Palm Pilots

Student tour guides offer up some trivia tidbits.

March 2024

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Palm  Pilots

Illustrations by Jenn Sparks

Blue skies, bubbling fountains, and brazen bicyclists: all symbols of university life found at Stanford. But the list would be incomplete without the tour guide, walking backward before a mass of eager parents and prospective students, deploying well-practiced jokes and dodging questions about their SAT score. 

Some 50 to 70 student tour guides work for Visitor Information Services each academic year, collectively giving more than 1,000 tours that wind from Palm Drive and the Arts District to the Main and Science and Engineering quads; White Plaza and the Row; and, finally, the Athletics District. Each guide undergoes quarter-long training, then pores over manuals and books so they can set off—without a script—to offer visitors their own view of Stanford’s campus. A few of their favorite stories might be better categorized as lore (Bill Hewlett and David Packard, both ’34, Engr. ’39, were not, in fact, roommates in FloMo), but here are some of their many Farm fun facts that check out:

Illustration of the Stanford Mausoleum

Jane Stanford found the full-breasted female Sphinx statues being carved for the Stanford Mausoleum “not pleasing” and ordered their replacement. Androgynous versions were procured, while the originals were relegated to the seldom-noticed rear of the Mausoleum (and can still be seen)!
—DJ Dull-MacKenzie, ’88, director of Visitor Information Services

Illustration of a Nobel prize

In 1996, a professor on the first floor of the Varian physics building, Douglas Osheroff, won the Nobel Prize in physics. In 1997, a professor on the second floor of the same building, Steven Chu, won the prize. In 1998, a professor on the third floor of that building, Robert Laughlin, won it. Alas, the fourth floor housed only a few undergraduate labs in its “attic space,” and perhaps this is why Stanford did not win the Nobel Prize in physics in 1999. 
—Nicole Tong, ’24

Illustration of Stanford's Main Quad

The Pioneer Class of 1895, proud of their graduation, installed a ’95 plaque on a giant oak tree. The next year, Jane Stanford allowed the graduating class to place a bronze plaque in the arcade of the not-yet-constructed Memorial Church. This is why the plaque centered in front of the church is ’96. Members of the Class of 1895 are said to have quietly snuck their plaque in next to it (some say in the middle of the night) but had to accept an off-center position.
—Lucy Loughridge, ’26

Stanford has more than 43,000 trees. 
—Sarah Fazioli, ’26

The Marguerite campus shuttle got its name from one of the horses that pulled the 12-person buggy bringing riders, including early Stanford students, to and from Palo Alto every day in the 1890s. 
—Josh Walensky, ’26

82 Disneyland Parks would fit on Stanford’s campus. 
—Jannah Kara Vira, ’24

Illustration of Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover is the only U.S. president to have graduated from Stanford and was part of the Pioneer Class of 1895. David Starr Jordan, the university’s inaugural president, later recalled Hoover being the first student to whom he assigned a dorm room in Encina Hall; in this way, it can be said that Hoover was the first student to enter Stanford. 
—Andrew Mancini, ’25

You can touch the Nobel Prize medal of John Steinbeck, Class of 1923, with your bare hands in the archives. 
—Allan Lopez, ’23

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