When did you first realize you didn’t quite fit in? That you were a bit… Eccentric? Maybe you noticed your friends weren’t reading books the way you did, weren’t as obsessed with programming as you were or rolled their eyes every time you went to volunteer at the homeless shelter. If you’re reading this as a new Stanford student, you probably weren’t hanging out at the mall every time your classmates were, and you probably missed out on your fair share of house parties.
But now you’re here. New Student Orientation. It was all worth it. The California sun dances on leaves displaying the first tinges of autumn. Luggage and students crowd the sidewalks. Cars driven by eager parents come and go, leaving bright-eyed freshmen behind. RAs, RCCs, PHEs, ETAs and hordes of other staff and students wait to welcome you with hugs. Sign here, take this bundle, read this pamphlet, sit in a circle and talk about your feelings. Explore your dorm, walk the quad, tour online resources but stay close. Free chocolate, free cookies, free pizza, free coffee, free everything except time.
And just so you feel a little more at home, there’s an event called NSO Faces of Community, a program that aims to introduce new first-year and transfer students to the diversity of the Stanford community via personal stories about the unique and varied identities of current students. You’ll see charismatic speakers take the stage, telling stories of hardships and triumphs, and the lessons they’ve learned. You’ll love that at least one of them seems just like you.
You’ll also hear a word thrown around: Transfers. Welcome, also, to the Transfers. So at this point you might be wondering: Transfers… what – or who – even are they? Unfortunately, none of us were deemed diverse or unique enough to be considered for Faces this year, and with fewer than 100 transfers in over 7,000 undergraduates, the chances of running into one of us are about as high as finding a unicorn. With that in mind, I thought I’d give a brief introduction, through paper if not on stage.
We’re from Washington and Florida, New York and California, Alaska and Michigan, and we’re not from the States at all. Our ages are 20, 22, 25, 28, 30, 32, 38, 45 and everything in between. We span races, genders, sexual orientations. We graduated high school and we didn’t; we joined the military and we didn’t; we have kids and we don’t.
Transfers are a peculiar bunch. We’ve been thugs to stay alive and we’ve been paid a living to be thugs. We learned calculus from YouTube videos on work breaks and read Madame Bovary by candlelight, finding literature to be a comforting presence in our otherwise abandoned house. We fell into drug trades to make a profit and founded nonprofits to feed at-risk youth. We’re New York Times bestselling authors and lead singers in heavy metal bands.
There’s no pre-ordained path to transferdom, no right or wrong way to do it as long as we take some classes somewhere else and then end up here somehow. We spent 11 years stuck in prison, six months trapped on a submarine and one week locked in a psychiatric ward. We spent our twenty-first summer hammering nails in construction sites, treating casualties in Afghanistan and sweeping roads for landmines in Iraq. We were shot at, stabbed and kicked in the face. We looked down at the ground as we jumped out of airplanes, scanned sunset horizons as we tracked herds of elephants and looked up at an orange sky from the center of a sandstorm.
But now we, like you, are here. New Student Orientation. It was all worth it. We’re signing up for classes: Engineering and English, Sociology and Spanish, Earth Systems and Math and of course, Computer Science. We get fired up for runs and cool off with yoga. We ballroom and salsa dance, go rock climbing and swimming, play rugby and wrestle, shoot hoops and watch Netflix. We drink and we don’t. We vape and we don’t. We watch Game of Thrones and we don’t. We like sports and Spongebob, boba tea and coffee, all kinds of food, and of course, we like to have fun.
I’m telling you this so that when you see us in the dining hall, you won’t be surprised that, no, we’re not grad students. When we sit next to you in section, you won’t be shocked that, no, we’re not the TAs. Maybe next year we’ll be considered unique or diverse enough to be introduce ourselves in Faces, but for now, I’m telling you this so that you know there’s a whole other group of people who, like you, are trying to navigate this crazy place. While our backgrounds may have diverged, we probably have more in common than we think. I’m telling you this because here at Stanford, we’re all a little eccentric and nobody quite fits in, but I think, in a way, that means everyone belongs.