‘Life Doesn’t Always Go as Planned’

John McEnroe sends off the 2023 graduates.

July 2023

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Photo of Stanford graduates in caps and gowns spraying one another with white silly string.

Andrew Brodhead/Stanford News Service

InJune, under 72-degrees-and-sunny skies, the university conferred 1,075 doctoral, 2,503 master’s, and 1,580 bachelor’s degrees. Many of the graduates were enrolled at Stanford when the COVID-19 pandemic began—including undergraduates, most of whom left campus before spring quarter of their frosh year, only to return as juniors. Tennis legend, author, and actor John McEnroe, the featured speaker at the university’s 132nd Commencement, noted how that experience could fortify them in unexpected ways.

Collage of Stanford 2023 graduates at the Stanford graduation ceremony

“You pivoted to virtual options, maybe you took a gap year, found other ways to connect with your peers and your teachers—but the point is, you kept moving forward—coming out a little stronger on the other side,” said McEnroe, ’81. “Life doesn’t always go as planned,” he said, advising graduates to shift gears when necessary and to redefine victory. “Know that the real victory in life is the long game,” he said. “Measure your success by how much you evolve, not necessarily how much you win.”

Clockwise from top: David Gonzales, ’93; H. Taghap; Andrew Brodhead/Stanford News Service; David Gonzales, ’93 (2)

First in Class

Portrait photo of John McEnroe

John McEnroe was the first professional athlete—and the first Stanford dropout—to deliver the commencement address. “I am gratified that my lack of an undergraduate degree from Stanford has not been held against me or disqualified me from this prestigious honor,” he said when named speaker. Which got us wondering: Who else was a first?  

See if you can match the photos with the milestones. Answers below.

Portrait photos of Herbert Hoover, Stephen Breyer, Bill and Melinda Gates, Sterling K. Brown, Mae Jemison, Dag Hammarskjold, Earl Warren, Ray Lyman Wilbur, Percy Spender, Lou Henry Hoover, Charles Percy, and Carly Fiorina

1. First alum

1921, Ray Lyman Wilbur, Class of 1896, MA ’97, MD ’99, university president. He’d give the commencement address at 10 ceremonies between 1921 and 1943.

2. First Cabinet member

1925, Herbert Hoover, Class of 1895, U.S. secretary of commerce. He would speak again in 1935, as a former U.S. president.

3. First woman

1941, Lou Henry Hoover, Class of 1898, former first lady. The gender barrier wouldn’t be broken again until 1976, with Carla Hills, ’55, U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

4. First and only knight

1953, Sir Percy Spender, Australian ambassador to the United States.

5. First to become the namesake for a Row house

1955, Dag Hammarskjöld, secretary-general of the United Nations.

6. First Supreme Court justice

1964, Chief Justice Earl Warren. But Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, ’50, LLB ’52, would speak twice, in 1982 and 2004.

7. First senator

1970, Charles Percy, Illinois.

8. First and only astronaut

1996, Mae Jemison, ’77, founder and director, Jemison Institute for Advanced Technology in Developing Countries, at Dartmouth College.

9. First and only to do the Macarena

1997, Justice Stephen Breyer, ’59.

10. First high-tech exec

2001, Carly Fiorina, ’76, chair and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co.

11. First to don Nerd Nation glasses

2014, Bill and Melinda Gates, directors of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

12. First actor

2018, Sterling K. Brown, ’98 (OK, technically first alum actor. Media luminary—and Oscar nominee—Oprah Winfrey spoke in 2008).

Answers: 1. H, 2. A, 3. J, 4. I, 5. F, 6. G, 7. K, 8. E, 9. B, 10. L, 11. C, 12. D

From top, left to right: David Gonzales, ’93; Stanford Archives; Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service (4); Wikimedia; TradingCardsNPS; Stanford News Service; Australian War Memorial; Stanford Archives; State of Illinois; Gage Skidmore

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