A lady in a faded grey dress and her husband, dressed in a home-spun suit walked in timidly without an appointment into the Harvard University President’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 Harvard.
“We want to see the President “the ma n 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..
“Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they’ll leave” she said to him. The President, stern faced and with dignity, strutted toward the couple.
The lady told him “We had a son who attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.”
The president wasn’t 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 buildings here at Harvard.”
For a moment the lady was silent. The president was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now.
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.
Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the University that bears their name:
Stanford University, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.