I Have Two Heads: Me, Myself and Stanford

Opinion by Rachel Kolb
April 5, 2011, 12:27 a.m.

I Have Two Heads: Me, Myself and StanfordApril is here, and with it, one season has ended and another has begun. No, I’m not talking about spring. On its way out is admission season, along with its pell-mell uncertainty for those who once visualized the word “Stanford” as part of their futures. On its way in is the triumphal procession, or the newly admitted members of the class of 2015, many of whom will visit campus in a few weeks for Admit Weekend. The analogy, however, goes a bit further: depending on specific admission outcomes for these current high school seniors, this time is either the closing of one door or the opening of another.

As someone with a sibling who applied to Stanford this year, I find the end of this admissions cycle more thought-provoking than it has been since I emerged from it three years ago. I find myself once again questioning, this time on a more philosophical than personal level, exactly what entitles our inclusion into a school like Stanford in the first place. Moreover, I find myself questioning the relationship that our admission has to our future success. If we achieve milestones in our future lives, is it because we are the types of people who would have succeeded anyway? Or is it because the good fortune we had of getting into Stanford opened up those horizons for us? Most troublesomely, does the fact that I find myself dwelling on such questions reflect the depth of my Stanford-indoctrinated elitism?

I suspect that many of us, once we’ve gotten into Stanford, stop questioning the factors that went into our admission. And with good reason. Once we’ve gotten into Stanford, it is time to stop speculating about which factors could have influenced that outcome, about why we made it and other people didn’t. Even University administrators emphasize this outlook during the beginning weeks of freshman year. I remember being told, in those first gatherings full of shouting and school spirit, to dismiss whatever doubts I encountered about whether I belonged at Stanford. You got in, that says it all was the message I got. Now move on and take advantage of the experience.

In many ways, this advice is wise. Life moves on, and whether or not Stanford is part of the equation, we need to make the most of the opportunities we do have. Regardless of whether we are the lucky ones or not. With an admission rate now hovering at around 7 percent, though, how could we not be a little bit lucky? Believing otherwise, believing that there wasn’t some unexplained factor that made each of us stand out on our applications, would just be conceited. We already live in an academic environment that seeks to assure us that we are exceptional, sometimes to troublesome levels, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are not the only ones who could succeed in a University like this. So what has brought us, and not others, here?

Before I go any further, let me backtrack and clarify: I do not mean that any one of us survived the admission process based on luck alone. That certainly isn’t true, for the more I interact with other Stanford students, the more I marvel at the uniqueness, passion and promise that each of them has. This sense of appreciation seems to increase in proportion with my own maturity, suggesting that perhaps I am growing into Stanford more than Stanford is growing into me. The qualities I brought to the table three years ago, combined with Stanford’s academic and extracurricular opportunities, have led me not only to this maturity but also to a heightened realization of how fortunate I am.

The question over which I’m pondering seems to be a variant of the old nature-versus-nurture, chicken-versus-egg debate. In life beyond Stanford, which makes the most difference — internal qualities or environmental factors? As always, there’s no way to place one irrevocably over the other. It’s probably a little bit of both, and this realization should be both empowering and humbling. Empowering because we recognize that we march forth into the world equipped with the inner qualities to overcome obstacles more daunting than an IHUM paper. Humbling because we should never lose sight of the fact that our circumstances have allowed us to become the person who can do exactly that.

Education is a peculiar combination of these internal and external factors, and I don’t think we should lose sight of either. The old adage says that “education is one thing they can’t take away from you,” but it is a gift rather than a birthright. In the future, our Stanford educations may pull us through some rough spots, but why should we and not other, equally qualified students be the ones to receive that education in the first place? Luck, opportunity, blessings, good fortune? I don’t know, but it’s something outside of our control — and the sense of perspective that comes with that realization is something no amount of elitism can penetrate.


Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Send Rachel your thoughts at [email protected].

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