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The allure of the unknown

Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Let’s take a step back together — think about the summer before your freshman year. Some of you probably spent it traveling, whether it be one last hurrah through your small town or gallivanting the world over. Others held down the fort in one place with an internship, job or a neat volunteering opportunity. Finally, there are those like me who spent most of it relaxing and burning daylight so quickly with mundane tasks that more often than not, you didn’t even remember what you did for the past few hours. After being here for two years now and learning about how other people spent their first post-high school summer, this group is a minority.

Regardless of which reality was yours, I’m sure you know about the wait all too well. In true Machiavellian fashion, Stanford masochistically starts its school year weeks after other colleges and universities, necessitating an almost suffocating urge to find something productive to pass the time. I’d like to think that the Board of Trustees did this on purpose to mess with us (it’s a lot funnier that way), but realistically, it’s probably the best way to squeeze three quarters into an academic year.

I’m from the East Coast — Maryland, for the curious ones out there — so by the time the end of August rolled around, barring nearby community colleges, I was the only person who had not made a teenage exodus to my institution of choice. No doting mothers meticulously shoving clothes, school supplies and that blanket you haven’t used in years into suitcases. No fleeting, speed-dating-esque introductions around your freshman dorm.

Nothing. Just a whole lot of time to not read the “Three Books.” (I think I read fifty pages of “Homegoing” on the cross-country plane ride between naps, actually).

My cycle of mindless behavior went on. Wake up. Eat lunch. Watch TV. Take a nap. Eat dinner. Read a book. Sleep. Repeat. On occasion, I made an effort to catch up with a friend or two who had already made their trek to Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or wherever else the wind took my high school ilk, but that was intermittent at best. As the summer droned on, I felt something interrupt my quotidian droll — thoughts about me at Stanford.

It took me aback, to be honest. Unlike some of my peers, I don’t think I was really sold on the fact that Stanford was the ideal fit for me. That’s a bit understandable, seeing as my first words were indeed “Mama” and not “println(‘Hello world!’),” but nevertheless, musings about the California institution a coast away, both optimistic and not, pierced their way into my monotonous world. What happened in the first place was this. It is not so much what Stanford is (although “what Stanford is” is indeed quite a lot), but more so what Stanford embodies: a beacon of opportunity, change made manifest. And only one-and-a-half years after that time did I notice that this was not unique, that I would feel this yearning for a disruption from tedium yet again.

As I near the end of my sophomore year, I’m beginning to find myself in the same position. Mind you, this is not a general distaste for my current situation, but rather, a longing for something different, for a new beginning that seems like the right mix of excitement and discomfort to jolt me into action.

It took spring break of this year for me to realize this. I met up with a friend from my freshman dorm, who I can only describe as enigmatic. We bonded last year through late night conversations in the computer clusters (like one tends to do when Chemistry or CS disagree with you) wherein we spoke about all things culture, movies and life, specifically how we maneuver it. My experiences have shown me that you don’t have much choice as to whom you bare your soul. It just happens. We soon noticed that our sporadic talks were our stomping grounds when it came to revealing the inner machinations of our minds. Half the school year had already elapsed since last we saw each other, but time did little in waning the unnaturally close relationship that she and I had.

We got into an Uber on our way to Redwood City in order to watch “Us.” It was seven minutes late. We didn’t mind. We just talked. When we inevitably got to the subject about next year, she had quite a lot on her mind. Firstly, she started off by saying that she was thinking of drawing Tier 1 instead of the typical Tier 3 that most soon-to-be juniors would choose. I shot her a questioning glance as the Elantra weaved through traffic in true Californian fashion. In response, she waxed philosophical about a need to take risks now to prepare for later in this controlled microenvironment that is Stanford. Additionally, with all the stress about figuring out a job (yes, you read that right — actual responsibility!) during senior year, it’s not as amazing and idyllic as it’s cracked up to be. Finding a community junior year seems more utilitarian to me, she explained, but it requires a lot. It takes patience, upkeep and a metric ton of emotional commitment.

The tires slowly moved to a halt, but her points had my mind racing.

I think about what she said a lot and how little time we have together on this supposed palm tree paradise. While my ethics classes and chemistry lectures could use a bit more speeding up every now and then, on a macro scale, time here moves impeccably fast, so much so that it can be jarring. I know the feeling entirely, how dismaying and disorienting it is to see the world change faster than you do, how arresting it feels when the dust has settled and the whiplash has set in. It took me that talk with my friend to realize that, in fact, I don’t recall a time where I didn’t have that feeling.

You can extrapolate from the personal tidbits I’ve chosen to unearth that I have a tendency to get too familiar. Reassuring as it is to have your day planned out, it took me much longer than I’d care to admit to realize how unfulfilling that was. I was too focused on getting things done that I rarely took the time to make worthwhile connections, especially during freshman year; I actually spent most of this year making up for lost time because of how inactive I was last year. In fact, the meticulousness of my life had probably intruded on my introspection, almost as if my Google calendar was chastising me: “Sorry, dude. You can’t be thinking about yourself right now. You have a Physical Chemistry pset to finish.” And this eroded my social life too.

Early on, I’ve found out that a community was something I was lacking, but not for lack of trying. I was never in touch with my heritage, so I wasn’t particularly keen on joining a cultural group. I started tutoring at El Centro Chicano y Latino, but I always felt out of place because I was the only Filipino when all the other tutors were Hispanic. My only experiences of rush freshman year were hopping from location to location for the food and talking to the brosTM while my roommate actually made an effort to join. I joined the band, but I found that it seemed too insular to be able to fully be immersed in its culture; I needed to have a certain level of confusion wherein I had to have everything explained to me by someone in the know until I reached a requisite level of inside jokes and references to be able to say that I was a full-fledged member.

The only thing that even remotely resembles a community that I’ve been lucky to be a part of was my freshman dorm, but I feel like I can’t keep relying on them, seeing as many of us will part ways for study abroad programs next year. Meanwhile, the remaining ones all have people to turn to — my current roommate is a section leader in band, my neighbor and close friend is the Tree and another friend is staying in Tri Delta for another year. However, once the start of this quarter came around, I fully embodied the words of my friend during spring break and aimed for something more.

I made an effort to go out a lot more to meet new people and reconnect with the old. I took her plan and am also planning to draw Tier 1 alone in hopes of meeting a completely new group of people. Patience, I got. Upkeep? If it means putting it in my calendar to keep myself accountable, then so be it. Emotional commitment? I’ll try my best, and I’m holding myself to that.

There was once a time where uncertainty suffocated me, but this time around, I found a certain allure with the unknown, a charm that kept me excited rather than distraught at the thought of junior year. The ink may be dry, but there are still many more pages to write.

Contact Justin Cortez at jcortez1 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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