paying my tuition bill, feeling like a tenant ducking and pretending he’s not home while the landlord bangs on the door for the rent check. Soon into the year, I could no longer afford my meal plan. Friends would bring me leftovers; I’d order lots of pizza; and I worked as a student manager for the baseball team, where I was able to receive some meals comped. Stanford continued to work with me and actually reduced my costs each year, but it was still too much of a burden.

Junior year I was able to cover some of my costs initially, but soon I missed payment to the university. My friends and then-girlfriend began going door to door in the dorm asking for donations on my behalf, as it was becoming evident that I would have to drop out. The bursar’s office caught wind of this, asked them to stop and called me in to discuss my situation. Again, Stanford remained committed to me and worked out a package that was affordable for me. I continued to work from year to year to help cover my expenses.

Senior year, my parents did not have to contribute at all. I covered everything through financial aid and loans, chose wiser meal plans and continued to work. Although I had to pay my portion of rent late at times; it was my least stressful year in terms of finances. Much of my stress came from the reality that I had no one to fall back on to bail me out if I couldn’t afford something major. If Stanford had not worked with me from year to year, I would never have received my undergrad degree.

The funny thing is, as I look back on my experience, it was a miracle I finished at all, but at the time all of those trials just seemed normal to me; that was life.

I did feel alone often. I knew of only one other student who experienced financial struggles similar to my own. Many could not relate to my situation or even understand that when I said I did not have money to cover something, I truly had nowhere to turn to squeeze out another dime. It was very lonely and frustrating at times, but I thought that I just had to figure it out somehow on my own. It is so encouraging to hear about the FLI program and to know that students like me have more opportunities for support and to not feel alone on this journey.

Jason Lee Morgan, ’03
Santa Ana, California

At one point in my freshman year, I literally spent my last dime. Tuition was paid, as was the student housing bill, but I had only 10 cents left in my pocket. I had been getting notices in my mailbox for several weeks asking me to come to the Finance Office, but because I assumed it must have meant there were unpaid charges, I had been ignoring them. After a light-bulb moment, realizing that no one could take from me what I did not have, I went to Tresidder Union and spent my last dime on a cup of coffee. It was liberating. And then I went to the Finance Office with my pile of notices. An anonymous benefactor had established an account in my name that had accumulated nearly a hundred dollars. I have suspicions but to this day I do not know who did it. It certainly rescued my spring quarter.

What probably rescued me psychologically and kept me centered through the remainder of my Stanford days was work. On the ground floor of Wilbur Hall was a fairly large storeroom adjacent to the dining halls. At some point in unrecorded history, it became an illicit coffeehouse called the Jester. It had no plumbing and was never inspected except by food service folks who condoned it by ignoring it and supplying it with plates, napkins and plastic cutlery. A freshman from across the hall at Madera House chipped in with me for 25 bucks apiece and we bought the business from the previous operator before Christmas in 1967. We fueled Dead Week all-nighters with urns of coffee and hot cider and sandwiches made on white bread with your choice of peanut butter and jelly (50 cents), Carl Buddig lunch meats or hand-carved canned ham (75 cents). If you wanted cheese, it was Velveeta, portion controlled through the use of a wire and roller cheese slicer (25 cents more). Every afternoon, we would hit the Lucky market just off 101 at Embarcadero to stock up, and on Dead Week and Finals Week nights the Stanford police officer whose beat included Wilbur Hall would escort us to our rooms with the cash in return for being well fed the rest of the time.

I sold out to another enterprising freshman in spring of 1968 because I realized if I didn’t spend more time studying and less time entrepreneuring, I was not going to successfully complete my freshman year. He and my previous partner finished out the school year dishing white bread and Velveeta, but I think that was the end of the Jester. Nonetheless, the Jester history resulted in my original partner’s and my being asked if were interested in managing a legitimate student-run coffee house that was to be opened in an unused space in Tresidder Union for the fall of 1968. And so was born the Stanford Coffee House.

Ultimately, my Stanford experience ended early. Enrolling for spring of 1970 would have sent my student loan debt over the thousand-dollar mark; the job prospects for humanities degrees were not encouraging; and besides, I got married. In retrospect it seems quaintly foolish to have quit, but oddly, I have no regrets.

