Last, first fall: Reflections of an international senior

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I remember my first day of classes at Stanford as though it was yesterday. I was up early, ready just in time for a 9 a.m. class that I ambitiously thought I’d be able to attend on time all quarter long. I started biking at 8:50 a.m. from Donner to the Main Quad and I was absolutely taken aback by the chaos at the Circle of Death. (I guess I thought Stanford wouldn’t be as busy at 9 a.m?) 

I remember reaching the History Corner, where I had traced my class to be, and being surprised by the sheer number of bikes that were already parked, the throngs of people moving toward their classes. All of this pleasant chaos was a lot to take in. I struggled on biking, my heart pounding at the thought of being late to my first class ever, my head still fuzzy with the number of people and bikes rushing around. I reached the end of that street and turned left, eyeing the parking space without looking if someone was coming towards me. Turns out, someone was, but they were so far that both of us thought I’d cross in time.

So, the very first day of my undergrad at Stanford, in September 2017, I had my first mini-accident. I didn’t hurt myself too bad. I did fall off my bike. I had just stopped moving and stayed in the middle of the street, and the person approaching me applied their brakes hard — just a tad bit late. I remember standing up, half embarrassedly, looking at my clock, 9:02 a.m., and feeling my heart drop. I quickly walked my bike, parked it somewhere, locked it, ran to Building 160. Realized my class was in the other building, actually. Ran out of 160. To Building 170 and sprinted up three floors to my first class. 

While I was still catching my breath, looking around at new faces in the small class, dazed, apologizing for being five minutes late — I remember all of it feeling like a dream. The truth is, some days, it still feels like a dream, even after three years. 

As I begin taking the last week of classes in my last first quarter at Stanford as an undergrad, I reflect on how attending classes has been at the click of different Zoom links. I don’t have to bike anywhere, anymore. I’m not physically surrounded by people, nor by Cali’s beautiful sky. I think of how different the world is today, how much I have grown, how many things (including my bike skills) I have got better at and how Stanford has become and forever will be, home. 

I miss campus, its charm, its chaos: I miss running to classes, eating with friends in dining halls and attending in-person events (especially for their snacks). However, I’m still grateful to be a part of a community that hustles, that makes do with whatever challenge is thrown at them, with grace and perseverance. I feel privileged. 

While Zoom and tech would never be able to facilitate a complete Stanford experience, I’m grateful for all the memories, for all the people, experiences and classes. I’m grateful to stay enrolled and continue learning.

With a continuing uncertainty clouding any sort of planning, I have grown to live with the uncertainty of not knowing if I will have the opportunity to be on campus for my senior spring. While I appreciate the administration’s unending efforts to plan bringing undergraduates back on campus in the winter and spring, I can’t help but be anxious about safety measures on campus in the event that undergraduates return to campus. Besides, would Stanford be the same with the many restrictions, I wonder? 

As an international senior at Stanford who is currently not in California, I wish Stanford took more measures in organizing events, classes and meetings respecting time differences. I wish there were more events that welcomed Stanford students to open up about their experiences, more safe open hours hosted by community centers and departments, more spaces wherein students could just come, chat, share and listen. Such spaces would reassure students that despite physical distance, we are all still Stanford: All of us, in this together. 

Muskan Shafat is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying political science.

Contact Muskan Shafat at muskan ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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Muskan Shafat is an Opinions columnist at The Stanford Daily. She is a Senior from Kashmir studying Political Science & Analytics, Human Rights and South Asian studies.