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Meandering reflections of Stanford at night

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A couple days before winter quarter started, I dropped by Stanford late at night with a couple high school friends. (I live close by.) We drove to campus, streaming and shouting sophisticated 21st century art pieces like “Mo Bamba.” Then we parked, cutting off the music, and I stepped into the campus’s chilly silence. It was a bit surreal: My high school friends were with me at college; it was like the coolest crossover moment ever. And the University was empty like I’d never felt before.

My friends, vacant Stanford is kind of a depressing place. Amply lit yet completely deserted, the campus emanates a hollow, profoundly unfulfilling beauty. After only one quarter here, I am already heavily inclined to agree with those who say that what they value most at Stanford is its people.

My friends and I rushed through the Oval, barely able to differentiate grass from sidewalk, up towards the luminescent edges of Memorial Church, its shimmering stained glass windows looming over us like rainbows. On the one hand, the perpetually lit state of the quad infused a sort of timeless grace and power to Stanford. The institution seemed to proclaim, “Our wind of freedom blows in the past, in the present, in the future.” On the other hand, all those lights on an early January night seemed one part extra, two parts pathetic, considering that hardly anybody was there to appreciate that lofty proclamation.

My friends wanted to get a glimpse of my college life. But I soon realized that, although they could retrace my steps, the deserted streets and benches prevented them from ever feeling what I feel while at school. We strolled around a completely harmless Circle of Death, a placid Frat Row. With every step, my memories from fall quarter surged to the forefront of my skull, as if they could escape my brain and physically manifest before my eyes. But the classrooms, dining halls and courtyards remained unpopulated.

The potential for high school friends to drift apart felt so palpable. Sprinkled across the country, our fond memories of attending prom could quickly be complemented, perhaps overshadowed, by college memories that involve none of our past high school lives. And the vacancy of the campus told me something else: One day, I will graduate from Stanford and join the workforce, and my college friendships, which now feel so infinite, will also begin to gently dissolve. If I wanted, I could begin angsting out about what all this means. Is it bad to forget people I once loved? What’s the point of finding friends in the present? But I have a, uh, great excuse to ignore such questions: I am a freshman, and I have a while until graduation and thus a while until my college friendships begin splintering like my high school ones. For now, I guess I’ll continue talking and chilling and exploring, tending to the relationships attached to the people I really care about — in college and out.

 

Contact Millie Lin at milliel ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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