Craig McKnight, ’72
Sacramento, CA

My dad died four years before I entered Stanford. My mom was making $11,000 a year and trying to keep three daughters clothed, housed and fed. I didn’t even think of capitalizing on this for my Stanford essay. I got into Stanford in April and asked my mom if I could fly out to see it. She said, “No, you’ll go in September, and you’ll love it,” because there was no money for plane fare from Boston. So I enrolled in Stanford sight unseen. Everyone was super-welcoming in my freshman dorm, Trancos. I remember being embarrassed that I didn’t have a matching comforter set or a stereo. My roommate didn’t make me feel bad about it. In retrospect, Stanford’s residential system and somewhat isolated location was optimal for someone from a low-income background. Most students lived on campus, ate in the dining halls and partied for free in other dorms or frat houses. Had I gone to Harvard, Brown, Columbia or any urban university, I would’ve had to exempt myself from social activities that cost money at bars, restaurants or nightclubs. I also felt that Stanford didn’t have the kind of class consciousness more endemic to the East Coast at that time. I saved money on clothes since I didn’t have to spend money on a wardrobe for extreme temperature changes, and most people dressed casually. Stanford was very generous with financial aid. I graduated with only $10,000 in loans. I have nothing but gratitude for the opportunities Stanford gave me. My time there was truly life-changing.

Dorothy Manning, ’89
San Francisco, California

I immigrated from Peru to San Francisco’s barrio, the Mission District, when I was 10. Didn’t speak English then. I did not know how good a school Stanford was, but applied because it was near home. Luckily a Stanford alum actually came to my house to tell me about Stanford! What convinced me to go was the overseas campus program. (I went to Stanford in Vienna.) Going to Stanford a few years after arriving in the U.S. was an amazing experience! I majored in psychology and got to work with the fourth-most-eminent psychologist of the 20th century, Albert Bandura, as my honors thesis adviser. Six days after getting my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Oregon, I was back in the Mission, working at San Francisco General Hospital as a professor of psychology in the School of Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco. I founded a Spanish/English depression clinic in 1985, and the depression groups we started back then are still being offered. I also started the Latino Mental Health Research Program in 1992, which trained many Latinx and other underrepresented professionals. I am in my 42nd year at “The General,” now as professor emeritus. In 2012, I joined Palo Alto University to found the Institute for International Internet Interventions for Health (i4Health) and also became adjunct clinical professor at Stanford. I am still using what I learned at Stanford to serve not only Latinx in San Francisco, but, using the Internet, all over the world.

Ricardo Muñoz, ’72
San Francisco, California 

As a child of immigrants, I didn’t experience the stigma and shame that other first-gen students may have experienced; I viewed my situation as living the American Dream, and I was proud to be the first. The difficult part for me was trying to take full advantage of all the opportunities Stanford presented. I enrolled in a field seminar my sophomore year that included a trip to Costa Rica to learn about sustainable development and ecotourism. To this day, I am grateful that the Bing family provided a scholarship that covered the cost of the trip. Unfortunately, that scholarship didn’t include airfare. Though I was already working two jobs, I took on a third to cover the cost of the plane tickets. I had the worst grades of my undergraduate career that quarter, but it was worth it.

Elisa Hernandez, ’05
Pasadena, California

I think that for 60-some years I have been a FLI dealing with a stigma about which I was unaware. When I arrived at Stanford in 1952 with a few clothes, a blanket, a toothbrush and some toothpaste, it never occurred to me that my background of a low-income family that had never seen the inside of a college made me unusual, special or inept. I guess that unbeknownst to me, I just stumbled through five years of college, and for that matter all of my years since, without a FLI hand to hold.

What has happened in those 60 years that has turned college students into delicate little flowers unable to step up to life’s challenges without mommy, daddy or a FLI administrator there to hold their hands?

Jackson McElmell, ’56, MA ’57
San Francisco, California

Stanford was a wonder, a joy—and a shock.

Everyone around me seemed much more sophisticated and affluent. Many had attended private or prep schools. I remember asking my roommate why she had a picture of a library on her desk—turned out, it was her family home.

When an environment has an atmosphere of cultural homogeneity—and you are outside that homogeneity—it can be easy to develop what some have identified as “impostor syndrome,” a feeling of shame about your qualifications, coupled with the fear that you will eventually be “found out.” Stanford was a profoundly transformative experience for me, but also one filled with continual anxiety around fitting in and “being other.”

I am so grateful that the university is creating a space for first-gen and low-income students to support one another as they step into the amazing life that awaits them both at Stanford and beyond.

