The question most pressing for prospective Stanford students is whether or not they should attend Stanford University. After they have made the decision, with an appropriate amount of misgivings, they will no longer be bothered by that decision. I whole-heartedly endorse Stanford University and encourage everyone who has been accepted to come here; at the same time, I can understand those who may think that they would be happier elsewhere.
I am here to tell you that finding happiness isn’t easy. It is not a simple matter of making a checklist of to-dos and then completing them as your happiness grows. Finding happiness requires an unspecified mixture of friends, family and activities. All of us have personal preferences; we enjoy some things more than others. One of the great things about Stanford is that there is such variety in the number of group activities available. While your interests may not be immediately obvious or analogous to any of the groups that already exist on campus, you will probably find some that are similar enough that you can take an interest in them; of course, if you do not find any that are suitable, you can always create your own voluntary student organization. I personally enjoy reading, writing, and playing video games, all of which are solitary activities. I also am a member of FLIP, the First-Generation Low Income Partnership, which exists to help undergraduates who identify as FLIP, and am involved in the Military Service as Public Service project at the Haas Center for Public Service, which supports veterans of war and their friends and family on campus. I found these initiatives fairly late in my career at Stanford simply because I was not looking for them.
I hope this column can serve as a warning to all of my readers, not just the prospective freshmen. Keep looking for things that make you happy. Keep seeking out new friends that will add to your knowledge about the world. Seek out people who will challenge your assumptions about others, and engage them in conversation about what makes them unique. Build an environment in which you test who you are as a person. The journey itself will be difficult and fraught with moments where you doubt whether or not there is value in going beyond your comfort zone, but in the end it will be worth it. Only when you truly know who you are can you be really happy. After all, how will you know what makes you happy unless you know who you are? And how can you know who you are unless you constantly test yourself to understand what you believe and think? Finding happiness can be elusive at times, but not impossible.
Stanford has a huge body of students and staff and faculty who care a great deal about each other. Finding those individuals is as simple as looking for them; and once you do, you will be in a supportive and enriching environment where you can flourish. One such freshman experience is SLE, Structured Liberal Education. I chose to do SLE my freshman year because I always wished that I could read the Classics with engaging peers. At Stanford I found that, and now Mark Mancall, the creator of the program, is my personal mentor. When you come to Stanford, find things that you think you will enjoy and try them. It’s okay to make mistakes — in fact, I encourage it.
The engaging faculty, sunny weather and amazing opportunities to explore and succeed in the world all await you — and I say this to both the prospective freshman and the students already here. Go out and find greater happiness.
Interested in SLE, veterans, or anything else you read in this article? Email Sebastain at sjgould “at” stanford “dot” edu.