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  • Brandon Spars

A Toast for A Recent Graduate

Updated: Jun 15


This past weekend, Saturday, June 12 and Sunday, June 13, my daughter graduated with a Masters and a Bachelors degree in English. She graduated with distinction and she was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, neither of which were honors that I received. I don't know very many people who have done what she did in just four years. There's always Eric Pinckert, who seems to have done it all.


The ceremonies were grand, full of "pomp and circumstance" as they should have been. Stanford, of course, added its own twist with the "wacky walk," for which graduates arrived in the stadium in beach wear, or framed by sandwich boards with messages, cowboy hats, all the things you might see the Stanford Marching Band pull at a halftime show. My daughter and her close friends, Jiyoung, Erica, and Eunice, dressed like maids from an anime, their graduation gowns billowing over the aprons and miniskirts.


The high point of the weekend for me was the dinner we hosted for Clara and a group of friends. It was a reservation for twelve at a Korean Barbeque on El Camino. As the father I gave a toast.


I spoke about friendship. I mentioned how my high school friends and I shared familiar patterns and complacency with one another. It was wonderful to come home for holidays and get together with them and fall back into versions of each other that required very little effort or energy. We knew our parts like the backs of our hands. These friendships were different from the ones I made in college. Together with my college friends, I grew more, even after graduation. I have turned countless times to Ray Miller for guidance and help, as I know Clara and her friends, the ones who dressed like maids and others, will.


Lise Shelton, our close family friend and Clara's godmother, was there. Every hero of a folk or fairytale needs a magical helper who is there with her in the deepest and darkest of places, who holds the key to overcoming the challenges she faces against all odds, and then is there at her moment of triumph. Lise is and always will be that person in our daughter's life. We are so lucky to have her.


Of course, her brother Byron was there. Throughout childhood he has served as his sister's little assistant, then as her biggest fan as she went on to achieve so much once she left home. It was my wish that he will continue to remain her deepest and closest friend and ally.


Irma and I have shared the two greatest moments of our lives together: the birth of our two children. She has been her daughter's greatest champion, rejoicing at every single accomplishment, singing her praises to the heavens on Facebook, and struggling with her through challenges and setbacks. Clara has never been alone for a single instant since she was born.


As I spoke to the dinner party, I recalled reading Clara's first Stanford reading assignment, The Guns of August, with her so that I could help her with her first paper. It was a difficult and challenging book, and there were places where I got lost in the detail and the depth of its coverage of WW1. My how quickly after that semester, she blossomed into a writer in her own right. I admit that when she shared her papers with me at the end of four years, there were times that I was lost in the detail and depth and complexity of her arguments. She is destined to challenge bigger and broader audiences with her writing in the next several decades. She and all of the graduates at that table had become young scholars.


I encouraged them to soak in the moment and to let themselves feel the weight of the traditional ceremony, maid costumes aside. The next time they would be at a ceremony like this would probably be for each other's weddings... I encouraged them to be present for one another in this rite of passage and those yet to come. But more than anything it was my wish for them to be there for one another in all of the regular moments between these momentous occasions. There was a clear bond between each and every person at that table... and that bond was made of the best stuff that life has to offer.


I don't think I was able to quite capture in the toast how much Irma and I are impressed with her. As parents, our breath is so easily taken away by the regular things, like taking her first steps, speaking her first words, dressing herself, choosing a sport she is interested in. The accomplishments she has made, including her publications, her TEDx talk, her distinctive awards and scholarships... how can we express an adequate appreciation when we wept tears of joy when she simply used a spoon to eat her peas? I suppose that is why we are so appreciative of Stanford and what she was able to get there. Stanford challenged her, and it also recognized how she not only met the challenges but excelled. Stanford gave her a community of people, which included the friends present at the table, but also several amazing professors that will be supporting her as she moves forward. When I would read her recent writings and simply say, "Wow, that is so good," it was the Stanford community that would tell her, "No, Clara, even though your dad thinks that everything you do is good, this and so much of what you do really is absolutely amazing."


Irma and I felt very fulfilled this weekend, but more than anything we felt grateful. We are grateful for having a daughter (and a son who is still in college) who is gifted with an intense spark of curiosity and passion. We are grateful for those who have been called to cultivate and nurse this spark into a bright flame (Lise), and we are grateful for those who burn brightly alongside Clara as together they blaze a path forward into an uncertain future. I was grateful when I thought that with climate change, disease, racism, and poverty looming, we really do have an army of champions riding forth. I am humbled by them and incredibly thankful for them.


Stanford 130th Commencement Advanced Degrees on June 12, 2021 and Senior Class of 2021 (Undergraduate) on June 13, 2021