By Sam Kurland, ’17
On February 13, Stanford in Government members joined the greater Stanford community in welcoming the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection. Several SIG members had the opportunity to attend the summit’s morning session, where distinguished guests addressed a capacity crowd in Memorial Auditorium. Speakers included Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The highlight of the morning, though, came at the very end of the program. A few minutes before noon, nearly 2,000 students, faculty, and invited guests took to their feet to welcome President Barack Obama for the first official presidential visit to Stanford since 1975. Students, mostly seated in the balcony, gave an especially warm welcome. “Yes we can!” one student cried.
“Yes, we can,” affirmed the president; his audience roared with approval.
Obama spoke for nearly half an hour about the growing importance of cybersecurity to U.S. interests. He credited Stanford with laying the foundation for modern computing, and called on students and other stakeholders in attendance to join the administration in its efforts to improve the security of computer systems around the world.
After concluding his address, President Obama signed an executive order aimed at improving collaboration between the public and private sectors on cybersecurity. Obama used several pens to sign the order. He explained, “I do this so everyone gets a pen,” though he admitted there were not quite enough for everyone in the large audience.
Though they may have left without presidential pens, SIG members were enthusiastic about the event. “Seeing the president in my own school’s auditorium was an ‘only at Stanford’ moment,” said Libby Scholz, ’17.
SIG Vice Chair for Programming Wyatt Horan, ’17, had an especially exciting time at the summit. During the afternoon session, Horan joined nine other Stanford undergraduates for a conversation with a small group of (as far as the students knew) “senior White House officials.” Upon arriving, Horan discovered that those officials included high-profile presidential advisors Valerie Jarrett, ’78, Lisa Monaco, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, ’86. One guest was not announced, but Horan suspected he knew the final “senior official.”
Sure enough, President Obama joined the small group just a few minutes into their conversation. Obama asked the students for their perspective on ways the government could increase public awareness of cyber threats. Horan responded by describing SIG events on cybersecurity and related policy, and explained how the organization is working to improve awareness of these issues at Stanford.
SIG looks forward to continuing to engage students in policy conversations at Stanford about cybersecurity, consumer welfare, and many other important issues.