I first came to Stanford in the fall of 2015. All October, I tried my hardest to talk, too loudly and too often — only to be told by a friend much later that I “didn’t open my mouth” all month.
Stanford’s foreign that way. For me, it was because I grew up in a tiny equatorial country with an upbringing of the “children should be seen and not heard” variety. For other people coming from the Midwest, the East Coast or thirty minutes south of Palo Alto, it’s the immense institutional wealth, the weather, the accent or the fixation with technology.
But entering Stanford and living on my own, of my own accord, I wasn’t a child anymore. Adults can’t be shy.
Choosing to attend Stanford is one of the biggest decisions many of us have made so far. We spend a lot of energy justifying that choice, making the most of our education, and celebrating our attendance at, allegedly, one of the best universities for undergrads in the world — perhaps it is, but we certainly don’t know any other. Because we chose this.
And the choices don’t stop there. At Stanford, there’s a dizzying crush of opportunity for the taking, if only we choose. Famous-people lectures, poetry readings, office hours with rockstar professors, even our majors. The opportunity guilt most Stanford students have felt at some point or another seems to me like a way of saying we wish we were different people — if I was more outspoken, more sanguine, more focused on one interest at a time, I could make the most out of Stanford. (Sure, if I also had 72 hours in a day).
There’s something about entering a new place or phase of life that really revs the self-improvement engine. But I think that idea of choice and change assumes too much about our own control. It discounts the way we are destroyed by a text message, transported by a story; the uneasy feeling of that first night falling asleep in a room full of strangers. It disregards experience.
After the miracle of admittance, decision, enrollment, we forget that we have to live here. And living involves accident.
I, too, hoped — and still hope — that Stanford will improve me: freshman year, that meant acquiring the American art of conversation. After all, I’d chosen to come here rather than a public university in Singapore with people I’d known for more than ten years. But it was working for the student paper and having no control over who I was talking to for a story any given week, that finally forced me to find a measure of ease around strangers.
My first assignment was an interview with a doctor who’d contracted Ebola in one eye after working to fight the infection in Sierra Leone. Last November, a man talked to me for an hour and a half in support of an acquaintance who’d told him about her experience with sexual violence three decades ago — he last saw her some 15 years before we spoke. I’ve been moved and fulfilled by these encounters, unsettled and educated. Could I have experienced this elsewhere? Perhaps not. Would it have been better or worse? I have no idea.
These days, I’ve learned to talk as much as I choose. But those unexpected run-ins and bizarre phone interviews were much better than a lesson: They were real, they inspired thought and laughter and sometimes, awe. I’m glad all of this transpired at Stanford of all places, but I really wouldn’t know any better, would I?
To the newly admitted class of 2022, choose wisely, but don’t let it weigh on you too much. After all, it’s one of the first big decisions for many of you. You have all of college — whichever one you attend — to learn about choice, and to open yourself to encounter. Enjoy the ride.
Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This piece is part of the Vol. 253 Editorial Board’s Admit Weekend series. Read the rest of the editorials here.