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PALO ALTO — Moments before taking part in Stanford University”s “wacky walk” — a procession of graduating students donning eccentric costumes and ensembles — Nick Akiona took a moment to reflect on what walking across Stanford Stadium means to him.

The 21-year-old held a canoe-shaped piece of cardboard etched with the word “Mahalo.” It means “thank you” in Hawaiian, and for the Oahu native and his four friends — also from Hawaii — that word sums up their experience at Stanford University.

“It”s just a thank you shout-out to our parents,” said Akiona, a mechanical engineering major. Next, he will pursue a master”s degree at Stanford in the same subject, trading the Hawaiian islands for California for several more years. “My parents instilled values in me. They helped me become mentally and emotionally ready for the challenge.”

Akiona was one of 1,704 students to earn a bachelor”s degree during Stanford University”s 124th commencement Sunday. The Palo Alto university also awarded 2,338 master”s and 984 doctoral degrees.

Whether from Hawaii or across the country, students said Stanford provided a “diverse” experience for them. Many students plan to stay in the Bay Area after ceremoniously shifting their tassels to the left side on Sunday.

San Diego native Aimee Trujillo said she plans to stick around after earning a degree in political science. She used a cardboard boar to row a canoe in the wacky walk, similar to Akiona”s. But for Trujillo, the gesture represented a trip she and her dorm mates always wanted to take.

“We went on many other trips, but not that one,” she said. But it”s never too late. Stanford”s commencement speaker, an award-winning journalist and foreign news correspondent, reminded students to never stop dreaming. And to take risks every chance they get.

Richard Engel. chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, shared harrowing tales from the war-torn frontlines in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The Stanford alumni said he”s been deported, arrested, kidnapped and nearly shot.

Engel told of launching his journalism career by moving to Cairo after graduation with no job and $2,000 in his pocket. “I packed two suitcases and left on a one-way ticket,” Engel told the crowd at Stanford Stadium. “I wanted to be a journalist and I thought the Middle East would become the story of my generation.”

The gamble paid off in a big way. He learned Arabic, which won him access to sources and information in the Middle East ahead of other journalists.

He encouraged Stanford graduates to be fearless and capitalize on their youth, intelligence and newly-conferred degrees.

“Classes are over,” Engel said. “Now is the time to travel, to explore, to take chances, to fall in love easily and often, to seek out all that is beautiful and inspiring and romantic. Now is the time to do that one thing you really want.”

Engel, who overcame dyslexia and other challenges to reach success, cautioned students against chasing the “mundane allures of money and comfort.”

“Please don”t go get desk jobs,” he urged. “Try something new, and then try it again.”

In one of his final commencement addresses, Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, who is expected to step down this summer after 15 years, also encouraged students to be trailblazers — while still preserving traditions. Hennessy, 62, is resigning to dedicate himself to teaching and research at Stanford.

“As you leave Stanford, I hope you celebrate the traditions,” Hennessy said, “But be bold and approach challenges with a fresh perspective.”

The two-hour commencement included a presentation of academic awards, a hymn from the Stanford Chamber Chorale and a lively performance by the school band.

Not to mention the wacky walk, a long-standing tradition that allows graduates to think outside the box. And that”s why Akiona, the student from Hawaii, chose to study at Stanford.

“There wasn”t a better place for me — the amount of perspectives and learning I would get,” he said. “I enjoy seeing different perspectives. It”s like traveling, but all in the same place.”

Follow Ramona Giwargis at Twitter.com/ramonagiwargis or contact her at 408-920-5705.

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Stanford University graduation brings out large crowds
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

PALO ALTO — Moments before taking part in Stanford University”s “wacky walk” — a procession of graduating students donning eccentric costumes and ensembles — Nick Akiona took a moment to reflect on what walking across Stanford Stadium means to him.

The 21-year-old held a canoe-shaped piece of cardboard etched with the word “Mahalo.” It means “thank you” in Hawaiian, and for the Oahu native and his four friends — also from Hawaii — that word sums up their experience at Stanford University.

“It”s just a thank you shout-out to our parents,” said Akiona, a mechanical engineering major. Next, he will pursue a master”s degree at Stanford in the same subject, trading the Hawaiian islands for California for several more years. “My parents instilled values in me. They helped me become mentally and emotionally ready for the challenge.”

Akiona was one of 1,704 students to earn a bachelor”s degree during Stanford University”s 124th commencement Sunday. The Palo Alto university also awarded 2,338 master”s and 984 doctoral degrees.

Whether from Hawaii or across the country, students said Stanford provided a “diverse” experience for them. Many students plan to stay in the Bay Area after ceremoniously shifting their tassels to the left side on Sunday.

San Diego native Aimee Trujillo said she plans to stick around after earning a degree in political science. She used a cardboard boar to row a canoe in the wacky walk, similar to Akiona”s. But for Trujillo, the gesture represented a trip she and her dorm mates always wanted to take.

“We went on many other trips, but not that one,” she said. But it”s never too late. Stanford”s commencement speaker, an award-winning journalist and foreign news correspondent, reminded students to never stop dreaming. And to take risks every chance they get.

Richard Engel. chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, shared harrowing tales from the war-torn frontlines in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The Stanford alumni said he”s been deported, arrested, kidnapped and nearly shot.

Engel told of launching his journalism career by moving to Cairo after graduation with no job and $2,000 in his pocket. “I packed two suitcases and left on a one-way ticket,” Engel told the crowd at Stanford Stadium. “I wanted to be a journalist and I thought the Middle East would become the story of my generation.”

The gamble paid off in a big way. He learned Arabic, which won him access to sources and information in the Middle East ahead of other journalists.

He encouraged Stanford graduates to be fearless and capitalize on their youth, intelligence and newly-conferred degrees.

“Classes are over,” Engel said. “Now is the time to travel, to explore, to take chances, to fall in love easily and often, to seek out all that is beautiful and inspiring and romantic. Now is the time to do that one thing you really want.”

Engel, who overcame dyslexia and other challenges to reach success, cautioned students against chasing the “mundane allures of money and comfort.”

“Please don”t go get desk jobs,” he urged. “Try something new, and then try it again.”

In one of his final commencement addresses, Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, who is expected to step down this summer after 15 years, also encouraged students to be trailblazers — while still preserving traditions. Hennessy, 62, is resigning to dedicate himself to teaching and research at Stanford.

“As you leave Stanford, I hope you celebrate the traditions,” Hennessy said, “But be bold and approach challenges with a fresh perspective.”

The two-hour commencement included a presentation of academic awards, a hymn from the Stanford Chamber Chorale and a lively performance by the school band.

Not to mention the wacky walk, a long-standing tradition that allows graduates to think outside the box. And that”s why Akiona, the student from Hawaii, chose to study at Stanford.

“There wasn”t a better place for me — the amount of perspectives and learning I would get,” he said. “I enjoy seeing different perspectives. It”s like traveling, but all in the same place.”

Follow Ramona Giwargis at Twitter.com/ramonagiwargis or contact her at 408-920-5705.

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