Stanford has a weird relationship with the concept of being “special.”
From the moment you get your acceptance in the mail to the spectacle of Admit Weekend, Stanford pulls out all the stops to make you feel like you are one-in-a-million. The admissions office sends you a nice handwritten letter with a couple personalized comments about what they liked in your application. There’s the big glossy packet and the cool welcome video and on campus, tons of events just for ProFros. Just for you.
And I get it, it’s part of the courting process, part of the way universities gain your tuition dollars and, when you become a rich Spiegel-esque alum, your donations. If Harvard has waffle makers with their crest on it, then by golly, we need to have one at every breakfast too.
Yet, at the same time, coming to Stanford tends to disintegrate the illusion of “specialness” as well.
Those nice upperclassmen who called you to welcome you to Stanford? They’re just fulfilling their obligations to The Stanford Fund. Think you’ll build lifelong relationships with all of your professors? The bar’s a lot higher when you’re just one face in a 300-person auditorium.
Freshman year fall, I remember sitting in my room with a big circle of new friends, talking about our lives before Stanford. We went around the circle and found out that all 10 of us were valedictorians of our high school.
You might have a similar experience this weekend. Maybe you were the “bio” kid or the “writing” kid or the “track” kid back home. We probably all had something special that set us and our applications apart from the crowd. But at Stanford or wherever you end up going for college, you’ll find quickly that there will always be another person who has done more research, published more poetry or run the faster mile.
Sometimes having to reframe what made you special can be earth-shattering. It’s kind of like when I talk to some of the uber-talented athletes on campus: Do you remember a time when you weren’t playing this sport? Almost always, the answer is no. Their sport is their life, which isn’t wrong, but it explains why being sidelined by injuries can be so traumatic. It’s not just “not being able to run for a couple months” — it’s losing a part of their identity.
At the same time, there’s something kind of nice about debunking that rigid idea of ourselves. Recently, at a senior TAPS capstone, the performer quipped, “Isn’t it funny that Stanford always tries to reassure you, ‘We didn’t make a mistake, you belong here?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I thought I belonged until you said that!’” By confirming our specialness, Stanford creates the possibility that our specialness needed to be validated.
But when we start to accept that maybe we aren’t special at all, and maybe no one ever is, when we value our individuality over a system that values some individuals over others, we each create a sense of identity that is unwaveringly, unflaggingly our own. Something that time or age or even Stanford can’t change or determine.
Contact Samantha Wong at slwong ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This piece is part of the Vol. 253 Editorial Board’s Admit Weekend series. Read the rest of the editorials here.