Among the more than 200 students who walked across the stage at the Stanford Graduate School of Education Diploma Ceremony ready to begin their careers was one who had already left a large footprint on the profession.
Sixty-one years ago, Bonnie Gould earned his degree but never suited up in a cap and gown to celebrate the accomplishment. Now, at 93, after 35 years as an educator in Redwood City schools, Gould was taking part in the commencement ritual.
"Back then, I didn't desire to do this. I had other things, things I thought were more pressing," Gould, who fought in Okinawa during World War II, said at the June 14 graduation event. "But over the years, it's become more and more important and more and more of a dream."
He said the steps he would take at the ceremony, in front of friends and family, were surely a way of recognizing his own accomplishments but even more, he said, it was a way to recognize and pay tribute to the place that put him on his path in local schools.
"Stanford wasn't well known when I went here," said Gould, who graduated in 1954 with a master's in education. "It is now. And I'm proud to have gone here and this is a way of showing that."
Gould and the other graduates were welcomed to the ceremony by Dean Deborah Stipek, who told them that with the privilege of a Stanford degree comes responsibility.
"The degree on your resume will open doors," she said. "We expect you to use the advantages you have had at Stanford to make the world a better place."
Stipek noted that the Class of 2015 was now joining an extended family of GSE alumni: “We have teachers, principals, superintendents, curriculum and software developers, researchers, college professors, administrators, teacher trainers and policy makers, school board members, writers, we even have presidents of countries. We speak many languages. We represent many cultures.”
She urged the new graduates to draw strength from this community as they strive to make a difference. "Alone you can accomplish only so much. As a community, you can make a real difference," she said. "You can make sure that more people have the kinds of opportunities you had."
Professor Linda Darling-Hammond echoed the theme of making a difference and joining a unique community.
"In all of the fields you have studied, you have acquired a basket full of professional knowledge and are graduating to enter — or continue in — a profession you hopefully love and are inspired by."
As the commencement speaker, Darling-Hammond spoke to the challenges facing the graduates but also to the opportunities they had with the education they've achieved.
"Public education has a secret weapon," she said. "The members of the profession like yourselves who have mastered a strong body of professional knowledge, who hold a strong ethic of care and who are determined to transmit this knowledge and this commitment to others through the education system."
The GSE Diploma Ceremony took place in the shade of the redwoods and oaks in the West Oval Grove on the Stanford campus. Family and friends gathered in rows of chairs on each side of the graduates. Their professors sat on stage looking out at their students.
The celebration was part of Stanford University's 124th commencement ceremony. The graduate school's origins can be traced back to the university's opening in fall of 1891, when education was one of its original departments, with a total of five students.
The GSE had 222 graduates this academic year, which continues to the end of summer; 208 participated in the ceremony on Sunday. Degrees are earned in both master's and doctoral programs ranging from teacher education and education technology to instruction, leadership, education policy and international comparative studies.
Darling-Hammond told the students that whatever path they've chosen, they can take heart in knowing they are on it because "it is the right thing to do."
"Take pride in knowing, when the work is challenging and setbacks come — as they must when anything important is happening — that you are building a better future for every child and family and community you touch."
'My heart fluttered'
Pride was flowing from those participating in the ceremony and their friends and family, who snapped pictures and cheered as the degrees were conferred by Professor Eamonn Callan, associate dean of student affairs.
"It's just an amazing day," said Alexis Danielle Patterson, who earned a doctorate degree and also has a master's from Stanford. "It's six years in the making. I feel good. I'm grateful for my family and the support of the GSE."
Aurora Kurland, who earned a joint degree with the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said she's sad to be leaving Stanford but excited to "get out there are do good work." Kurland has taken a job consulting on education and social impact at Deloitte. "The joint degree offered the best of both schools. I learned so much from my colleagues here and in business."
And of course for Bonnie Gould's family, the pride was overflowing.
After Callan called Gould's name to come onto the stage — the last of the students — the crowd burst into cheers and applause and got on their feet for a standing ovation.
"My heart fluttered," said Margaret "Boots" Gould, Bonnie's wife of 71 years.
Bonnie Gould said the ceremony was made all the sweeter because now he has such a large rooting section: six children, 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. He also has the knowledge, he said, of how many others he's impacted during his career.
Callan, who is stepping down this summer from his post as associate dean, said it was an honor to call Gould’s name.
"To have someone who’s had such a remarkable career and who contributed so much locally — well, it was a no-brainer that we would want to celebrate him," he said.
Gould offered his own thoughts to sum up the experience, and a bit of advice.
"It's a dream I didn't think could come true," he said after the ceremony, his master's hood now draped over his shoulders. "All I was trying to be was a worthwhile citizen. And that's what I'd tell these graduates: find something that's worthwhile, that you can be proud of, and do it."
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