A lady in a very old dress and her husband, dressed in a
homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and
walked timidly without an appointment into the president of Harvard’s
outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such
backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably
didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge.
She frowned. “We want to see the president,” the man said softly.
“He’ll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped. “We’ll wait,” the lady
replied. For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple
would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn’t. And the
secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president,
even though it was a chore she always regretted to do. “Maybe if they
just see you for a few minutes, they’ll leave,” she told him. And he
sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance
obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, but he detested
gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office.
The president, stern-faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple.
The lady told him, “We had a son that attended Harvard for one year.
He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was
accidentally killed. And my husband and I would like to erect a
memorial to him, somewhere on campus.”
The president was not touched; he was shocked. “Madam,” he said
gruffly. “We can’t put up a statue for every person who attended
Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery”.
“Oh, no,” the lady explained quickly. “We don’t want to erect a statue.
We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.” The
president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and
homespun suit, and then exclaimed, “A building! Do you have any
earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a
half million dollars in the physical plant at Harvard.” For a moment the
lady was silent. The president was pleased. He could get rid of them
now. And the lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Is that all it
costs to start a University? Why don’t we just start our own?” Her
husband nodded. The president’s face wilted in confusion and
bewilderment. And Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away,
travelling to Palo Alto, California where they established the
University that bears their name, a memorial to a son that Harvard no
longer cared about.
“You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat
those who can do nothing for them or to them.”