During junior spring, I studied abroad in China. I cannot convey, without overwhelming you with days of stories, how much those months in Beijing healed me. It was like a detox. Last summer, I had an excellent apartment with the best roommate that I have ever had and a self-affirming job in Greece with Stanford Summer Theater. I felt ready to face this year.
Yet when senior autumn rolled around, I still had the backwards mentality of previous years. I did drugs too frequently, I didn’t try new things, I didn’t contact my friends and organize times to enjoy each other’s company. I drew into myself. In fact, if it weren’t for the rigor of my academic schedule and the sheer fact that I had to work with friends to not screw up my senior core courses in civil engineering, I might have relapsed even harder.
Finals week that quarter was a monster. I had five sit-downs, and when I finished the last one, I still had to go home and finish a lab report for geotechnical engineering. After I clicked “send,” officially ending my quarter, I immediately went and got high. Friends drove me to my favorite Chinese restaurant where we shared a delicious meal – but when I returned to my room that night and lay alone on my mattress, I began to excoriate myself for my ignorance. I knew that I had to start taking responsibility for myself, and so I tossed the baggie reading “have a hempy New Year” and went home to Tucson for a real detox.
Winter quarter, I enrolled in 22 units and audited 2 more. Seven classes. I haven’t talked to another student who understands what that’s like, probably because that much work makes us rather socially inaccessible, but I’m sure that you can imagine.
My friends called me crazy. Every #seniorzforlyfe on Instagram photos mocked my asceticism. But I sat down every Sunday and wrote a to-do list for the week, and then did it all. I read twelve books for a research paper that I am writing for fun. I worked out every night. I barely saw my friends. When I walked out of my last final, disappointed that it wasn’t harder, I didn’t go and get high. I went skating with a friend, returned to the dorm at 10 and went right to sleep.
Last weekend I did quite a lot, absolutely none of it schoolwork. I ordered dim sum in Chinatown in Cantonese and my friends laughed at the gapes of astonishment on the faces of the employees. I drove a freshman friend to interview a man who runs a Silicon Valley fight club. Along with two other dormmates, I went to see the Filipino Culture Night at Dinkelspiel Auditorium.
That show was beautiful in so many ways. I found myself, like I once did, on the verge of tears just from watching sappy love stories. Shivering strains of gorgeous music raised the hair on my upper arms. I laughed at corny jokes because they were funny. What I saw portrayed on the stage was not, perhaps, true love. Yet the cheers of the people in the audience, the shouts of “I see you, Monica!” ringing from the seats, and the laughter of people who genuinely cared about one another, who spoke about community and tradition, swelled that cavernous hall with genuine affection.
I saw on that stage community that I miss, community of which I wish I had made myself a part. I’m not Filipino, but there were non-Filipino folks up on that stage, so I know that the community is welcoming, if you come to it with an open mind and an open heart. Perhaps I could have done more with MEChA, if I wanted something more pertinent to my culture – but the point here is that we must not live in isolation at Stanford, even though it takes discipline for us introverts to be extroverted.
It strikes me as ironic, of course, that I consistently pitch the need for culture and community and yet am still a hermit sometimes. Writing, my passion, requires me to spend hours on end in solitude, but I’m beginning to recognize that “solitude” doesn’t mean that I have to consume or create language alone. I could never have learned Mandarin, or Spanish, or Cantonese, if I hadn’t conversed with native speakers, and my fiction, too, needs to be tempered by the stories and lives of my fellow human beings, much as I may (now half-heartedly) profess to abhor them.
If there’s a single moral, or a single lesson, I guess, that I want to leave to Stanford, it is this: don’t go it alone. Of course you can’t meet or please everybody, but a loving community can smooth your passage so much. I’m grateful to the ones who have stuck by me even when I was drowning myself.
The great thing about senior spring is the apathy. I’m taking 20 units, but five of them are pass/fail and I spend most of my time with various friends savoring warm afternoons. I have decided to take a leave of absence for a year before continuing my co-term in the fall of 2014, to live my life in the disciplined, outgoing way that I know that I need to. Maybe it’ll be weird when I return, a couple of languages and a few grand richer, but I think I’m gonna be that grad student who spends time in undergrad communities. If the Filipino Student Network would take me in, I’d love to be a part – but regardless of where I seek acceptance, I’m going to go at it with an open mind, ready to listen.
I want to end with this note to first-gen folks: you are, unequivocally, good enough. In fact, your experiences are not weight to drag you down, but a particular buoyancy that your wealthier friends simply do not have, although perhaps you do not know how to use it yet. Here’s how: realize that you have to give of yourself to get research, scholarships, friends, but that once you do, there is an ever-expanding group of folks that would legitimately hate to lose you. Be that person.
Be that person, and contact Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.