This is it. Today’s contest could well be my last ever Big Game.
I might have started here long before most of your childhoods were interrupted by thoughts of applying to college, but eventually, after a total of five years of study and six years of absence, the clock has started ticking on my academic career. The project that pays for my tuition here is finishing at the end of spring quarter and my advisor has realized that he needs to trim down the burgeoning number of PhD students in his lab.
Luckily, my research is also starting to look mature enough that I might be able to scribble down a decent enough dissertation and stumble my way through — and maybe even pass — my oral defense.
All of which means I might be heading home sooner rather than later. As an international student, I am not really supposed to stay on once I graduate; in fact my visa legally forbids me from looking for work while here. Making the short walk down to Stanford Stadium or the drive across the Bay to Berkeley to watch a football game is a no brainer, but flying 12 hours and 5,000 miles, and dealing with the fun of eight hours of jetlag just to see the Card hopefully crush Cal will be a little tougher. Even last weekend’s short trip out to Indiana to see Stanford play Notre Dame was enough of a challenge to my bank account.
The Tom Taylor that first came to Stanford would probably be a little bemused by all this. He’d of course be a little shocked that I’m still here — eleven years later, and having dropped out of school not once but twice — but more than that, that I not just claim to understand some of the basics of American football, but even like it.
My first opportunity to go to Big Game at Berkeley in 2002 passed me by unnoticed. A year later I was dragged along rather unwillingly by a pair of friends insistent that I go. If you want to know how little I cared about either football or the Stanford-Cal rivalry, the fact that I mistakenly showed up wearing a blue and yellow T-shirt should sum it up. My friends actually refused to sit next to me unless I changed clothes, and thus my first ever piece of Stanford-branded clothing was bought.
Even as recently as five years back my allegiance to all things Cardinal was severely lacking. Sure, I’d enjoyed my first spell here, but after leaving under a cloud of financial hardship — the funding for my PhD dried up and when I suddenly couldn’t enroll for classes I was strongly warned to leave the country — and eventually giving up on hopes of returning, my memories of Stanford were more bitter than sweet.
But when, out of the blue, I did get that chance to come back, I seized it. More than that, I finally threw myself into life on the Farm and found something that made all of those difficult years worthwhile. I am looking forward to eventually finishing my degree, but it is going to be really, really difficult to tear myself away from this place.
There are too many good friends — both sides of the graduate-undergraduate divide — that I’ll leave behind, too many familiar haunts, too many of my best memories.
Of everything, the unique American school spirit might be the thing I’ll miss the most. I never used to have any interest in wearing cardinal, now half my wardrobe is Stanford branded. With the absence of a college sports culture back home in the UK, and with the typical British reserve, we don’t have quite the same connection to our universities. It will be strange to wake up on Saturdays devoid of college football, or have the NCAA basketball tournament pass by without even a whisper in the news. Strange too to be an alumnus far from the Farm.
Don’t get me wrong, my undergraduate career at the University of Bristol remains one of the best periods of my life, but my allegiance is more to the friendships I built up than to the institution I attended. Whether or not Bristol defeats its archrival, the University of the West of England, on the playing field is more a matter of curiosity.
If Stanford beats California I will be ecstatic; if it loses, depressed. Not just this year, but the one after that, and the one after that, and so on. However many thousands of miles away I end up it’s going to be hard to break this bond.
Tom Taylor will be hosting a tailgater with tea and crumpets before Saturday’s Big Game. To join in, email Tom at tom.taylor “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.