As the curtain begins to fall on my time at Stanford (well, at least the undergraduate part), I’ve been finding less and less time to actually reflect on the time I’ve spent here, mostly because I thought taking 7 classes was an awesome idea and, oh hey, I’m a moron. But I guess that’s not the point. After some gentle prodding from one of my Blog-affiliated friends, I took up my keyboard and began typing what would ultimately evolve into my 5 Suggestions for Successful Freshmen. It has a strange sort of ABABA alliteration to it, so I think I’ll keep the name.
Basically, I’m going to tell you a senior’s perspective on some (hopefully simple) things to keep in mind at Stanford in order to not pull your hair out. I wish I had done these things more as a Freshman (though honestly, it’s pretty much cross-class advice. Don’t think that just because you’re a junior you should just suddenly stop interacting with people. Well, unless you live in Oak Creek.). I tried to keep the titles short and the descriptions … less so, in the hopes that you’d be able to take away some (hopefully valuable?) thoughts on ways to contribute to having a good “Stanford Experience,” whatever that may mean to you. Personally, I’m new at this whole blogging business, but I think it’s at least better than Twitter, especially since I’m bumping up against 2000 words at the moment and I shouldn’t ever be allowed to use hashtags again. Anyways, without further ado, let’s get this ball rolling:
1. Get Out More.
Stanford’s a really awesome place. Don’t get me wrong; that’s why people come here to take pictures all the time, I guess. However, the term “the Stanford bubble” is well-known by most everyone here because it’s so damn difficult to actually get off of campus once you get here. Sure, there’s an awesome-sounding movie playing in Redwood City this weekend, but the CalTrain schedule sucks and then you have to bike to the Marguerite and then you won’t get back in time for Mausoleum and a whole ton of other reasons that people never actually leave. While Stanford is your home for the next four years, it can also feel a bit … oppressive at times, especially since you’re also so close to your schoolwork. This leads to conversations at the dining hall where you just try to talk to people about who has the most work or complain about how tired you are or how well you just did on your midterm, none of which are particularly entertaining topics. Yes, you got a perfect score on the Chem 31 midterm, we’re all super proud of you. Hence, get off campus! Break out of the bubble, even if just for a little bit. Bike or bus to Palo Alto and just take a walk to clear your head, or try some of the awesome restaurants in and around University Avenue if you can’t or don’t want to go farther. Your work can wait a couple of hours while you get some off-campus air, and I’ve found it to be extremely refreshing. Sophomore year, I made a pact with my friends to go out for dinner at least once a weekend, and when we do, we avoid talking about work. Leave campus issues on campus and see what happens. It’s also a nice walk, to be honest.
However, maybe that’s not up your alley and you see yourself just making the best of what’s on campus. That’s awesome too! There’s more here than anyone would ever want me to describe, but you know that–that’s one of the reasons you came here at all. Take advantage of your time here to try new things, especially if you’ve never done them before. Me personally, I took a piano class and learned a couple new sports since I’ve been here, but the possibilities are endless. You could join up with the Band and play/pretend to play your favorite instrument! You could become a writer for the Stanford Daily and publish articles of questionable veracity and taste! (You guys still put that RCCs receive complimentary housing, by the way.) You could even (after taking CS106B) become a section leader for a class taken by hundreds of, if not 1000+ students each year! Why not explore? I’m an engineering student taking a Greek Mythology class to balance out my tennis, swimming (and CS) classes this quarter. Every year, some really awesome-sounding classes get offered (along with some well-known awesome classes), why not take advantage of them? You have to take some of them anyways. Sure, some of you might come in with your major decided and you are definitely going to be a doctor no matter what the Stanford Chemistry Department says and that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided you try other options. Take a creative writing class, dabble in Political Science or Feminist Studies. Try taking ME101 and learn what “
3 4 units” means to the Mechanical Engineering Department. Nothing’s set in stone for you young’uns, so now’s the time to try things. Plus, I know everyone loves their Pre-Major Advisors, so keep them around as long as possible.
3. Share Stories.
While I’ll repeat that you really don’t need to share your midterm score with the rest of your lunch table, there’s a lot more going on with people at Stanford than you realize even after FACES and that Hidden Identities thing and the awkward conversation-starters of “what classes are you taking this quarter?”. I’d say that you should endeavor to meet one new person each day, but that seems incredibly difficult and honestly, you’ll get all their names wrong and even though it happens to everyone, it’s still a bit awkward for some reason. Instead, try to learn one new thing about the people you already know. Sometimes you’ll meet a kid who discovered a planet or is a world-class fencer or just so happens to like all the movies you like (which, honestly, is just as awesome–especially for aficionados of The Wicker Man). On the same side you’ll meet people who have overcome so much–rape survivors, people still struggling to deal with eating disorders, and people for whom getting out of bed in the morning is a victory. These peoples’ stories are important, too–though they may not be as keen on telling them. Sometimes the best way to communicate with people is just listening to what they have to say, or in the obnoxiously cryptic style of opposites, what they don’t. I’m not saying you should go to everyone and yell “TELL ME YOUR SECRETS” (though you’re more than welcome to try–lemme know the results!) but try to find out more about the people around you. I guarantee everyone is exciting in their own way–even you! So if someone comes along and wants to hear your story, share it with them!
