A woman in a faded dress and her husband, dressed in a 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 this couple had no business at Harvard.
"We would like to see the President of Harvard," the man said softly.
"He'll be busy all day," the secretary snapped. "Well wait," the woman replied. 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 something 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 this odd couple. The President, stern faced, strutted toward the couple.
The woman 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 died in an accident. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on the 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 woman 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 woman's faded dress and the man's threadbare suit, and 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."
The President was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now. The woman 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. They moved to Palo Alto in California where they established the university that bears their son's name, Stanford University.