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On the importance of simple gifts


From a distance: a worn, dusty, brown box.  

Up close: a secret treasure trove, hand-crafted out of wood and imbued with a rich cherry-mahogany color.

A recent present from my grandfather, the box was originally a gift to my great-grandmother. It can easily be held like a book, and the top opens without a squeak. At some point, the original owner could open the box by inserting a key into a small brass keyhole. Of course, this key has likely disappeared into the caverns of my grandparents’ closet in India, but the box has nevertheless retained its antique charm. Nowadays, I store my All-State Band pins, souvenir pennies and the stray bobby pin in the box, yet it still sits faithfully on my dresser at home.

It is amazing how an eight-by-five-inch box can resonate so profoundly with me. Through this gift, I have experienced the tender affection of a grandparent whom I only saw a few times during my childhood. Even though my grandfather and I are thousands of miles apart, we’re inseparable. During the summer, we talked for hours at night; my mother would frequently tell us to stop gossiping in our native language and go to bed.

Through this gift, I’ve realized that it’s paramount to consider all the details before forming thoughts. Although something may seem lackluster from afar, a closer look is required to guarantee a better perspective. One should never retain a narrowed outlook on life; broadening outlooks on life can lead to better results. At the time I received the gift, I was dealing with a particularly challenging school year, from a personal perspective. Although I was doing well academically and working determinedly, I went through various iterations of stress and burnout. The gift lifted my spirits and reminded me that life is composed of ups and downs, but loved ones are always there for support. We should all determine our own paths in life, but people close to us will always be there to provide support and the occasional guidance.

Earlier this year, like many of my fellow frosh, I had to make the difficult decision of choosing a college to attend. One option was Stanford, around 3,000 miles away from home; the other was another university closer to home. By keeping the same “box philosophy” in mind and really all the opportunities available, I decided that Stanford would be perfect albeit far from home.  

This box philosophy can be applied to our lives at Stanford. Classes here can be described by the entire gamut of adjectives – mind-numbingly difficult yet rewarding, exciting and fast-paced, inspiring, motivating, insipid yet a requirement for a major, etc. Whenever we take classes, it can be helpful to consider the bigger picture and not just what we initially see. We might see the title of a class and make an assumption about how much we will enjoy the class. However, only taking the class will enable us to see how much we really enjoy the subject. We might become pleasantly surprised upon finding a new passion or realize that our true passions lie somewhere else. The college years are the beginning of the prime of our lives; we should let gut feelings (represented by the beautiful yet secret engineering of the box) guide us rather than superficial impressions (the box’s outer film of dust and aged brown color).

I miss seeing my secret box, and I think I’ll bring it to the Farm after my next trip home.


Contact Sarayu Pai at smpai918 “at”

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