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Monday, August 02, 2010

JOEL SWANSON: JUDGING CHARACTER AND THE GINGHAM DRESS

I received several comments on the last story I told so I decided to tell another one. This story is called, “The Gingham Dress” and it is a true story, or at least, so says Malcom Forbes.

 

It was spring, 1885. A lady named Jane, in a faded gingham dress and her husband, wearing a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, made their way to Cambridge, and walked slowly and silently, 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.

 

“We’d like to see the president,” the man said softly. “He’ll be busy all day.” The secretary snapped. “We’ll wait,” Jane replied.

 

And, for literally hours, they waited. The secretary ignored them, hoping 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. “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. He absolutely detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his office.

 

The president, put on his sternest face and strutted towards the couple, doing his best to intimmidate them. Jane told him, “Our only son attended Harvard for one year, and he loved your school. He was very happy here. He died of typhoid a year ago. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.” The president wasn’t touched, not at all, 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, the place would look like a cemetery.”

 

“Oh no,” Jane 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, looked down his nose at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed with a sneer, “A building! Do you people have any idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in physical buildings here at Harvard.”

 

Jane was silent for a moment. Then she 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 Jane and Leland Stanford got up and walked away, home 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.

 

The moral of this story is really pretty straight forward. You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who they think can do nothing for them.

 

And a side note to this story; the very first student to enroll at Stanford University was a young man named Hoover, Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States. God Bless you my friends and God Bless the United States of America. I’m Joel Swanson and that is my story for today.

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