Existential Fortune Cookie: Summer creation

Opinion by Sebastain Gould
June 1, 2012, 12:28 a.m.

Existential Fortune Cookie: Summer creationI have had four summers since coming to Stanford. The first was spent in basic training for the Marine Corps. The second was spent in Ramadi, Iraq on deployment, where I turned 21. The third was spent working on campus at the libraries, and the fourth was spent working for Maps and Records at Stanford libraries.

One thing that all the summers had in common was the necessity to make money to survive.

The summer I worked at the libraries, I was down to eating one meal a day some weeks, because I could only get part-time work, when I needed to make enough money to save up for the thousands of dollars needed for the school year. I’d love to be able to tell you the secret to making more money, but unfortunately I don’t have one. Instead I’m going to tell you that there are more important things than making money, and that your education will be worth any suffering that you undergo in seeking it. Hopefully you can live at home or find some chill homeless people to hang out with to save money.

As the financial state of your summer is something that may have already been decided, or is something that you have little control over other than trying desperately hard and waiting on others to respond to you, I think you should take time to focus on something that is more important than money: personal development. Generally little-to-no academic learning will take place during the summer, and so I encourage you to use that time to get to know yourself better. Think about religion and read the classics. Read the newspaper. Try to realize the importance of the mundane events that happen every day. Develop a fascination with the world around you; investigate machines and structure, the natural world. No matter what your field of study, you can always learn something by looking outside of yourself, be it an engineering principle or a facet of human psychology.

It is said that you don’t know something unless you can explain it to others; at the same time it is also said that you can never fully express the real truth. Whichever of these is true, I encourage you to write. The challenge of expression is an involved process that is a mind shaping in itself. Creating meaning from nothing but a blank page is difficult, and you can learn about yourself in the process. The combinations of words that arise when an individual mind is brought to bear on something are special because they are unique. Don’t worry if what you come up with doesn’t seem interesting or insightful.

Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education (SLE) also taught me the importance of surrounding yourself with others who share similar interests. This became quite acute while I was deployed; finding others whom you can talk to about your interests can be hard, but you will learn a lot more with others constantly questioning your assumptions and conclusions than you ever will by yourself. It is one thing to read a book; you will have a pleasant experience or a negative one, and you may or may not think that there is some inherent value in what you’ve read. It is another thing to read a book with someone else; by looking at the material with two sets of eyes, you can catch what someone else misses.

Human beings have a fairly unique capacity in their ability to create things in the world and help shape who they are. I encourage everyone this summer to do just that: Take time to reflect on what’s important to you, and then change yourself and the world around you into the way you want things to be.

Tell Sebastain how you want to shape things in an email to [email protected].

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