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 HOME > My Soapbox > The refused gift & Judging People by their Appearance

What follows is an email that I received from a friend.  It demostrates a concept that should guide us all: Don't judge a book by it's cover, it might be the best place to begin, but always -- ALWAYS -- look further.  The story below is not true.  Leland Stanford was a wealthy railroad owner, 8th govenor of California, and did found Stanford University.  But he was hardly the type of man that would meekly sit waiting to be seen.  Even though this story is not true, it does illustrate an important concept.  

Subject: The refused gift  

Don't judge people by appearances!  

A lady 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 ladyreplied. 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 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, 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 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, 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.  

You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who they think can do nothing.  

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Scott Toste
Last updated: 3/23/03