Kasey Arnold-Ince, ’76
San Rafael, California

I was at Stanford before the idea of recognizing FLI was a thing. My parents were immigrants; neither went past grade school due to WWII. Much that I encountered at Stanford was so new to me, and there was little guidance and few role models to emulate. I felt like a stranger plopped into a Land of Plenty. I thrived academically and can think of no better place to have experienced the richness of educational opportunities that Stanford offered. But socially, I felt the lack of connection and empathy and kept my background shamefully to myself. I am so very heartened to learn that Stanford now recognizes this group of folks and allows for support and acknowledgement of students that have so much to offer from their unique experiences in their lives.

Nancy Ung, ’82
Orinda, California

Once accepted to Stanford, I was flown over to California for free and enjoyed the first moment in my life where finances were not an impediment to my growth. However, trying out my success in a few subject areas proved to be difficult, especially when I ventured into computer science for my major. Finding trouble connecting with my CS classmates, I sheltered myself in history and economics to regain confidence. I had not taken AP Computer Science in high school, nor had I been the leader of a math competition. I never had a tutor growing up, nor even my own laptop. However, books, whether borrowed, copied or even handwritten, were always available in my home. So I focused on my writing strengths and my math skills to carry me down Palm Drive.

Leonardo Leal, ’15
Palo Alto, California

Toward the end of winter quarter of my junior year, I was running out of money, partially due to an increase in tuition and room and board. At about that time, Dr. Bacon, a professor of my partial differential equations class, told me to see him that day during his office hours. He asked what was bothering me—he said my work was falling off—and persisted until I admitted that due to financial problems I was going to leave school. He said, “Oh, is that all?” and made a brief phone call. He then told me to go to the Dean of Men’s office. I did so, and the dean asked if I was Jim Howat, to which I agreed. He then handed me a check covering the next quarter’s tuition, room and board, and said simply that Dr. Bacon said to give this check to me—no strings attached!

With the money from Dr. Bacon’s phone call, my part-time student job and another summer job at Convair, I was able to graduate on time with a BS in electrical engineering. Within a few months in my full-time job as an electrical engineer at Convair, I was able to send a check to Stanford for the full amount of that check from the Dean of Men.

Jim Howat, ’55, MBA ’63
Lincoln, California

The letter (remember those, before email?) of acceptance came when I was at one of my volunteering jobs. I dialed home on a rotary phone to tell my mom I would be late. She said a thick letter came from Stanford. Later, she would ask me questions about the college application process: How did I know how to apply? How did I know how to fill out the forms? How did I decide?

My decision process was of my own design. On an April afternoon, I spread out the financial offers and the letters of acceptance. San Francisco State was the least expensive: Live at home, ride Muni. I wanted to move out. University of San Francisco and Santa Clara were Jesuit, just like my high school. I needed a cultural change. Davis or Stanford.

I navigated the entrance process, determined how to financially make my way to and through Stanford, avoided the temptations of becoming wealthy while losing my soul, and found emotional and moral satisfaction in a career that offered me a chance to point others on their way on the FLI highway. I became a teacher to make a change. I became the change I want to see. Stanford helped because if I told someone I had graduated from UC-Davis, most would say, “Where’s that?” and when I tell people I graduated from Stanford, they go, “Ahhh.” And the “Ahhhs” have it.

Paul Juarez, ’75
Oakland, California

When I first told my parents that I had gotten an admission into a PhD program at the Stanford School of Engineering, my mum asked me, “What is Stanford? And what is a PhD?” They were puzzled as to why I needed so much more education when I told them that my PhD could take up to six years. “You’ve studied enough,” they said.
My parents had no clue about the field of materials science. They did not understand what scientific research is or why one runs experiments or publishes papers. I was the first in my family to graduate from college or to get a graduate degree, and the first to leave my country (India) to do so.

The experience of social mobility from a blue-collar upbringing in a poor country to comfortable first-world living in the United States has enabled me to develop resilience, gratitude and a strong motivation to give back to those like me. I would like to see all of these values in my twin children, whose upbringing is very different from mine.

Sandeep Giri, MS ’06
Mountain View, California

Well, I am probably not the kind of FLI you have in mind, but I am definitely one of the creatures. My dad was a bus driver, and we were not exactly well off, but we did OK. My mom was an immigrant from Germany, and neither parent finished high school. My clothes came from Montgomery Ward and were not exactly stylish! When the kids had cars in high school, I had my bike, which I used to deliver the local newspapers in order to have some spending money.

