A woman in a faded gingham dress and her husband,
dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and
walked 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 Cambridge.
"We want to see The President," the man said softly. "He'll be busy all
day," the secretary snapped. "We'll wait," the woman 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
"Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they'll leave," she said to him.
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
and with dignity, strutted toward the couple. The woman explained, "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, somewhere on campus, for him."
The president wasn't touched; he was surprised. "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 woman 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, 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 alone here at Harvard."
For a moment, the woman was silent. The president was pleased. Maybe he
could get rid of them now. The woman 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 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.
You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those
whom they think can do nothing.