Q&A with Stanford’s oldest known living alum

Oct. 26, 2010, 1:03 a.m.

Q&A with Stanford's oldest known living alum
Yell leaders Lawrence W. Harris, Jr. '32 (right) poses with Bertin A. Weyle, Jr. (left) and George W. McKee (center) for the 1931 Stanford Quad. Along with being yell leader for his junior and senior years, Harris was also a member of the swimming and water polo teams, the Junior Opera, Ram's Head Society and Hammer and Coffin, a campus publishing society. (Courtesy of the Stanford Quad)

This year’s Reunion Homecoming weekend celebrated graduating classes as recent as 2010 and as early as 1940. It also commemorated one Stanford alumni’s 78th graduation anniversary. The Stanford Daily took some time to get to know Lawrence W. Harris, Jr. ’32–otherwise known as Stanford’s oldest known living alum.

When were you born and what city did you grow up in?
I was born July 23, 1911 and grew up in San Francisco. I went to Galileo High School.

Q&A with Stanford's oldest known living alum
Senior portrait of Lawrence W. Harris, Jr. '32, as seen in the 1932 Stanford Quad. (Courtesy of the Stanford Quad)

What was Stanford’s reputation like when you were applying as a high school senior?
While I was considering colleges in the 1920s, Stanford was in its early stages and still growing as a university.

Why did you choose Stanford?
My uncle, Percy L. King, enrolled in Stanford in 1891 and was part of the first class, although he only attended for two years. Also, I’d like to acknowledge two high school teachers [who were also Stanford graduates] who helped set a very favorable image of the University after I chose Stanford on account of my uncle: Isabel Duff in history and Elsa Kluegel in botany.

What did you study?
I received my diploma in economics, but I most enjoyed my work in the Department of History.

Which dorms did you stay in while you were here?
Freshman year I lived in Encina Hall with all of the male freshmen. Both of my roommates were from Fresno: Claude Bernhauer and Stanley Madden (later to be senior class president). We all met together again at our 50th reunion. I then lived in the Chi Psi fraternity house for sophomore, junior and senior years.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities?
I was part of the varsity swimming and water polo teams, and each year I received a Block “S” as an athletic award. I contributed and participated in the Junior Opera, Ram’s Head Society and Hammer and Coffin (a publishing society). In addition to these things, I was elected assistant yell leader my junior year and then head yell leader for my senior year.

Is a yell leader’s role different today than it was during your undergraduate years?
Yes. We used to only have three yell leaders. Since the end of World War II there have been more than three yell leaders and they also have the Dollies. We are happy to have the Dollies now.

Do you have a favorite Stanford memory?
Everything at the Encina pool, because you had to practice every day for the swim team. I also enjoyed our econ courses and several history courses. I was privileged to know the professors and enjoy the studies.

What was it like being on campus during the stock market crash in 1929?
Well, I was just a sophomore. It shook everybody up. It was very dramatic and very sudden and unexpected. No one could do anything because most every student’s life was different.

After coming back to the Farm over the years, what has been the most surprising change?
When I started coming back, there were a lot of new buildings. Then, the individual departments–engineering, education, law, medicine and the Graduate School of Business–had established themselves as very prominent departments. These departments had not emerged to their greatest strength until after World War II.

Are there things you miss about the Stanford you attended?
I miss the student life of the ’20s and ’30s. Also, President Hoover became a very prevalent trustee for the University around that time. His influence was great.

Were there things you thought needed change when you were a student?
I don’t think so, because this was the Farm and during the ’20s I was just entering. I was grateful for the opportunity and looking to do my best.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would just like to say how fortunate I was to go to Stanford, for which I am grateful. I am privileged to be a part of Stanford life after graduation, particularly my involvement with the Stanford Alumni Association and most recently in the Stanford Cardinal Society. I am especially grateful to Howard Wolf, the vice president of alumni affairs.

Finally, do you have advice to current students?
Be aware of what a privilege it is to attend Stanford and make the most of the opportunity.

Mr. Harris now lives in Carmel, Calif. He has five children, including three Stanford graduates, and has been married to his wife, Jane, since 1939.

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