On April 17, 2021, Fred Alvarez, JD ’75 (BA ’72), a partner in the Coblentz law firm, received the Gold Spike Award, Stanford’s highest honor for volunteer service. Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne conferred the award at a virtual ceremony, ticking off the many contributions Alvarez has made over his nearly four decades of volunteer service, including as a member of the university’s board of trustees and the law school’s board of advisors. Calling him an enthusiastic champion of Stanford University and Stanford Law School, Tessier-Lavigne noted the founding of the Stanford Law School Latino Alumni Association as “perhaps one of Fred’s most significant acts of service” to the university.
Alvarez has also been a leader in the legal profession, serving in two federal government sub-cabinet positions and leading the employment practice of two major American law firms. As Assistant Secretary of Labor, he managed the Wage and Hour Division and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. He also served as a Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He began his career as a trial attorney with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and was a law clerk to Chief Justice LaFel E. Oman of the New Mexico Supreme Court. Alvarez is a co-founder of the American Employment Law Council and a former chair of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. He has served on the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, and is a former president of the Bar Association of San Francisco.
The Gold Spike Award is presented annually by Stanford Associates, an honorary organization of some 3,000 alumni who have demonstrated significant volunteer service to the university. The entire speech is available on this video. Here we share an excerpt of Alvarez’s acceptance speech.
At my tender age, I know that I come from the past, but I submit, I really am a sign of the future—of things to come. And I say that because I know that so many more talented diverse people are on their way to this stage.
So, this award is meaningful to me because of what it says about our future. About Stanford’s future.
Here is how I see it:
I’m here tonight because of some bold decisions made here long ago. Forty or fifty something years ago this great University—deliberately and purposefully—asked a really “Big Question”:
“As good as we are…what if there are folks from communities out there who have never really been represented here before?
What if by finding them and inviting them here, we could make this place even better than it is…for everyone?”
Now, Stanford has always been a “What if…?” place, but … just imagine the discussions that went on about those questions—it was uncharted waters for the university. The path forward was not obvious. It was not obvious then that people from communities where Stanford never recruited—or even knew were there—would fit in here, much less thrive here.
Yet, that uncertain path was taken, and we decided that people from those different communities and cultures should come here—and drink from these waters, breath this air, stand in this sunlight, and, importantly, bring their cultures and experiences with them. And maybe Stanford itself would be a better place for all of its students.
We answered “What if?…” with “Let’s do this thing.”
And, I submit, that the past 40 or 50 years have proven them right. Stanford has never been stronger—never more prominent, never more engaged with the world in all of its dimensions, never more selective in its admissions, never more diverse—than it is today. Those folks way back when got it right. Stanford is a better place for all of its students and all of its alumni.
And now, those diverse students have graduated, and gone on to do what Stanford graduates do, and many of them are outstanding alumni volunteers.
You have to look no further than the Stanford Associates Board of Governors or to the Board of Directors of the Stanford Alumni Association, or the Stanford Medal recipients, or the winners of the Governors Award, or the Awards of Merit, to see and feel the richness and contributions that diverse alumni volunteers deliver to our community day in and day out.
And that’s why it’s so important to keep our doors—and the opportunities to serve—open.
And who better than Marc and Persis to hold those doors open—Marc our own “first gen” president, who genuinely understands the vital importance of feeling welcome here—that we all belong here—and who delivers that message to people who need to hear it with such sincerity and with unique credibility?
And Persis, our “trailblazer in chief,” someone who has never seen a door she didn’t want to unlock—and who understands how much further we need to go and who will relentlessly stay at it.
And who better than Howard Wolf, who is always looking down the alumni pipeline and searching for alumni leaders who reflect that pipeline—and he does it with a gleam in his eye and joy in his heart.
You honor my service to Stanford tonight, but just wait ’til you see who’s coming.
Just two more quick thoughts.
Why does volunteering matter? Why do volunteers matter?
You matter because Stanford matters. Now more than ever, we need a place where people of good will and imagination can get together and look forward—forward with optimism, not cynicism, forward, with respect and appreciation for our differences, rather than distain or suspicion, forward, where we listen to and learn from each other, rather than shut each other out.
Where we embrace the goal of finding common purpose, rather than pursuing our separate and myopic agendas
Where we learn to look at the world through the lens of each other, where we come from many disciplines, with a healthy respect for science, and a love of humanity—to make sure that we don’t miss a single thing that can help us lead the world in addressing the increasingly complex human condition.
Where we are not afraid to ask “What if?” and we are excited to try and answer that question.
That’s who we are.
And that’s why Stanford matters. And as volunteers we are partners with the incredible people who teach, and study and work here, and because what they do matters, and so does what we do.
Let me close this way. The opportunities I have had to serve have all been gifts to me. They were my chance to pitch in to do what I could for a place that did so much for me. I am so indebted to each and every one of you who asked me to help in some way, large and small— you know who you are.
So, this award is really about what it says to you, and about our volunteer community.
I’m really a messenger here, and the message is: If we really look for volunteers in lots of places, including from our increasingly diverse alumni community, we’ll find people who, like me, recognize what Stanford has meant to us—who stand ready to give back, however and whenever we can.
And we’ll do that so long as we feel that we all still belong to—and at this place and that we have a role in the forward-looking, exceptional and purposeful future that Marc and Persis and this incredible community has charted for itself.
You have made me feel that way for a very long time, and for that I am grateful.