John Ewart Wallace Sterling
President: 1949-1968

The inauguration hoopla surrounding John Ewart Wallace Sterling, Stanford's fifth president, sharply contrasted with simple installation of his predecessor. On Oct. 7, 1949, Sterling was inaugurated as president in the Laurence Frost Amphitheater, the first time the space was used for such a purpose. According to a report by Marion Rice Kirkwood, chairman of the inauguration program, delegates from 244 educational institutions and learned societies participated in the academic procession. Almost 300 faculty members and senior representatives of Stanford also marched into Frost. Invitations were sent to 2,250 friends of the university and the Stanford Alumni Review issued a special invitation to all alumni. Announcements of the inauguration were sent to more than 250 leading universities abroad. Altogether, almost 5,000 people witnessed the ceremony, which four radio stations covered live.

Making use of Frost Amphitheatre for the first time as a site for an inauguration, Sterling, left, appears with Trustee Paul C. Edwards (top left) as the audience looks on (middle). Sterling, center, greets the presidents of Caltech, UCLA, and Berkeley, all of whom were invited to the Inauguration (bottom left).

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Sterling's address, titled, "A Lofty Purpose Shared," is not as memorable as his remarks made at a pre-inauguration dinner at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. In that speech, Sterling criticized the educational standards of entering students. "It seems to me that in the past quarter century, colleges and universities have been obliged to do work which was formerly and properly done in grade schools," he said. "I see no reason, for instance, why colleges need to provide courses in ‘bonehead English.'" Sterling went on to make a plea for improving educational standards: "I believe education to be a serious business; no business is so serious in a democratic society."

Sterling helped to liven up the inaugurations of presidents who succeeded him by asking chemistry Professor Eric Hutchinson to devise university heraldry for the 1967 Commencement. An accomplished calligrapher and manuscript illuminator, Hutchinson spent more than a year working on the project. He consulted with the deans of Stanford schools, with other universities that use flags and with heraldic authorities in England. Although the university offered little raw material to work with -- there were no Stanford or Lathrop family coats of arms -- Hutchinson used the rules of heraldry to devise school shields that were then incorporated into colorful flags.

By the time Sterling retired in 1968, Stanford had enjoyed its greatest period of growth. But it was also a period of political strife on campus. Two days before Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer's inauguration on June 14, 1969, vandals bombed a telephone booth near Frost and damaged folding chairs inside the amphitheater. In response, Santa Clara County Superior Court expanded an injunction first issued following a sit-in in Encina Hall on May 1. It specifically prevented students and non-students from disrupting the inauguration and Commencement.

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