Walk This Way
Stanford University regards itself a quiet, superbly designed institution of solid education and well-funded think tanks, a private oasis of real estate boasting a powerful alumni roster from Herbert Hoover to Dianne Feinstein to John Elway. But inside the facade, the school roils with controversy and scandal.
In the early '90s, the school's president, chief financial officer and controller resigned following allegations that the school billed the federal government for antique furniture, the upkeep of the Stanford family mausoleum and even the depreciation of a yacht .... In 1991, Stanford neurosurgeon Fran Conley quit in protest from the medical school staff, alleging long-standing sexual discrimination and harassment .... Last year, a publicly embarrassed Stanford agreed to pay the U.S. Navy $1.2 million for overcharging taxpayers for research costs .... And in 1992, a Stanford Daily exposŽ of business practices at Stanford Bookstore resulted in a slew of charges against the store's top managers: state tax code violations; failing to report on a personal tax return income illegally diverted from the bookstore; grand theft; and diverting bookstore money for personal uses. (The Daily also charged that the managers pocketed cash and received perks such as Cadillacs and Porsches and the use of a $50,000 motor home and a Sierra vacation lodge, among other personal expenses.)
And then there's that whole thing about easy grades.
But the scandal currently rocking the manicured grounds of Leland Stanford Jr. University centers on the senior graduation's "Wacky Walk."
The Wacky Walk began innocently enough. For the past five years, Stanford's capped and gowned seniors have impishly disrupted the traditional pre-commencement processional, in which the graduates parade around a track in front of faculty and parents. Initially, the wackiness was limited to a few silly hats and costumes, not unlike the halftime antics of those darn rapscallions in the Stanford band. Such tomfoolery would elicit appreciative chuckles from Grandpa and Grandma, who would then write personal checks -- just some walking-around money, you understand -- to provide the little nippers a "good foundation for the future."
But the walk gradually bloomed into unprecedented blasphemy: squirt guns, Frisbees, inflatable dolls, tag-team wrestling and -- avert your eyes -- a Slip 'n Slide. This year, the administration said that's it.
The normally sedate campus experienced an upheaval not seen since the Vietnam War. Long-dormant emotions suddenly foamed out of nowhere. Moist-eyed student protests ranged from a town hall meeting to a drunken rally in White Plaza, in which one woman ripped off all her clothes, presumably to save the Wacky Walk from extinction.
"It was like 90210 activism," one student told Slap Shots, too embarrassed even to be identified.
The Stanford Daily ran story after story tracking the progress of the struggle. One reporter traced the evolution of the Wacky Walk from lighthearted stroll to manic anarchy by watching numerous commencement home videos -- Zapruder-style -- analyzing the walks frame by frame to uncover the truth: "Now watch his right hand on the water pistol. ... You see that recoil? ... Back and to the left ... back and to the left. ..."
The university poised on the brink of collapse.
Students felt that the Wacky Walk was something created by them, for them, and that the procession had been robbed from them without due process.
"The procession itself was not the target," blurted university spokesman Terry Shepard in the San Jose Mercury News; he added that students are reading too much into it if they see it as an attack on Stanford's character.
This crucifixion of the human spirit began earlier this year when Stanford faculty, faced with complaints from offended parents and alumni, presented several changes in the commencement to the four senior-class presidents. All four agreed to the changes, which included completely canceling the procession. But when word of the settlement spread, the seniors raised holy hell. They initially claimed that the Wacky Walk is part of a long-standing Stanford tradition, but when it became apparent that the tradition is only a few years old, the defense shifted gears. The Wacky Walk is part of what makes Stanford unique! they protested. It separates us from all those stuffy Ivy League universities back East! It's a hallmark of individualism! And like the scene in Animal House, the students weren't going to sit there and listen to their university desecrate the United States of America.
Having already been shamed by county prosecutors and federal investigators, the university couldn't even muster enough courage to stare down a bunch of rowdy 22-year-olds who want to dress in balloon hats and carry blowup dolls as they collect their baccalaureates. Stanford gave in, and returned to the kids their walk. This June, the processional will take place as usual, reducing an august introduction to the educated world to a drunken beach party.
Since the commencement invitations have already been mailed out with starting time sans the processional, seniors are instructing family and friends to arrive early to watch their pink-faced progeny -- the products of untold thousands of dollars of education -- knock their friends' mortarboards off with a high-powered water gun.
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