By Anja Young
In the summer of 2012, 2016 was basically a nice idea with a lot of dreams attached. It was a mark of camaraderie between people who would experience completely different things in the same place, arbitrarily caught in the cross-hairs of the same time. Four years later, it’s strange how quickly that number we’ve been squinting at in our distant calendars has become a clearly defined end to this chapter, as we collectively prepare to pack our bags and find our next adventures.
If my time here has taught me anything, it’s that “Stanford experiences” are as unique as the students themselves. Each of us steps onto this campus with our own preconceived notions, plans and checklists. But as we confront people and ideas that challenge the things that defined us in our college applications, we evolve. We become new people, with new ideals and perhaps a growing sense of uncertainty in what we had been so sure of before. In my four years here, it feels like I’ve been at least four different people –– the workaholic, the determined procrastinator, the athlete and the best friend; and in between, I’ve been or imagined becoming 10 times as many versions of myself. No one ever told me that finding myself would be an iterative process in creative reconstruction. Even years later, little by little, I’m finding new people, principles and goals that fit the many pieces and contradictions that make up who I am today. No two years here have been alike, and I’ve learned time and again that Stanford is very rarely what you expect but is, if you allow it to be, often exactly what you need.
That’s not to say my time here has been perfect. I arrived on this campus with an unconscious acceptance that my self-worth was entirely defined by other people’s perceptions of me. My need for the affirmation of a good grade, my sense of right and wrong, even my relationship with my own body, were all determined by a series of people I’d encountered along the way whose views I’d adopted without ever stopping to wonder why. I was a mosaic of arbitrary encounters, and when obstacles arose that challenged each part of who I believed I was, it turned out the pieces weren’t that firmly placed and came crashing down. But in the darkness that followed, I realized I had the strength to pull myself out of those spaces, and I emerged with a newfound appreciation for the vibrance of the light and love at the end of the tunnel.
Senior year has been an incredible lesson in the power of adversity to transform my capacity for happiness, empathy and strength in day-to-day life. Something about understanding and accepting the sum of my parts and pasts has given me the courage to take on new challenges I’d shied away from previously. I spoke up in classes when I didn’t have the answer; I forged friendships out of honest conversations about who I am and who I’ve been, and I learned that love built on a true understanding of deeper flaws can be beautifully transformational to your relationship with yourself.
Perhaps the experience I’m most grateful for this year, though, is the past volume I’ve spent as Managing Editor of Opinions at The Daily. My hopes to help people invest in and better understand themselves merged with my desire to chase honest conversations and created an experience I never saw coming. I spent 15 weeks combing through perspectives, trying to help people hone their voices to speak across communities. In the process, I learned important lessons about the value and limitations of free speech and gained a deeper understanding of the way individuals can shape the identity of a community, given a space for their views to be heard. Inspired by everyday people using their voices to make an impact in their communities, I found myself jumping headlong into opportunities to challenge myself and help others. And somewhere along the way, I found myself engulfed in a colorful community of incredible people unapologetically committed to making Stanford everything they imagined it could be. I learned that it doesn’t take a miracle to inspire and affect someone’s life. Just a few hundred words and a story.
There is a lot I’ll miss about Stanford. It’s been my home for four years, and, as the place where I have made memories and redefined so many parts of myself, it would be impossible to close this chapter without a bit of nostalgia. But I also know that, while I may be stepping into something wholly unfamiliar, Stanford has prepared me well for my next adventure. The version of me that first arrived on this campus never dreamed that I would be leaving the person I am today, but I’m glad she chose this place to make her start. Stanford allowed me to challenge myself in entirely new ways, and taught me to find strength in adversity to forge a path that was entirely my own. In short, it empowered to change my life permanently and for the better. And for that, I am forever grateful.
Contact Anja Young at ayoung3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.