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OPINIONS

Why I’m here

I’ve been here, among the arches and palm trees of Stanford University, for nearly four years now, and my earlier memories have begun to blur. But in the presence of 1,000 bright, terrified, not-yet-jaded prospective freshmen, I have to ask, and I have to remember: Why am I here?

To be honest, I’m here because of my dad.

Though I probably should, I don’t want to think about why I’m here in an existential sense. There are decisions to be made about purpose and meaning and direction, but those are not interesting today. Instead, I want to remember the road that brought me here, first as a child, then at seventeen and finally at eighteen.

Like I said, it starts with my dad. George Lopez ’81 played on the Stanford baseball team as a relief pitcher and majored in economics. After graduation, he worked at a number of banks, and eventually he found the one that contained my mom, Leslie. They married in 1989 and had me in 1992. So maybe I’m here because my dad is an alumnus.

My dad’s grandparents immigrated to Texas from Mexico, a story that I imagine is common among we millions named Lopez. George was born in Texas and moved to a city near Los Angeles when he was three. My grandma is fluent in Spanish, my dad is not, and I am not either. Leslie’s lineage flows directly back to Austria, thick with Judaism. So maybe I’m here because my dad is Hispanic, and I half-am too.

When I was younger and we would drive up the Interstate 5 on the way to vacation, we would often stop at Stanford for a few hours. Deep within a box in my garage back home, there exists a picture of me, no older than 10, sitting on a planter in the Quad with my eyes locked on the pages of a book. It’s a sunny day, of course, and Hoover Tower shines in the background. So maybe I’m here because early in my life my dad showed me how to fall in love with Stanford, and I never forgot.

All of this helps explain why I was accepted to Stanford, but still I ask: Why am I here?

Four years ago we drove up the Interstate 5 and stopped at Stanford for my Admit Weekend. Right away, I met three fellow ProFros—one of them had a perfect SAT score!—and I began to doubt myself. After a few hours, I got tired of having the same conversation over and over (“My name is Matt; I’m from near LA; I’m not sure, maybe political science; Yes, I’m definitely coming here”). One morning I walked out of MemAud in the middle of being told how great I was and how much I deserved to be here. I met my parents in the wooded area next to the Oval and I broke down. I’m here because my dad, patiently, let me cry until I was ready to stop.

The summer after high school, I got a job at a luxury hotel called the Westlake Village Inn. My office might have been better described as a closet, where I sat with a desk, computer, telephone, overhead drawer space and the occasional curious hotel guest. I sat alone from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and fielded calls requesting room service while my then-unsophisticated tongue stumbled over the names of French wines. I wanted to quit, as I always did when I sensed the presence of difficulty and discomfort. I’m here because my dad, firmly, told me I needed to work through the end of August.

On September 14, 2010, my dad took a detour to make sure that we entered campus down Palm Drive. We drifted toward the Quad before turning right onto Campus Drive, behind Cantor Arts Center and in front of the medical school. “What’s ‘Robull?” I asked him, and he told me it was Roble Hall. On Mayfield Avenue, the street I have called home for each of my eleven quarters on campus, he parked and released me into the screaming arms of Florence Moore Hall. I’m here because my dad, relentlessly, made sure I was driven.

Joan Didion put it this way: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Outside of Stanford, we are outliers—the 5 percent if you’re younger, the 7.2 percent if you’re older. How can that be so? Why are we here? I’ve attempted to make sense of it above, but I could have also told a story about my mom, or my eighth grade English teacher or Leland Stanford himself. Organizing the past brings clarity to the joys and fears of our former selves and reminds us how we got here in the first place. With so much to do in the future it can feel tiresome to look back, but it’s never insignificant. There are infinite roads behind us.

Contact Matt Lopez at malopez@stanford.edu.

  • Maya

    You forgot you’re there because you’re brilliant and because you needed a place to grow and become even more brilliant. *you did it* #proudofyou #loveyou #maya