125 Stanford Stories

NO. 55
Stanford Today

Stanford teachers are superheroes: Mehran Sahami

Your education is a superpower. It’s the power to potentially change the world with your mind.
— Computer Science Professor Mehran Sahami

Ask a question in Professor Mehran Sahami’s computer science class and you are likely to field a piece of candy in return. Students are delighted and challenged by Sahami’s teaching, especially when he wields a light saber.

Stanford is made up of teachers like Sahami, ’92 PhD ’99, who inspire students to realize their aspirations and to improve the world.

Graduating seniors in 2013 invited Sahami to give their Class Day Lecture. This Stanford tradition honored one favorite professor each year from 1960 to 2014.

While Stanford’s faculty is laden with honors – 20 Nobel laureates as of 2016, as well as 29 MacArthur Fellows, 107 members of the National Academy of Engineering and 287 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences – lectures like Sahami’s reveal another facet of the faculty’s greatness. They reveal how Stanford teachers challenge students to use their knowledge for self-growth and global change.

Inaugural Class Day lecturer Harry Rathbun was a Stanford law professor who inspired generations of Stanford students not only to love the law but also to ask themselves the deepest moral and ethical questions — “Who are we? Where are we going?”

Rathbun “was the first person ever to speak in my presence of how an individual could make a difference; how a single caring person can effectively help determine the course of events,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ’50 LLB ’52 remembered in 2003.

Sahami told his own Class Day listeners in 2013 that “as computer scientists we worry all the time about time. It’s how we measure the efficiency of our systems.”

In fact, insights he gained through improving web search efficiency convinced him that time is “the only real currency” that human beings really have.

“The most important choices in your life are how you choose to spend your time,” Sahami said. “The earth doesn’t sit still even if you do.

“You leave here with three things: A superpower, the time to use it, and a choice for how you will employ your superpower.

“This is your time to change the world. Make the most of it.”

Today, a related tradition, “Harry’s Last Lecture on a Meaningful Life,” continues to challenge Stanford students to use their powers for good. Watch Rathbun Visiting Fellow Oprah Winfrey deliver the 2015 lecture here.