But then the war came along in 1941, and when I turned 17, I enlisted in the U.S. Army because there was a program offered to qualified enlistees to go to college and train to become Army engineers. It was called the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). Without it, I could never have gone to college; with it, I attended Oregon State College for two quarters, then was called to active duty and trained as an infantryman at Camp Roberts. At the end of basic training, I was offered a chance to go to Officer Candidate School—which meant that in three months I would get a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the infantry. This was in the summer of 1945, and I figured that I would be just in time to be involved in the invasion of Japan! But I was also given the option of resuming training as an Army engineer—by going back to college, this time at Stanford. I’m sure you can tell what I chose!

As it turned out, the atomic bombs ended the war that fall, so I would not have gone to Japan—but it also ended the ASTP! I was transferred to the Army Air Force, to the same unit that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we went to Kwajalein for the Bikini tests in 1946. In December I was discharged, and in the spring of 1947 returned to Stanford. The GI Bill covered some of the costs, like tuition and fees, books, and a small stipend—which was never enough for board and room. So I worked my way, as head of the Student Guide Service, in a Palo Alto cafeteria (where my pay consisted of two meals a day, no money involved), and as night clerk in a motel on Bayshore Highway. There was no “financial aid” involved other than the GI Bill; but that was enough to enable me to get my college education. And later I was fortunate enough to get a grant from the Shell Foundation to work on my doctorate. So oddly enough, I have three degrees from Stanford, and I have never applied for admission!

In 1945 we lived in Encina, which was an official Army post. Our classes were separate from the rest of the university’s, and we marched to class, our engineering slide rules swinging proudly from our belts like bayonet scabbards.

In civilian life, my fondest memory was going out for football in 1948, playing for the first time in my life, and being first string on the JV team. I had a ball, and we twice defeated a freshman team that would go to the Rose Bowl as seniors!

I am one of probably a whole group of FLIs who entered college via ASTP and then used the GI Bill to continue.

Merritt Kimball, ’49, MA ’50, EdD ’65
San Jose, California

My mother and father were from Nebraska, and both graduated from high school in the ’30s, but neither were able to attend a college. The Depression was a recent memory, and WWII was erupting in Europe, and they searched for jobs where they could. I was born in ’45 as the war ended, and we moved to San Diego, California, where my father worked as an airplane mechanic.

I graduated from high school in ’63 with good SAT scores (well, my math score was good) and good grades, but essentially zero money. Luckily my father had the proverbial rich uncle, who died, leaving me $10,000 for my “education.” Since tuition and fees were than about $3,000 per year back in those good ol’ days, this paid for my first four years at Stanford and my BS, with a little contribution from my summer jobs. With another good summer job after graduation with General Atomic, I was able to pay for my fifth year as well, leaving campus in June ’68 with my MS.

I was definitely first generation, and my family was low income, but I was an only child, and my parents did not have to scrimp for a younger brother or sister’s expenses. So I left with zero debt (which was “normal” for graduates then, at least in my circle of peers), and used my Stanford education and degrees to work as a mechanical engineer all over the United States and Western Europe. I retired a few years ago, and now spend my time tilting at windmills in Spain, my wife’s home.

I know it is different for the FLI generation now. When I read the stories of entering freshmen/women, it almost makes me think I was not “low income” as defined by many today. Good luck to this new generation of first-generation Stanford students; I hope your future is as rewarding as was mine.

Gary Anderson, ’67, MS ’68
Madrid, Spain

I arrived at Stanford in the fall of 1976 sight unseen. My family did not have the means to afford college visits. The entire week before my departure I was physically sick. I had never been on an airplane. I was going off to one of the most demanding universities in the country. I would be a stranger there.

I grew up in a house in San Antonio, Texas, that had no air conditioning. Except for a few instances when there was barely any food in the house, we had enough to survive, even to thrive. My single mother, who had eight years of formal education, was one of the best-read people I have ever known. She made sure that we had books and records, even if we didn’t always have a lot of playthings.

Halfway through my first quarter on the Farm I was convinced that Dean Fred Hargadon had made a terrible mistake letting me in. As it turned out, it was not too bad of a mistake; I graduated in four years. I had been at Branner a couple of weeks when a fellow freshman in the dorm looked at me and said, “I’ve never met a Mexican who wasn’t a maid or a janitor.” To this day I don’t believe he meant that as a slight, but from then on I was aware that I would be a representative of something that was very foreign to many of my Stanford classmates.

