John LeRoy Hennessy was born on Long Island, New York. His father was an engineer, his mother a homemaker. As a youngster, John Hennessy was a talented student, but not a highly motivated one. In high school, a math teacher spotted his potential and urged him to apply himself. At his teacher's urging, Hennessy took two math courses at once, and in his after-school hours began to build home computers from kits with a like-minded friend.
Through high school he pursued his interest in math and science, competing in science fairs. He entered Villanova University, outside of Philadelphia, as an electrical engineering major. At Villanova, he had his first formal course in computer programming. Soon he became a teaching assistant in the course. He had discovered two loves, programming and teaching, and decided to pursue graduate studies in computer science at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. After completing his Ph.D., he joined the faculty of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California in 1977, as an assistant professor of electrical engineering.
Hennessy was promoted to a full professorship at Stanford in 1986. The following year, he was named to a new endowed chair, as Willard and Inez Bell Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Hennessy co-authored two books on computer architecture: Computer Organization and Design: The Hardware/Software Interface and Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach. Today, these are standard texts in the field, read by computer science students throughout the world.
While Hennessy continued his research on the development of high-performance computers, Stanford made increasing use of his skills as an administrator. In 1994, he was chosen to chair the Department of Computer Science. Two years later he was promoted to Dean of the School of Engineering, embracing disciplines far beyond his own specialty. As Dean, he initiated a five-year plan with a new emphasis on the emerging fields of bioengineering and biomedical engineering. After three years as Dean, he was chosen to succeed Condoleezza Rice as Provost of the University, Stanford's chief academic and financial officer. As Provost he served under President Gerhard Casper. When President Casper returned to teaching in 2000, John Hennessy was chosen to serve as the tenth president of Stanford University.
Under the leadership of President Hennessy, Stanford University is maintaining its international leadership in IT, neuroscience, biomedical technology, energy technology and environmental science. Even in financially challenging times, Hennessy has proceeded with an ambitious construction program, highlighted by the architecturally daring Bing Concert Hall.