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Op-Ed: Mid Year Evaluation


Though I’ve now been in class for two weeks since Mid-Year Convocation, I feel even more nervous and even less certain about how the rest of the quarter and the rest of my freshman year will pan out.

I loved freshman fall—being surrounded by the most diverse group of people (ethnically, geographically, interest- and belief-wise) I’ve ever been around; being constantly amazed at the beauty of Stanford’s campus and marveling at my presence in such a fortunate community; and witnessing the most successful football season in school history, culminating in my taking a trip down to Miami for the Orange Bowl.

I am 100 percent happy with my choice to attend Stanford and could not have any more love for the people, the place, its values, etc.

Yet, despite these experiences and feelings, I have some moments of trepidation, which began over winter break as I started to think about the coming months.

If last quarter was characterized by a sense of empowerment and endless opportunities for success, this one is marked by a sense of uncertainty and a fear of failure. These feelings are carrying over into the present.

My fall quarter grades were the best I’ve ever had and one of my papers was nominated for a writing award, which gave me and my family large reasons to celebrate. Yet, I tried (and to some degree still try) to discredit myself—I had only taken 14 units, I didn’t take any math or science classes, there were plenty of smarter kids than I; I had simply gotten lucky.

Deep inside I know that my family and friends are not expecting me to maintain such high standards—my grandmother told me so over the phone Monday afternoon, saying that all she and my family want is for me to try my best.

I also know that my fall quarter success wasn’t an accident. In fact, I attribute part of the outcome to a moment of enlightenment I had in October, when Vice Provost Elam addressed the Black Student Union at its convocation.

He spoke about the notion of “stereotype threat” as an issue among black students. Stereotype threat is a phenomenon in which an individual internalizes a negative stereotype associated with a group to which he belongs, in turn actualizing the stereotype and performing to a lesser degree than he otherwise could and is something I believe I experienced, with standardized testing and math and science classes in high school.

Hearing that I should view Stanford as a place where I belonged and where I had the potential to succeed in many capacities gave me the empowerment I needed, right as I was beginning to doubt my place at Stanford.

Regardless of these feelings, something within me is afraid to try—afraid to take on 18 units, afraid to confront a new quarter of SLE, with more reading, writing that is more intensive and higher expectations for the quality of my work.

We’re already in the third week of the quarter and I feel time rushing by faster than it already has. Shopping classes was stressful, as I joined a four-unit class during its fifth meeting. And being one step closer to having to choose a major has made me worry about being able to explore my options in time to make the right choice, not to mention worry about when I’m going to figure out what I want to do with my life after college.

This general uncertainty has been unproductive. My assignments are very physically in front of me, as are the words on the pages when I open the assignments up, but I haven’t worked up the determination to catch up, and eventually get ahead, in my work.

My purpose is not to create a cause for worry among my family or friends; it is to hopefully give other freshmen who are feeling similarly an opportunity to create a dialogue.

The tone of Mid Year Convocation seemed to suggest that nervousness and uncertainty are common for some, if not many, freshmen at this time of the year. And the messages relayed by Convocation and The Resilience Project, which was introduced at the conclusion of the event —that failure is not the end of the world and has made University alumni and leaders much stronger—resonate especially well.

This is the most I’ve sat down to concentrate and write all quarter. I think my tone may come off in a gloomier manner than I would desire; either that, or I’m in denial about what I actually feel.

Regardless, expressing these thoughts is the first step toward breaking through this block.

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Kristian Davis Bailey is a junior studying Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. A full time journalist/writer and occasional student, he's served as an Opinion section editor, News writer and desk editor for The Daily, is a community liaison for Stanford STATIC, the campus' progressive blog and journal, and maintains his own website, 'With a K.' He's interested in how the press perpetuates systems of oppression and seeks to use journalism as a tool for dismantling such systems.