Carpe-ing the Diem

Posted by at 1:47PM

Mark Twain knows what's up.

“Never let schooling get in the way of your education.”  – Mark Twain

You came to Stanford because you realize that there is significantly more to an education than merely the classes you take, the books you read, and the problem sets you solve.  There’s no doubt that Stanford has top notch academics.  But we have so much more.

And yet, during the supposed “sophomore slump” of my Stanford career, I’ve sadly seen too many of my peers take way too many core classes and, to a certain extent, forget the initial Stanford magic that brought us here.

This is my two cents on rekindling that passion and “doing it right.”  I’ll readily admit that at the ripe old age of 20, I don’t claim to have it all figured out.  (I also don’t claim to speak Latin, as you can probably tell.)  But when the things that made you happy become the things that drive you crazy, it’s time for a quick reset.

It’s not about the schooling; it’s about the education.

Making the Grade

In Soviet Russia, sleep gets you!

Too often, I see students so focused on the end result, getting that right answer or passing that midterm, that they ignore the lesson.  Write numbers without comprehension.  Miss the learning process.  I’ve sat in too many lectures with students frantically scribbling last minute answers.  “Wait, why is that right?”  “Heck if I know.  The TA said so.”  Didn’t we all have to write an essay about intellectual vitality to get in here?  What’s going on?

If you’re writing down answers you don’t understand, you’re doing it wrong.  If you’re busting your butt on hour 22 of that problem set for the incremental difference between an A and an A+, you’re doing it wrong.

Life will present you with infinite problem sets; don’t you worry.  You’ll get another shot.  But you probably won’t get another shot to see that senior friend of yours in her comedy show, or watch Stanford beast Virginia Tech in another Orange Bowl (’cause we’ll be at the Rose Bowl, duh 😀 ).  We are blessed to be surrounded by thousands of tremendously talented classmates, and it saddens me to see the offbeat performances attended mostly by grad students.  Who probably realize now that they missed out on some of undergraduate life’s best gifts by focusing too much back in the day.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Perfect GPA Happiness

Exercise your Constitutional rights.

In recent years, the ASSU has dedicated an unprecedented amount of time, resources and attention to student wellness.  This trend would likely not be the case were it not for a defined need for such resources.  With as many opportunities as we enjoy here – a beautiful campus, numerous outdoor and athletic organizations, and fun extracurriculars – if we need so many seminars, events, and flyers to remind us merely how to stay well, we are probably doing something wrong.

Ignore, for a moment, the pressures of grad school, med school, your parents, and the painful act of following in your older siblings’ footsteps.  Stop and consider the overall reason why you work as hard as you do: someday, somehow, you hope these things will make you happy.

If, right now, your goals are making you unhappy, you might want to reevaluate some priorities.  Now, I’m not saying you should drop out of Stanford, start braiding daisies into your hair, and join a hippie colony in the south of France.  I’m saying that maybe you could have “slacked” and taken 17 units instead of those 22.  Maybe you don’t have to coterm in 4 years… most people do it in 6.  Maybe that seventh extracurricular is adding more bags under your eyes than it is weight to your resume.

You’re only young once.  Don’t be so busy pursuing a perfect life that you let life pass you by.

The Simpler Things

Kick back and enjoy our beautiful campus

I think we could learn a thing or two from Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.  Yeah, they would probably never have gotten into Stanford, but they’ve definitely perfected the loving-life thing.

As much as you may love that shiny GPA of yours, if it doesn’t actually represent your level of comprehension, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  I’m here to learn.  I’m here to understand what’s going on.  If your GPA takes the hit because you refuse to lemming along without actually grasping the concepts, I applaud you.  Your passions haven’t failed you.

The overdosing applies to extracurriculars as well.  Plagued as you may be by FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out), you don’t have to hit every talk, lunch, seminar, protest, workshop, and guest lecture.  That sounds unpleasant and exhausting!  What good is your Type-A lifestyle if you don’t have time to spend it with the people you love?

