By Richard Coca
Glad to have you with us. I’ll spare you the “Welcome to Stanford” spiel because real talk: You’re focused on trying to survive, not trying to remember the contents of the fifty near-identical welcome speeches you’ve undoubtedly heard already. I know because last year, I was you. As a current sophomore, I like to assume I know a bit about how to navigate Stanford. But then again, the word “sophomore” has its origins in the Greek terms “sophos,” which translates to wise, and “mōros,” which means foolish. So, yes, I’m a sophomore. (The emphasis for me is on the latter part.) If you’re a frosh, the only thing worrying you more than whether or not you’ll get into your preferred Math 51 section is how you’re going to avoid looking like a fool. You want to look like you’ve got this college thing down already, like you’re confident and self-assured and definitely not flailing. Like you’ve got it all figured out.
The most pressing question, then: How do I plan accordingly?
My advice: Don’t.
Before you scoff and object that you’ve already bought a five-section planning notebook and you intend to stick to it, damn it, let me explain. Prior to new student orientation, I was a ball of anxiety, anticipating and dreading the worst while also obsessively trying to “plan” my four years here. I questioned my ability to keep up academically with my peers while also wondering how I’d navigate a university so different from my high school environment. Soon after arriving on campus, I found that four-year plans were actually a practice and not just a meme. As someone with a type B personality, I felt anxious and out of place on campus full of type As. While my hallmates’ dorm walls were covered with whiteboard calendars and sticky note reminders for deadlines months in the future, I felt like my newly-purchased planner was already too extra. (I was right, because I never touched it.)
Given the leaps and bounds separating my capacity for planning and organization from my peers’, it’s no surprise that I quickly found myself looking like a fool. While other frosh discussed their plans to double major in human rights and economics with a minor in creative writing, I listened in, quietly defeated by others’ talk about their ambitions.
True, I was there — I had made it to Stanford —but I was simply existing in a state of perpetual dejected confusion. I didn’t even really know how to choose classes, and I didn’t know where to look for guidance. After a few days of frustration, I resolved to try doing Stanford their way. This worked for the few minutes before I quickly found that my four-year plan was a non-starter given that I didn’t know what I wanted to major in let alone do with my life. My experimental phase as a “planner” ended there, so I resorted to doing things my way: on a whim. I stacked my schedule with introsems and waited for passion to spark.
While taking classes I was interested in instead of classes I thought I should be interested in, I sort of found my major (at the very least, my area of interest) over the course of freshman year. I also didn’t plan what extracurriculars I would join when I got here, and I’m glad I didn’t because it led me to explore new interests. I joined The Daily, for instance, despite the fact that my high school didn’t have a newspaper. And since you’re reading this, you already know that it stuck. But the question still stands:
How do you avoid looking like a fool?
You’re human. That’s Greek for “you’re bound to make mistakes.” (That last sentence is fake news, but you understand the sentiment.) Freshman year will involve so much learning outside of the classroom that I want you to know that it’s okay to not be okay. If you find your four-year plan falling apart, friends flaking on you, trouble back home or all of the above, know that it’ll get better.
You can’t plan for the unexpected in life. While it’s wise to have back-up plans, it’s also good to remember that life isn’t linear, and that’s for the best. The best advice I could give to you, Class of 2023, is to go out, be a fool and learn.
Contact Richard Coca at richcoca ‘at’ stanford.edu.