I think about things a lot. Maybe it’s in my genes, maybe my parents instilled it in me, maybe some god or other flipped a celestial coin and decided to make me the way I am, but I can’t stop analyzing everything around me. Some subconscious process is always running in my brain, tracing back the reasons things are the way they are, testing possibilities of what they could be, building up and tearing down a million million decision trees to find the one that leads to right here, right now.
The problem with thinking too much about the things that were and the things that could be is that you can spend literal eternities doing it, and meanwhile, the things that are — friends, schoolwork, the delicious In-N-Out burger sitting right in front of you — pass you right by. Life itself passes you by, and by the time you realize, it’s become just another speck of infinite past for you to pick apart in some sad and vicious cycle. It took me far too long to realize this and to tell that part of my brain to just, like, chill every once in a while. I’m a lot happier for it.
Now that these four years have passed, though, it seems appropriate to look back for a moment and ask myself: What do I have here? What did lead to this moment, right here, right now?
I by no means lived the Perfect Stanford Experience™, that’s for sure. The graduate of the Perfect Stanford Experience™ walks out of this place with a long list of honors and student groups, a GPA to make a Bay Area mother cry and a set of indelible memories of Stanford Life with the perfect balance of serious and fun. She walks out with a group of beautiful and equally accomplished best friends that scatter across the country in exactly the optimal distribution for semiannual best-friend get-togethers, and in their graduation photos, the sun lights up their hair with the radiant glow of blissful success.
I have nothing that leads to anything like this. But what I do have is vital.
There are the high points and the low points — the acceptances and rejections, the celebrations and losses. There are the nights that felt like riding a wave that never seemed to crest, going up and up and up until I thought I might crash through the sky, and the nights that felt like endless spirals of frustration, down and further down into pits I knew I dug for myself. But the funny things about extremes is that they’re not representative of the overall experience. I barely register the highs now, having lived all the ordinary days that came after, and I look back on the lows and know that they’re past me, that in the end I’ve come out pretty alright.
So what I’ve come to treasure is all the moments in between. Late nights spent fixing commas at The Daily. Even later nights spent tracing through endless race conditions and segmentation faults. The distinct smell of Wilbur omelettes. R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).” Plastic bagging a wet bike seat on a rainy day. Golf carting through Nomad. Falling off the Meyer Library fence and bruising my back for two months. The strange wave of community I felt at rush for an organization that I never really fit. The death of self in alcohol, sweat and an endless beat. Writing papers in French. Dissecting an entire human body. The wind through my hair biking down the Row on a gorgeous spring day.
And Stanford, the place, runs through all of this. This campus, its palette of sandstone on blue sky, is inseparable from these four years of my life. Sometimes I still can’t believe that all of this happened in this perfectly color-balanced painting of a place.
I didn’t have the Perfect Stanford Experience™, and if I wanted, I could probably figure out the reasons why. But these moments that I do have are what define my time here, and even if I could change them, I don’t think I really want to. If there’s anything these four years have taught me, it’s that drive and contentment can exist hand in hand.
Thanks, Stanford. To be entirely honest, I’ll be back next year — but it won’t be the same.
Contact Stephanie Chen at stephchen ‘at’ stanford.edu.