Whew. This is getting a bit heavy. Let’s get a bit less nebulous and a bit more practical, then.
4. Be Practical.
This one is surprisingly more complicated than it seems. First off, there’s some basic stuff that I feel obligated as a former RCC to tell you. Back up your files online somewhere, immediately. Be it Skydrive or Dropbox or even e-mailing your grandmother all of your files, keep them somewhere that is not your computer and save often. Trust me, when your hard drive fails, you do not want your only copy of “10 Pages of Random Quotes Selected from a Book I Didn’t Read in a Desperate Attempt to Obtain an A” to be lost. Imagine how much more work all the random quotes will take to find, again! (While on the subject–be nice to your staff members; they’ve got a tough job.)
But there’s more to being practical than that, I guess. It’s more about being practical for yourself, in the sense that you need to figure out what being practical for yourself entails. Maybe your practicality is taking 15 units every quarter so you have time to play Super Smash Bros. Brawl (with items, the scandal!) in the lounge with your friends every weekend. Maybe it’s taking 23 units because you can’t decide whether or not you want your double major to be in Physics or Chemistry. Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. That’s all well and good, but you need to figure out the practicality of it. Try new things, yes, but don’t necessarily do everything for the sake of doing everything. Most importantly, you’ll soon figure out that you have limits, and that you’ll need to work within them. Maybe you’re a superhuman that only needs 4 hours of sleep, like James Franco. If so, damn you. For the rest of us, we’ll need more. That’s a limiting factor. While everyone can pull their fair share of all-nighters, I wouldn’t recommend it, as someone who tried to sleep an hour a night for 3 days. A good 3-4 hours of that day was spent zoning out at my computer screen, waiting for my heap to allocate itself (spoiler: it didn’t). Get some sleep, guys. Chem is still going to rock you either way, so you might as well be well-rested for it. If you can figure out what works for you, you’ll be basically an unstoppable force. Well, until you meet your immovable object. In fact, that brings me to my final point…
5. Fail Gracefully.
Spoiler alert. You’re going to fail something at Stanford. Maybe not an entire class, but maybe that Physics midterm didn’t go so hot, or maybe the CS161 final had a 50% mean out of some weird sense of amusement from the professor. Maybe you tried out for that play you had always seen yourself in, but you didn’t quite make it. Or possibly, your friends convinced you to go off-campus for dinner and you effectively missed an interview for your dream job. These things happen, and frankly, I hope that each one of you gets to experience the full force of a spectacular failure. Not to wish any ill upon you, but it’s important, crucial even. Many of you, unsurprisingly, come from schools and towns and cities where you’ve never failed at anything in your entire lives. That’s awesome! But. You didn’t come to Stanford and honestly expect to just skate through school, did you? As one of my friends [sort-of] put it, “We come here and pay money so that the smartest people in the world can [mess] with us. That way, when we get out into the real world, nobody else will be able to [mess] with us because these guys already have.” Sure, it’s a semi-resounding endorsement, but it’s better than just telling you that it builds character. The thing is, it’s important to learn how to accept failure because it gives context to success. It also scares the hell out of you and you end up doing all the reading for the class and going to office hours, which I suppose also solves the overarching problem. The thing is, the first time you get a C in a class or an F on a major project, it’s not going to be super pleasant. Honestly, subsequent instances of this are not any more awesome, take that from me. But it’ll teach you that the world is still there even after something that appears to shatter your worldview (although this is kind of general, hopefully you take grades a tad less seriously). If you’re upset about it, talk to your staff or go see the professor–turns out they don’t get paid more money to hand out bad grades (except maybe the Chem Department?), and they’re actually not only receptive but also usually happy to help, which can often turn you around in class. I guess the thing to keep in mind from this is that, on a geologic scale, everything’s going to eventually be alright. Hopefully, the fossil record will not show that you neglected to study for your midterm so that you could go to Flicks.
That’s pretty much all I’ve got to share with you guys, but I think they’re short enough that they’re pretty easy to keep in mind. Upperclassmen: anything you think I missed? Frosh: Anything you wished you knew?