My name is Chiney Ogwumike and I am a student athlete on the Stanford women’s basketball team. Like many of my athlete friends, I am proud of my SAT scores, and I graduated top of my high school class. I chose Stanford because my big sister chose Stanford. I’m just kidding. I chose Stanford for the same reason everyone reading this also chose Stanford: We want to have “that experience.” “That experience” is the moment while you are at Stanford when you genuinely feel like you are going to fail. For me it came freshman year right after I took my first Math 41 midterm. For a friend in my dorm, it came when he was so homesick he almost transferred to a school closer to home. For my teammate, it came when she lost confidence in her abilities — abilities that were stellar enough to earn her a scholarship at Stanford University.
In a blog I wrote for espnW, I explained that “the experience” was fear. “Stanford is a place where you slowly grow out of your fears and discover yourself.” Fear, and more specifically for Stanford students, fear of failure, can be one of the greatest motivators in life. So in that darkest moment when we experience the possibility of failure, what pulls us through? The degree. We all want that piece of paper so bad! Why? No matter who we are, from athlete to activist, engineer to entrepreneur, we all have the goal of getting a degree from Stanford University; we want to give our best to a school that will give us the world.
What I love about our school is that no matter who you are, you can leave your legacy. You can find your passion. You can pursue countless opportunities. As an athlete, one of the toughest realizations (true or not) is that your chance for finding your passion and exploring such opportunities is under a time crunch. In other words, there are certain constraints on the athlete lifestyle. Most of us wake up at 6 a.m., go to weights and conditioning, proceed to class, rejoin our teammates for practice or a game, grab dinner, and then head back to the dorms to do our homework and wake up to do it all over again. I am not trying to generate any sympathy or provide excuses.
This is the reality for student athletes or any student with stringent extracurricular activities. We love this lifestyle because we love our sport and the doors that it has opened up for us. What I am trying to say is any athlete, or student for the matter, can have the best of both worlds; you don’t have to sacrifice your passions for academics, and vice versa.
Today I am currently in Nigeria fulfilling my international relations major requirement for studying abroad. As a basketball player, the idea of taking a quarter to study abroad seemed quite impossible. Our season is nearly year-round and it hasn’t really been done that often. But my academic and athletic advisers, coaches, athletic director, major advisers and teammates have been nothing less of supportive and enthusiastic of me pursuing this opportunity. It has been an experience of a lifetime.
I have been working in the Ministry of Petroleum and the Nigerian National Assembly, departments that are at the heart of the Nigerian political economy. It’s sad that when one person usually thinks of Nigeria, they tend to think of 419 scams, the USA-Nigeria Olympic basketball game beat down, or simply corruption. So for me to be able to witness the government first hand has been liberating. No matter how much you read about it in books or listen about it in lectures, seeing it first hand helps put all the pieces together. I have watched officials work tirelessly in offices preparing and proposing legislature that will better share the oil wealth in the economy. I have participated in human rights retreats that challenge traditional notions of women’s, children’s and even prisoners’ rights.
In short, I have been pleasantly surprised by the country’s progress and am so fortunate to have been a fly on the wall. For a student with a primary specialization in Africa and a secondary specialization in Comparative International Governance, I could not have had a better spring quarter.
But the icing on the cake is what I will be able to do with my free time. Soon, I will work with a charity that runs a basketball camp for under-privileged African youth. So far they have built a school, established an after-school program, and now they hope to build a basketball court. Whether this is possible or not, I am extremely excited to use the platform that I have been blessed with to provide hope for kids and their futures through sport. I will be leaving Nigeria on cloud nine.
To sum up, this article has been longer than I had ever imagined but if you are still reading this I hope that the following messages come clear. I do not think if I were at any other school, I would be chasing my wildest dreams. I believe that one of the greatest motivators in life is our fear of failure. But, I also believe the other is love. Forget what you fear, and work for what you love, because if you do, it will propel you to new heights, unleash the ceiling of your imagination and push you to excel.
To my dear student-athletes, do not let the misconception of a ‘time crunch’ dissuade you from achieving what you want to achieve. To all my friends, please realize that the athlete community is as dedicated as the rest. For we all share the same love of the Quad, Oval, Full Moon, and Cardinal red. But most importantly, we all wholeheartedly agree with what John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what Stanford can do for you, but what you can do for Stanford…together.” Well, I might have made that up a little bit but you get what I mean.