For Commencement Speaker, a Watergate Special Prosecutor

‘Right will prevail in the end,’ Cox tells the audience in Frost Amphitheater.

September 2023

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For Commencement Speaker, a Watergate Special Prosecutor

SO MANY QUESTIONS: Cox responds to reporters the day before the Saturday Night Massacre. Photo: John Duricka/AP Images

Stanford’s pick of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox as its 1974 commencement speaker was so popular, the university had to turn down more than 3,000 requests for tickets to the ceremony, according to the New York Times. The year prior, Cox had been fired by President Richard Nixon in an infamous event known as the Saturday Night Massacre, ultimately a catalyst in Nixon’s downfall. On June 16, when Cox spoke to the graduating students, impeachment hearings had only recently begun. Nixon was still in the White House. 

“I have a sort of naive belief that right will prevail in the end,” Cox told the crowd in Frost Amphitheater that day. 

Cox had clashed with Nixon over the latter’s refusal to release secret Oval Office recordings, some of which implicated the president in the Watergate complex break-in. After Nixon fired him, the Harvard law professor enjoyed a soaring reputation as Washington’s last honest man. The Supreme Court ordered Nixon to give up the tapes to investigators on July 24, 1974, which led to his impeachment. On August 8, just shy of two months after Cox’s Stanford commencement address, Nixon resigned.

Tracie White is a senior writer at Stanford. Email her at traciew@stanford.edu.

Vintage 1973 Collection

Stanford is 50! It turns out we’re not the only one. Walk with us down memory lane as we sample some of the wonders and horrors of the 1973–74 academic year on the Farm, and in the world around.

Start the Presses

Were Golden

89 Rodins Find a New Home

A Godfather Delivers a Ransom Payment

A Splashy Debut

The Winds of Freedom

SLE Club

‘Until the Birds Took Over the Singing’

The Poet and the Coup

Steps Toward Saving Salamanders Are Set in Motion

A Sequel for Supersonic Flight?

The First Stanford Astronaut Returns from Space

The End of the Nursing Education Era

Keepers of the Flame

50 Years After the Stanford Murders, Three of Four Families Have Answers

A Classic Is Released

A Young Lawyer Wins an Educational Equity Case

Joining the Force


The Axe Is Stolen One Last Time

Fit to Be Tried

For Commencement Speaker, a Watergate Special Prosecutor

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