My Takeaways from My First Quarter at Stanford

When I go home for winter break, the question, “How has college been?” usually warrants…

“College has been amazing!”

Indeed, memorable experiences have abounded. I’ve been in the front row of the Rolling Loud hip hop festival, where Young Thug, Lil Uzi, Schoolboy Q, Travis Scott, and Playboi Carti performed from mere feet away — getting pegged by Lil Yachty’s water bottle was a bonus. Without paying a cent, I chowed on lobster rolls within a Levi’s Stadium luxury suite for the Giants vs 49ers game. I appeared on the thumbnail of Business Insider’s “Best College Tailgates” article after only my first Stanford football game. I tried unsuccessfully to get a free tour of Google’s headquarters after closing hours. I climbed the rafters above the fraternity TDX’s dance floor and showered everyone with the foam machine. I snuck onto the Stanford Stadium field right after the Big Game and got kicked off by police 30 seconds later. A couple nights before, I risked hypothermia hopping in the cardinal-dyed water of fountains on campus — on a whim. I gorged myself with liquid nitrogen ice cream, a burger patty made in a lab, and liquid-hot Korean barbeque.

As seen in Business Insider

Of course, college hasn’t always been an action movie wherein each scene is an amazing journey, a novel experience. On many occasions, it’s been more important to take a moment, to pause from the excitement, and to listen to the journeys and experiences of others.

“College has been eye-opening.”

My jaw has dropped in the presence of greats. I listened to Rich Barton discuss his experiences founding Zillow Group, Expedia, and Glassdoor, Charlie Cheever reflect on the early days of Quora and playing frisbee with Mark Zuckerberg, and Anne Wojcicki debate the ethics of privacy at 23andme within my Management Science & Engineering class. After our lunch together, I hugged my professor Carol Dweck, whose world-renowned book Mindset opened me up to the growth mindset three years ago and whose actual work was taught within my high school homeroom. I heard my CS professor Mehran Sahami’s motives pushing him into teaching rather than working at some fledgling company called “Google!” in the late 90s.

In intimate conversation, I’ve put myself in the shoes of friends with upbringings and perspectives unparalleled to mine. I listened to one student recall meeting his scholarship’s founder, who essentially granted him an education thousands of miles from his African hometown. I’ve been moved to tears hearing my classmates’ struggles with depression. I’ve listened to my close friend recollect his father’s paralysis, and how, since his family moved from the Congo to the states, he wants to combine electrical engineering and pre-med to unearth solutions. I’ve quizzed my friend on why her churro business’s success distanced her from her old friend group. I’ve learned how asking “what is cheese?” in a McDonald’s line improved my friend’s public speaking skills in front of hundreds. I’ve met the second best teen Scrabble player in the US, a pianist whose list of competitions won rivals this article’s length, the number one ranked under-19 american female rower aspiring for the 2020 Olympics, and a soccer player whose third grade class project became viral on YouTube.

My college education has encompassed much more than a curriculum. The relationships that I acquire and maintain add invaluable insight into my world with every exchange. These people, in their own ways, exemplify something that I seek to bring into my life, be it a core belief, a fervent passion, or a personality trait. While I’ve strengthened my relationships through intimate conversation, the shared struggle of college has also toughened our bonds.

“College has been downright insane.”

Remember all those wild times that I recalled? Well, they were not without their scary episodes. At Rolling Loud, I witnessed a girl almost get trampled and countless others, inebriated to the point of incapacitation, get crowd surfed to safety as thousands of bodies squeezed me against the front railing. I spent my second visit to Levi’s stadium not enjoying the posh amenities of a president’s box, but instead caring for my friend in a bathroom stall paralyzed by food poisoning (that is to this day an uncertain diagnosis). I’ve cared for students who took too many drinks on Friday night, and they returned the favor for others on Saturday.

Now bear with me: imagine a roller coaster ride where you have to sing the alphabet backwards, juggle three swords, and type out the Declaration of Independence from memory (don’t ask me why, just think “long-winded document”) all before the ride ends. College has been a little something like that. I’ve staggered to my dorm after a club meeting, lifeguard shift, three hours of class, and double that spent studying at Green Library, and still needed to start an essay due the next morning and workout before the gym closes at midnight. I’ve forgotten deadlines; I’ve misplaced papers. I’ve struggled to tame an inbox brimming with obligatory emails and a macbook calendar that looks more like a Jackson Pollock drip painting than a legible schedule. I’ve worked myself into the ground only to “recharge” with a cup (or three) of coffee and late-night lounge hangouts with friends when sleep was probably the better option.

With this perpetual whirlwind of obligations, I’d be lying if I told you that this paradise of sunshine and palm trees doesn’t sometimes resemble storm skies and muddy puddles.

“College has been… okay.”

Indeed, during the first half of my quarter, I felt lonely on occasion. I struggled with the idea that I was spreading myself too thin socially. I wrestled with the thought that, no matter how many times people exclaimed, “Liam, you know everyone!”, my facade of extroversion masked the fact that I had few meaningful relationships. I felt a tinge of guilt whenever I skipped my dorm meetings — only two months before, I couldn’t wait to experience the close knit dorm community that older students had raved about. I’ve felt heartbreak going for love that didn’t go for me. I’ve been yanked apart by indecision and over-thinking: should I tell her? No she probably doesn’t like me ba — ugh, I don’t know! I’ve beaten myself up for skimping on self-care, internship applications, and sleep, things that I “didn’t have time for.”

Though the stories on Snapchat and posts on Instagram craft a fairy-tale narrative of movie nights, frat parties, and good times, I’ve never complained to the camera. It is what my iPhone doesn’t document that evens the balance scale of highs and lows.

“College has been worth it.”

It’s no mistake that, while all of my underundergraduate education I’ve dreaded returning to school during winter break, I now look forward to returning to Stanford merely three days after Christmas. This speaks to my development as a person: how the excitement has granted me memories to smile about, how my relationships have awoken me to new perspectives, and how the hardships have hardened my discipline.

“Worth it” to me is the friend group that I’ve accrued, within which we motivate each other in library study rooms on Monday and shoot the shit at Sliderbar on Sunday. “Worth it” is maintaining high marks on a transcript while soaking in the joys of ping pong in lounges and pickup soccer on the intramural fields. “Worth it” is juggling obligation with self-care — meditating daily, reflecting in my journal, and staying committed to fitness. The worth of college is my ability to stick to my values and work towards my passions while enjoying it.

While all of my hometown friends and family toss the go-to question, “How has college been?”, I choose an inquiry that delves deeper: “have you made the most of it so far?” My instinctive answer, void of concrete justification but backed by gut feeling, is “yes, yes I have.” For the next four years, I want to continue to respond affirmatively.