How Far We've Come

Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service

From the start, Stanford University has been about looking ahead, charting a bold course and changing history. As Stanford approaches its 125th anniversary in October 2016, we can take stock and reflect: What impact has Stanford had on the world in its relatively short history?

Jane and Leland Stanford were visionaries. In the Founding Grant, they clearly stated their aim: to establish a “University of high degree” that is “for the benefit of mankind.” To the Stanfords, education was an opportunity open to all who “by good conduct and study” had earned a place in the university. Excellence, merit, accessibility and impact were essential goals, and for 125 years their pioneering spirit has shaped this university.

Over the coming year we will celebrate this spirit and history with a number of events and activities. In honor of the Stanfords, in January we will feature founders of nonprofits, companies and social movements, and next fall, finale events will mark the anniversary. All of these activities commemorate Stanford’s profound impact—on people’s lives, on society and in the world.

We see this impact every day in our students who benefit from Stanford’s longstanding commitment to need-blind admissions. Fifteen percent of our newest students—the university’s 125th class of freshmen and transfer students—are the first in their families to go to college. Although tuition is no longer free for all, as it was in the first 29 years, we have worked very hard to keep Stanford affordable, to ensure accessibility to outstanding students. Stanford’s financial aid program is one of the strongest in the nation, and 77 percent of our undergraduates are debt-free when they graduate.

The university has pioneered breakthroughs that have benefited people worldwide, including the first use of a linear accelerator to treat cancer in the Western Hemisphere, the first synthesis of DNA in a test tube and the world’s first successful combined heart/lung transplant. Stanford innovations and research played a key role in the development of the Internet and the growth of the Information Age, and countless alumni, faculty and students have launched companies that contribute to the global economy.

Today, our multidisciplinary institutes, centers and programs campus-wide are taking on society’s great challenges and advancing knowledge in human health, the neurosciences, longevity, poverty and inequality, food security and developing economies—just to name a few. We have introduced innovations in online teaching that are enabling further education for millions worldwide.

Stanford is a global leader in environmental research and sustainable practice. With the implementation of Stanford Energy System Innovations, it has become one of the most energy-efficient universities in the world. We have cut campus greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, and in the future, renewable energy will supply 65 percent of campus electricity.

Throughout the university’s history, our faculty, students and alumni have looked for ways to make a difference. And today, Stanford is a world-class center of teaching, learning and research, known for its leadership in creating change. Our connection to the spirit of the founding has inspired us—and continues to inspire us—to lead with purpose, as the founders did.

You are an integral part of the university’s success and its impact on the world. In the coming months, we hope you will join us online—at our anniversary website—or on campus as we celebrate Stanford University at 125 years young. 


John Hennessy was the president of Stanford University.