Some final thoughts

Opinion by Adam Johnson
May 30, 2013, 10:16 a.m.

With graduation coming up in a little over two weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about life after Stanford. Unlike many members of the Class of 2013, I do not have a job in the Bay Area lined up, nor any prospects in the area for that matter. Come next May, I will in all likelihood be somewhere else in the country, if not the world. I will be physically separated from a great deal of the friends I’ve made here, although hopefully I can stay in contact with them through Facebook and texting.

In a column earlier this year, I wrote about how I was ready to move on from Stanford. I am still ready (well, perhaps I could have used one more quarter!). But that does not mean that moving on will be easy.

A chapter of my life will be over, and though I can always go back and reread said chapter, I will never actively write it again. I will miss watching football games in the student section; I will miss the academic and extracurricular opportunities just a short walk away; and I will miss the geographical density of such motivated and passionate people. Heck, I may even miss final exams, given that finals week is when I finally find time to do things like play pickup basketball at the gym and read for enjoyment.

And although I don’t really want to spend another year – or four – here, I would be lying if I said Stanford hasn’t been good for me. Since being here, I’ve become a far better thinker, writer, leader and friend. I have become involved in two activities – journalism and acting – in which I had no intention of participating when walking up the steps to Roble Hall the first time my freshman year. I have discovered intellectual passions while realizing that some areas I thought I may have been interested in – such as business and high-tech – really don’t inspire me.

I was able to take advantage of Stanford’s vast resources, such as TSF and special fees and dorm funding, to pursue my own projects as well as enrich my perspectives by attending functions put on by other groups. While I never participated in the Bing Overseas Study Program, hearing from all my friends who went abroad inspired me to do my own trip through Europe this past summer. Sure, I would have done some of these things had I attended a different school, but the exact combination is particular to Stanford University. In that sense, I will always be a Cardinal.

Traditionally, writers offer a piece of advice, some words of wisdom, in their final columns. One piece of advice I have not yet given is that we should approach college as a learning experience outside the classroom as much as inside of it. Some people will say that Stanford students are too focused on extracurricular and social activities. They will criticize how we are not academic or intellectual enough. And yet, most of my growth over these years has come outside of the classroom: being a freshman RA, spending my summers as a camp counselor, living in a co-op, dealing with roommates, attending dorm trips, acting in independent theatre and more.

I was talking with an underclassman the other day and my experience as a freshman RA came up. I eventually asked her if she was interested in being a freshman RA – she replied that it seemed like too much of a challenge, and that she therefore wouldn’t pursue it. I didn’t tell her then, but I think that is exactly why she should become a freshman RA! It is all-too-easy to go four years here rarely challenging ourselves. Sure, our coursework can often be considered challenging, but there is little genuine possibility of failure; most classes are curved to a B+, and if we don’t have time to complete a major assignment, professors are normally willing to grant extensions. For most of us, then, assignments and exams are technical, not personal, challenges; the question we ask is “How can I do this?” rather than “Can I do this?”.

Accordingly, I think the greatest challenges and opportunities for personal growth can be found outside the classroom. While I am often critical of the startup culture, I respect those who are willing to give themselves to ideas that in all likelihood will be met with rejection by investors or, if not there, then in the marketplace. I respect the women’s tennis team, even before they completed their improbable run last week to become NCAA Champions as a twelve seed. Or for those who decide to stretch their comfort zones in terms of the communities they associate with and the activities they pursue. On a recent backcountry trip to Yosemite I did with my house, one resident came who had never camped outdoors before, let alone been in the backcountry. As the trip leader, I was initially concerned with how this fact would make my job harder, but then I realized that this resident, of all the participants, had the greatest potential for personal growth on the trip!

In short, we should embrace challenges, especially ones found outside the classroom. We grow from adversity, not from completing something we know beforehand will be easy. This is not novel advice, but I do not think we hear enough of it at Stanford.

Should we always seek out challenge and risk? Probably not, if only because not everything we do – or even a majority of it – should be approached in the instrumental terms of how much we personally can grow from the experience; I learn next to nothing from doing laundry, but it needs to get done. Rather, it is in the “bigger-picture” things – summers, activities, communities – where we should look for ways to broaden our comfort zones, take chances, risk failure, and ultimately grow from our experiences.

That about does it for me. If you got this far, thanks for reading! It has been a pleasure and a privilege to write opinions for The Stanford Daily for the past two years. I’d like to thank all those who have helped me on the way – friends, family, editors, and of course my readers. For opinions columnists next year: try to write at least a few columns that you know will encounter resistance. There are risks, especially when your close friends may have grossly differing opinions, but there are also rewards to be had; these columns have allowed me to better understand my own views and how they fit into society and (I hope) have furthered the campus dialogue on a handful of important issues. Finally, for the student who is considering a column but is worried that he or she may not have what it takes, I have but two words: challenge yourself!

If you’re looking for a challenge, email Adam at [email protected] for a chance to clean his room.

Adam is a senior from Illinois. He is majoring in Biomechanical Engineering, although his intellectual interests span dozens of departments. This is his second year writing for the Daily (you may remember him from his work last year on the Editorial Board). Outside of writing, Adam enjoys acting, skiing, making music, and thrift-store shopping.

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