Time to Move On

During spring break four years ago, I was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley. I was still waiting to hear back from a few schools – a couple Ivies and Stanford – but I expected rejection and thus set my sights on the gold and blue.

I never did go to Cal. I ended up being admitted to Stanford a week later, which was my dream school at the time. I attended Admit Weekend, had a great time and soon after sent in my enrollment deposit.

Almost four years later, and here I am facing down my graduation five months away. For a while, I considered coterming. Unlike many of my fellow students, I had no other attractive plans – no job on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley awaiting me. And there were a handful of coterm programs in fields that I am passionate about, with none of these having onerous applications to fill out.

And yet, the deadline for those submissions – January 15th – has come and gone; I failed to fill out a single application. Come June, then, I will be leaving Stanford for good. I have started to reflect on my years here. I will miss many things, to be sure: the diversity of student groups, the vitality of classes, and the natural beauty that California offers, to name a few.

There is also much I won’t miss. I will not miss, for instance, Stanford’s perfectly manicured campus.  When our environment is so ordered and beautiful, is there any room for us not to be? I will not miss the housing system – I am 21 now, an adult by most measures, and yet I am all but forced to enter the same residential bureaucracy as incoming freshmen. As a result I have no experience paying bills or managing my own living space.

Nor will I miss other aspects of the Stanford administration. The free speech rights the University grants me, for instance, are laughable. I am forbidden from setting up my guitar and selling CDs for a few bucks in White Plaza, the supposed “free speech zone,” but the University can host career fairs that span the entire space and likely result in significant returns on investment for the participating companies.

I certainly won’t miss the Silicon Valley ethos, either. I major in engineering, but the blind faith that many of my peers have in the beneficial power of technology profoundly worries me. They attack religion, only to turn around and worship the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and devote themselves to reading the Book of Jobs (Steve Jobs’ bestselling biography).

Nor will I miss Stanford’s activist community, which as a whole I perceive to be too ingrained in the echo chambers of our campus’ leftist bent. Since few here oppose the activist community, its members come to believe in the definite truth of their ideas, which in turn only silences conversation and debate more. A shame, for these are the ones who often care most about pressing societal and global issues.

Finally, I won’t miss how our student body regards normality as sin and treats friendship as something to be scheduled in alongside classes, meetings, and office hours.

And yet, if I were able to advise my high school senior self, knowing what I know now, I would suggest he make the same enrollment decision. Despite my disillusionment, I am not suffering here (some are, and we too often ignore this). Rather, I have grown tremendously at Stanford, discovering passions that I never knew I had. Had I attended a school with fewer humanities requirements, for instance, I would likely not have realized my affinity for subjects in those fields. In short, Stanford has been good for me. It is merely time for me to move on.

When will you be moving on?  Let Adam know at adamj11@stanford.edu.

About Adam Johnson

Adam is a senior from Illinois. He is majoring in Biomechanical Engineering, although his intellectual interests span dozens of departments. This is his second year writing for the Daily (you may remember him from his work last year on the Editorial Board). Outside of writing, Adam enjoys acting, skiing, making music, and thrift-store shopping.
  • Nostalgic Alum

    I graduated from Stanford a few years ago. As a senior I had many of the same complaints about student life as you mention in the article, so I agree with most of what you have said, but maybe I can offer some perspective on post-Stanford life that will make you feel better (until you graduate).

    The housing situation sucks, but now that I’m in the “real world” I realize there are a lot of perks about forcing everyone to live on campus. The biggest thing is that all of your friends live within biking distance. In a few months everyone will be moving to different parts of the country and you probably won’t see them again for years. I only live a few hundred miles away from the bay area and I still haven’t seen some of my best friends since the day of graduation. Don’t rush growing up. Trust me, paying rent and buying groceries sucks. It doesn’t take long to get it figured out anyway, so don’t worry.

    I had the same complaints about other students at Stanford, especially the activists. I would consider myself to be fairly liberal but something about them irked me. I think you expressed my feelings more eloquently than I could. Worshiping tech magnates is also annoying, but like you said, that’s probably a consequence of going to a school in the silicon valley (believe me, San Francisco is MUCH worse). Despite all of this, you’re probably going to find that most people in the world are annoying, and after a while you might even miss tech geeks and ultra liberal activists. Unless you live in a cave, you’re going to have to deal with obnoxious people, and I can guarantee you they will be a lot worse than Stanford students. You’ll have to deal with arrogant bosses, d-bag peers, annoying parents at PTA meetings, the list goes on and on, and you’ll be dealing with this for as long as you live and work in society.

    Sorry for the pessimism, but I think it’s necessary since I know how you feel. Honestly I would trade just about anything to have two quarters of Stanford still ahead of me, so live it up!!!

  • Class of 2012er

    Indeed, Adam is going to realize in about a year some of these things weren’t so bad, after all. Trust me, you’re not missing out on much of anything in the form of life “experience” by not having paid any bills or managed your own living space. It’s easy to figure out.

    But he’s dead on about how we treat relationships at Stanford. It’s just… not authentic sometimes and feels way too programmed.

  • LL

    It sounds like there’s a lot more you dislike about Stanford than like about it. To be frank it sounds like you’re telling yourself that you’d do it all over again, perhaps because you don’t want to feel that you “wasted” the last few years. Even though you conclude that you would choose Stanford again, is it possible that you’re coming to this conclusion precisely because you cannot go back and do it all over again? Just food for thought. You don’t have to like Stanford, nor do you need to feel that you would choose it again.

  • Adam Johnson

    Thanks for the comment. I think, though, that you are conflating what I would choose now, four years later, with what was a good choice back then. If I had to go to undergrad somewhere for four more years, it almost certainly would not be Stanford but more likely a liberal arts college. But I wasn’t necessarily ready for that experience as an 18 year old, and the fact that I resist Stanford so much now indicates how it has helped me find myself. I do not think I would have gained an appreciation for theatre or political philosophy had I not come here. I may not have had the great opportunity to write opinions for the campus newspaper. These are experiences I will take with me.

    I do sometimes feel like I “wasted” my time here. Then I have to remember just how much I have learned, about humanity and about myself. Surely not a waste.