By Drew Semler
A high school senior emailed me yesterday:
I’m ____ and I got your contact information from _____! I heard that you transferred from Yale to Stanford. I just got into Yale and Stanford for college. Unfortunately, admit weekends are canceled this year. I was hoping to hear about your time at each! I’m free any time after 3 p.m. to talk by phone or FaceTime.
In the past, I would have rolled my eyes. This was not the first time I had been asked to provide my take on Yale versus Stanford. I have always sort of resented people who need “data” before they can choose which elite college’s acceptance to accept. Probably because I know I am not thorough enough with life-altering decisions. But also because no one knows the right amount about a school! Freshmen bask in the honeymoon phase, seniors harbor biases based on their specific experiences and alumni are out of touch. Anyway, who in their right mind would start an unnecessary email correspondence?
Ignoring back pain from too many hours of stomach-typing on my childhood bed, I responded immediately. In fact, I bypassed the email response and went straight to iMessage. I wanted to talk about Stanford.
Over text, we agreed to chat on the phone at 5 p.m. I was glad she suggested after 3 p.m., because I have been waking up midday since I got home to New York in early March. I have been unable to adjust to the time zone, among other things. These days, I lie awake at 5 a.m., wondering if I ever will.
Today, 5 p.m. was fewer hours into my day than I care to admit. Quarantine hours, unlike college hours, often feel as though they exist to be gotten through. At 5 on the dot, I received a blue message: Is it alright if I call you? My first thought: Maybe it will be.
Instead of answering the text, I called. Hi, this is Drew, first off, congratulations, there is no wrong choice, both fantastic places, take everything I say with a grain of salt, in fact, disregard my anecdotes and do NOT let me sway you, but hear me out, give yourself a pat on the back and then sanitize your hands. She kindly laughed.
With the formalities behind us, she asked for my story, which is the right word for it because I tell it differently every time. Had we been on FaceTime, I might have felt narcissistically compelled to explain the hair loss, and the subsequent anxiety that it unlocked. Thank G-d we were not on FaceTime. I was never going to be happy at Yale because I was getting over a high school relationship, I said, which I wish was less true. I emphasized the warped lens with which I experienced Yale, partly out of respect for her impending decision, and partly because I have more to say about Stanford than the road that led to it. The qualifications are tiring.
When we finally arrived at Stanford in our conversation, I found myself rambling, intermittently running out of breath and words. Cold beads dropped from my armpits, a symptom I face when I only have one shot at something. My final exam at Stanford: an independent study on conveyance of gratitude.
She told me that she is planning on double-majoring in history and chemistry, at which point I waxed lyrical about the grand chemistry building (I have never been inside it). I divulged that when I saw Stanford as a young kid, I found it to be physically tacky. She agreed. Privileged New Yorkers grow up believing that college is supposed to look like Yale. The high school grind ought to culminate in towering Gothics and edifices (not buildings … EDIFICES) named for white men, many of whom sucked. Narnia, Synergy and Enchanted Broccoli Forest sounded to me like dorms at a majestic hippie day camp. Because they are. Long live Camp Stanford.
I am majoring in English with an emphasis in creative writing and felt ill-equipped to help when she asked about the broader academic experience. So I enlisted my dear friend Ben (history is one of his two majors), who instantly texted back three words I did not know I needed: Oh, so down. Ben had relished these opportunities long before campus was a memory.
About midway through our hour-long phone call, I think she realized that she was not the only one of us seeking clarity, that she was doing as much for me as I for her. The way I take pleasure in activating my grandfather’s nostalgia is how she encouraged me with her questions. What stands out to you about Stanford? This, I told her. Two vastly different people, laughing and thinking, in no need of common ground. The common ground is The Farm.
I thanked her and then finished a phone call with goodbye for the first time in my life. I mean to be dramatic. If there is in fact a world in which Stanford is only behind me, I cannot see it yet. The four years of Stanford that I pitched to her will always be more real to me than the online quarter we have left.
Geek on the NBA, Fleabag and Lorde with Drew Semler at drew2020 ‘at’ stanford.edu.