I have a challenge for you.  Please – for me, if not for your own good – do something you love that you could never put on your resume.  Kick back and play volleyball on the Oval on Friday afternoons.  Challenge your dormmates to Nerf gun battles.  Blow off an entire afternoon in pursuit of the best gelato on University.  Better yet, do something for fun that you suck at.  Like, really, really suck at.  There’s nothing like a quick, sharp kick to the ego to remind us overachieving Stanford folk that perfect is impossible, and once you’ve tried your hardest, you can do no more.


6 Responses to “Carpe-ing the Diem”

  1. Kim says:

    Thanks, Kristi. Too often, we forget that we’re here to do more than collect numbers and resume boosters and grades

  2. Professor Farnsworth says:

    I agree with what you’re saying, but I think you should also consider where we come from, not where we are at.

    I got into Stanford because all I did was worry about my grades. I did the all-nighters, the dozens of APs, extracurriculars, etc. Now, a lot of people have their own merits. Some Stanford undergrads are entrepreneurs, some are athletes, some are insanely talented in some thing. But many are just students. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but the sentence “It’s not about schooling, it’s about the education” means squat to my parents who are expecting me to come out of Stanford with a degree in one hand and job-security in the other.

    “Stop and consider the overall reason why you work as hard as you do: someday, somehow, you hope these things will make you happy.”
    – I work to one day have enough money to provide for my eventual family. This was the reason my dad came to this country, and how he would answer you question. He didn’t work because he hoped one day his job would be fulfilling, he did it because, otherwise, we would starve.

    Being able to enjoy yourself at a place where you pay $50,000+/year is a luxury not many can afford. Maybe you can, and I applaud you’re time-management skills, but for me, everyday I have to validate my spot at this university with the work I dole out. Otherwise, I would disrespect my parents (who worked hard so I could have this opportunity), this university, and myself.

  3. Agreed says:

    i totally agree, professor farnsworth

    i think most students at stanford wouldn’t agree, though, thanks to this preposterous idea that school is about having fun, rather than learning enough to make a living and contributing to society. If people are getting gelato instead of going to class, they should make sure they’re not wasting the tuition paid by someone else – either their parents or financial aid. I think making students pay their own tuition more in both cases is one way to fight the problem.

  4. Kristi says:

    @ Farnsworth & Agreed:

    I think you’re misinterpreting my post.

    I absolutely believe that students should work hard and learn enough to make a living and justify the sacrifices made by their parents (or whomever is financing their education) such that they can enjoy a world-class education. I am in no way suggesting that students should do anything less than their best in their classes or the “preposterous idea” that school is about having fun. In fact, as you’ll note, I state that “*once* you’ve tried your hardest, you can do no more.” Do the absolute best that you can. Once you have, no further can be expected of you.

    This post is not intended to comment on the relative merits of hard work. It is intended to question the legitimacy of pursuing the right answers without actually learning, and to argue that there is a necessity for a healthy work-life balance. I think both of you would agree that understanding is the whole point of education.

    And “Agreed,” if you read my article, you’d see that I never said to skip class to get gelato. Your selective reference was taken very much out of context. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Take off a Saturday afternoon, make it a study break. I *am* suggesting that education is about the development of the whole person, learning being tantamount, but wellness and breadth of experience being a close second.

  5. Agreed says:

    well put, Kristi
    I completely agree that “If you’re writing down answers you don’t understand, you’re doing it wrong.”

    However, I think that’s something totally different from “If you’re busting your butt on hour 22 of that problem set for the incremental difference between an A and an A+, you’re doing it wrong.”

    I think the former is letting schooling get in the way of education. The latter is not. The latter is exactly how we determine who deserves an A+, and I’m saying that if you (or more likely someone else) is paying for you to be at Stanford, it’s exactly that 22 hours of butt busting that you should be doing.

  6. Kristi says:

    @ Agreed:

    Gotcha. I agree with you. I should have explained that point more clearly. I mean that once you’ve put in the 22 hours and done the best you can, if that only amounts to “A” work, then “settling” is reasonable. And probably the healthiest thing to do. It goes back to my point about “once you’ve tried your hardest, you can do no more.” At a certain point, there’s a premium on sleep so that you can *continue* to push yourself to your limits moving forward. I fear that this threshold is often ignored, to the detriment of students’ work as a whole.


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