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Reflections from a freshman who didn’t want to be in a frosh dorm

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The more people I tell, the more I’m convinced I slipped through the cracks: I live in a co-ed frosh dorm even though I ranked it fifth.

What makes my situation more anomalous: I graduated from high school in 2016 (in the meantime serving a two-year mission trip in Toronto), making me older than some of my RAs and the only freshman in my dorm reasonably close to the legal drinking age.

I’m not bitter nor am I complaining — my roommate is fantastic, the dorm is great, and there are better things to fret about. But, as a rather ancient freshman who had no intentions of living in a co-ed frosh dorm, it’s been interesting.

Just a few observations:

  1. Stanford actually finds the most remarkable people. I had my doubts, and my housing preferences reflected them: I highly ranked dorms that I perceived as tamer, nerdier — I didn’t come to Stanford to mess around! But, messing around or not, the frosh I’ve met represent a rare breed of students rife with native intelligence and unusually vast experience for their age. Insomnia notwithstanding, they seem to effortlessly impart the right answers in class. I’m often led to believe my admission decision — in addition to my housing preferences — slipped through the cracks.
  2. In some cases, maybe frosh are too smart for their own good, a setup which creates a kind of collective Dunning-Kruger effect — people thinking they are smarter than they really are — and incentivizes frosh to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Some examples:
    1. Some try to reinvent friendships. In some particularly sad conversations, I’ve listened to peers who are essentially competing for friendships: trying to build up a network early on, mixing in social circles for the sake of self-aggrandizement or future opportunism. It’s true enough that connections can expedite success — “it’s who you know,” right? But, they forget the playing field is level at Stanford — you’re elite, too!
    2. I fully expected the attempts to reinvent fun but now have witnessed them more intimately than I had planned. Consistently, messages are sent to the dorm’s GroupMe along the lines of, “I know we’re all doing great, but please get all of the throw up in the toilet after your long night of ‘fun.’” A deadly combination of nascent independence and FOMO regularly facilitates some exceptionally poor decision-making, much to the RAs’ despair on their on-call nights.
  3. I don’t know about everyone else, but I tickle myself every time I think that I’m actually at Stanford. The notion hasn’t become cliche to me yet — and I hope it never does. Stanford provides a wealth of opportunities for each of its students to change the world — literally! I wonder if frosh take Stanford for granted. I understand that there is nothing magical about receiving a high school diploma that cures poor study habits or procrastination, but taking classes and doing homework at Stanford is fundamentally different from high school’s busywork. Shouldn’t that difference demand something more from Stanford students? I also understand that professors can be awkward, prone to fiddle with coasters or swivel in armchairs, instead of listening during office hours. But Stanford usually employs the world’s leading experts in each department. And in any case, professors have more to offer in a lecture than our smartphones could possibly offer in the same hour.
  4. Humility is difficult to pull off at Stanford. Unsurprisingly, I’ve personally found it a few notches more difficult to be humble, given it’s easier to consider myself the sagacious smart aleck in the middle of a cacophony of freshmen. I have tons to learn from frosh though! For example, I’d like to learn how to chill out — in other words, have some semblance of balance in my life: Taking a ping pong study break is a telltale sign of a healthy student, not an unmotivated one. Or maybe I need not be so critical: After all, I’m only 20, and we’re all in the same boat, the same stage of life.


Contact Nicholas Welch at nwelch ‘at’

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