A couple of my fellow engineering students were from families that worked the fields. One of them indicated that the summer after freshman year he would be back out there with his family. To these students, being at Stanford I’m sure was like being at a country club. Difficult studies, demanding workloads, sure, but not as difficult or demanding as picking lettuce all day in the Central Valley. I’m sure their real-life struggles provided them the focus and determination to make the most of their Stanford opportunity.

I’m delighted to hear that Stanford has established a place for students coming from backgrounds similar to mine to feel more at home, to feel like they belong.

Jorge Gomez, ’80 
Fulshear, Texas

Seal of Approval

An article in the March issue recounted the history of the Stanford seal(s).

Courtesy Marcus Aguilar

My wife found this on eBay years ago. It appears to be a seal used for printing (i.e., image is reversed). There wasn’t a lot of provenance on the description. What’s odd is that it doesn’t feature the Palo Alto. 

Marcus Aguilar, MS ’77, MBA ’87
via Facebook

In the first months after I joined Stanford as vice president for business affairs in March 2001, I met with senior leaders from across the university. Each typically handed me his or her business card, and I quickly noticed that each card had a different depiction of the Stanford seal and Cardinal color. Soon thereafter, I hired Susan Weinstein, ’72, MBA ’79, as head of business development and assigned her the task of establishing an official style guide for all Stanford marks, including the seal, Block S and Cardinal color.

Most versions of the seal said “Organized 1891” at the bottom. Although the campus first opened to students in 1891, the Founding Grant was dated 1885. We felt that keeping 1891 in reference to the opening date was credible—and it avoided the embarrassment of implying that the university’s centennial celebration in 1991 was on the wrong date. By deleting the word “Organized,” the date was made accurate. Then-provost John Etchemendy, PhD ’82, suggested adding the stars to replace “Organized” since he thought the seal looked like it would roll over without more “weight” on the bottom.

The outside designer and review committee recommended changing the redwood tree with sad, droopy fronds to a more stylized and uplifting version. Quite a few alumni in focus groups felt a strong affinity for the old tree, however, so we kept it.

Many versions of the seal had what looked like sheep on top of the foothills. We weren’t sure if those figures were oaks or apricot trees that covered much of Silicon Valley when Stanford was founded. We removed the trees in order to eliminate questions about “sheep.” 

In order to keep the design cleaner and easier to reproduce, we initially launched a version of the seal without the Stanford motto, “Die Luft der Freiheit weht.” Within a few days, former President Gerhard Casper visited my office and asked us to retain the motto because of its importance in reinforcing academic freedom, one of Stanford’s fundamental values. 

Once we finalized the new seal, our next challenge was to gain adoption in the highly decentralized university. We asked the Board of Trustees to pass a formal resolution and we created a website with downloadable versions. While most groups were happy to adopt the official seal, prior designs continued to circulate. For the next decade, every time I came across older versions of the seal, I sent a polite note to the author reminding them of the official version with a link to the website. It took a long time, but Stanford finally has a consistent graphic identity.

Randy Livingston, ’75, MBA ’79
Portola Valley, California

You Can’t Fool Mr. Nature

The March End Note contemplated the wisdom of living in a home in a fire-prone area.

Melinda Sacks may have felt she was evoking a safe, conventional bit of “solace” when she “turn[ed] to Henry David Thoreau” to assuage her worries regarding the multitude of California’s recent wildfires.

But a quick Google of “Thoreau and fire” turns up a number of websites that report that on April 30, 1844, a campfire set by Thoreau and his friend Edward Hoar accidentally started a forest fire in the Concord woods. The fire burned 300 acres of forest, nearly setting the town of Concord ablaze.

In this case, Thoreau’s expertise on “nature” might be a little too apt.

Steve Lawton, ’74
Santa Cruz, California

‘A Life Well Lived’

An essay in the March issue recounted the intangible gifts left behind by Eric Sun, ’05, MS ’09, who died of glioblastoma in 2017.

Karen Law’s thoughtful, eloquent and inspiring words about her husband and those whose lives he touched—and continues to touch—serve as a powerful reminder that the true measure of a person is a life well lived. Thank you for sharing this remarkable young man’s life with those of us who did not have the privilege of knowing him.

Barbara Levenson Schweitzer, ’84
San Mateo, California