As a frosh, I remember thinking to myself how surreal it was to be a student here.
Ten-week quarters, research labs, solo cups and soul-searching were figments of what felt like an endless fever dream, thrilling in an uncanny valley sort of way that makes you wonder just when things will start going wrong.
As a sophomore, I remember thinking to myself, “things are going wrong.”
Stanford was a leaf swept up in a national storm. Words like “justice,” “equity,” “liberation” and “transformation” found a home on campus where they live to this day. Fever dream became fever nightmare, and as the Stanford bubble popped, we took deep breaths of alien air, aware that something had changed, perhaps forever.
Junior year, the fire that we had lit at Stanford had grown too bright to ignore, and by the light of these flames, the rusty gears of the university jerked to life.
The initial attempts at institutional change were clumsy, heavy-handed and misguided, and we made sure to tell it as much. We want better, we demanded, we deserve better. We burned bright, burned out and kept burning anyways in pursuit of a better campus — in pursuit of a better world.
Senior year began, and now it’s ending.
I wonder why it is that we acclimate to change so quickly. The presidential election, suspension of the Stanford Band, CAPS drama and justice ad infinitum became facts of our social fabric as quickly as they happened, and the quarter system is merciless as always in its impartiality to the world around us.
I say these things not out of a need to make new arguments, but rather to recast and retell a particular story. I recognize that this story of mine — of activism, community, intransigence and change — is neither perfect nor timeless. It’s humbling, and honestly a little scary, to think that the last four years of my life will overlap in the most minimal of ways with next year’s incoming frosh. Those things that I and people in the Class of 2017 have worked so hard on over our time here will become the status quo, taken for granted in the same way we took everything for granted four years ago when we arrived on this campus.
But everything here changes with time. Every resource, staff member, cultural norm, name, event, office and organization at Stanford is the result of the tireless work of staff, alumni, faculty and administration, driven by overlapping four-year cycles (shorter for master’s students and longer for Ph.D. students) of student initiative. An institution like Stanford is both the source and product of the countless stories and histories of those who pass through it; it is made of all of us and bigger than any of us.
What does the combined history of Stanford care if I never turned in that p-set on time? If that email I said I’d answer from sophomore year is still starred and unanswered in my inbox? If the problems and injustices we desperately tried to fix remain even as we prepare to graduate? As the quarter comes to a close and the world outside of Stanford looms in front of me, I can’t help but regret that I couldn’t have done more here.
But the work will get done long after we’ve said goodbye to Stanford, and we can be sure of that because it’s going on right now. Students will pick up the work we’ve left behind and take it in directions we could have never dreamed of, just as we’ve done the same for the students who came before us. The Class of 2017 has done so much. The Class of 2018 will do so much. The Class of 2019 and 2020 and every class after that will do so much. That gives me hope.
As an opinions columnist for the Daily I’ve worked hard for the last four years to tell the truth — not capital “T” “Truth,” but my personal truth and my personal story. It’s been a great privilege to have had the opportunity to write for so long and to have the space to be vulnerable in such a public way.
My writing, like my opinions and my identities, has changed often over these four years (and because The Daily archives well, you can embarrass me all you like with my older columns). I hope that everyone who has read my columns found them at very least to be thought-provoking, engaging or otherwise entertaining. I might write a few more columns before my very last, but at least formally, I’d like to wrap it all up on a good note.
Thank you for reading.
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.