I was not supposed to be here.
A few years ago, I never thought I would be able to finish my degree at Stanford. I owed the University thousands of dollars, I had been in and out of the hospital and I felt like the word “unlucky” had gone from applicable to euphemistic.
So please, let me take the time to thank the people who made it possible for me to come back: Firstly, to my family for somehow making it through a crucible that has torn apart so many, for acting with a selflessness that only love begets and for carrying me every step of the way: my father David Radoff, my mother Cynthia Boyko and my loving aunt, Karen Boyko-Gate. Secondly, to the people here who refused to quit on my behalf and battled just to give me a chance to return. To all my future life-long friends of the Daily’s staff who, by virtue of my happy accident of living with Do-Hyoung Park and Vihan Lakshman, convinced me to write and accepted me as family. And to those from financial aid, Tom Fenner, and, of course, Lourdes Andrade.
Thank you for reading. Even if there’s just one, thank you. (And hi, mom!) Sorry if you were hoping for one last hurrah about Stanford football — I’d love to do so, but to paraphrase Gandalf the White, for so many years, I sat on the proverbial sideline, and now I have no time. But in that time, I’ve learned a few crafty veteran’s tricks, watched the University transform and, most importantly, grown a bit as a person too. So, if you’re still reading after the course of this academic year, I implore you to read just a bit longer.
These days, I struggle to tell lies. I know that sounds strange or narcissistic or something along those lines, but it is the truth. It wasn’t always this way; at one point, lying became second nature. I did it for reasons both selfish and noble — or as chivalrous as lying can be, anyway. I did it to protect my pride, I did it to protect my family and I did it to justify my circumstances.
There are only so many things one can do to diminish the pain of being gone, and I tried to paint the picture of something perfect. For the lucky few, that image is very much a reality, and I, without any irony or jealousy, hold them in only the highest esteem. They represent the standard that we all strive to achieve. But that is not me. At one point, I could tell myself that I was among them. But even when I was halfway decent at co-opting reality, I could not convince myself that it was entirely true.
I have written this article for a number of reasons. The first and last reason is simply because I can.
Today, I have the ability to talk about my past. As a history major, one of the great ironies of my life is that for a long time, my love of the past stopped short at myself.
If I had my way, I would have ignored it completely. It took me what seems like a lifetime to be able to confront it, for within a span of few years, it contained all my most painful failures. It was a source of shame so great that it prevented me from being a complete person. It is still very strange to say that the greatest battle that I ever fought was with myself — and I’m still uncertain who really won.
What I am certain of is this: I am no longer afraid. Afraid of my past, afraid of who I am or afraid of being honest with myself or others. I do not — nor do I think it is possible or prudent to — live completely without fear. Fear is part of being human, and I’d like to think I still qualify. But, living in fear is different than feeling it. In confronting in my past, I have had something incredible happen to me: I can freely talk about my deepest shame.
I cannot, in such a brief period of time, give the entirety of my story, nor would I be willing to if I could because it is still raw and personal in ways that I still do not completely understand, and I still have to protect myself and those around me. Even so, I shall try my best because I believe you deserve nothing less.
My name is Nicholas Joseph Radoff. I was born on June 3, 1989, and I am 25 years old. I grew up in the Bay Area and will forever be an avid supporter of the Oakland A’s, the Warriors and Stanford Athletics.
When I was 17, I found out I had Crohn’s disease, and I had managed it for many years without issue. I have been many things during my time here on the Farm, some of which I no longer am: a pre-medical student; a history major; a member of the lacrosse team; a Kappa Sigma; a resident of Ujaama, Columbae and Castano; a writer; and, always, extraordinarily blessed.
As far as I am concerned, I have the most beautiful family that any person could ever ask for: four wonderful younger siblings (two sisters and two brothers) and two parents made of resilience and compassion. I am so proud of them for passing through the trial of fire that has been the last three years and coming out the other side.
My family was hit hard by the “recession” or “economic downturn” or whatever diplomatic framing they use these days. What followed were the most disastrous years of my life, and I pray that I will never have to face something like that again. My family’s drop in economic classification coincided to a personally overwhelming workload and an inability to handle the strain that came with it.
But while I would love to say that I was somehow a victim and bereft of any guilt in the matter, that would be a lie. I stopped taking care of myself and quickly became overwhelmed and physically and mentally exhausted. What’s more: At the moment my family needed me to be strongest, I was at my weakest. I disappeared and thought I was never coming back. I half-dragged myself pointlessly through a year, all the while racking up a debt I would one day have to address before returning.
I came into this University with the notion of being a doctor. I wanted to simultaneously be a history major and complete the prerequisites for medical school. In this respect, I failed — a couple of times, quite literally. I can say, unequivocally, that organic chemistry was one of the worst experiences of my lifetime.
(On a somewhat related note, though this is a conversation for another day, I have to say that the University has no business taking brilliant people away from their dreams, as they do with so-called “weeder courses,” the existence of which the University denies, especially because the courses are often only weeding out only the most marginalized students, those who are not fortunate enough to benefit from tutors, private schools and highly educated parents, let alone have AP courses even offered at their high schools. I grew up with the fortune of AP courses and highly educated parents, in case anyone was wondering.)
In the end, I don’t think I left my bed for any more than five hours a day to bathe and eat. I frequently use the phrase “fell off the face of the earth,” and I believe many of my friends would agree. I had moments alone, looking out the window at night where I asked myself: How could I have fallen from so high and with such ferocity? Who was this person that I saw reflected from windows that were only ever black?
I remember quite distinctly hoping beyond reality itself that my future self would walk through the door and tell me that everything would be all right.
So why do I tell you all this?
To some extent, it is cathartic — it may even be selfish in its own way. I like to think I do it simply because I can, because I have the ability to tell you my story now. It is incredibly liberating; I do not do this as a comparison, for other people have been through far worse and have done much better. I do it in the hopes that I can help at least one person.
To this day, I despise the words “gap year.” They imply both volition and leisure. My experience was neither. But that does not mean it was not just as necessary. If I could choose one thing out of all my time here at Stanford, if I were to fade from time altogether tomorrow, it would be this: I wish to be the person that I hoped for so desperately; I wish to be my future self. Time is a funny thing, and I have experienced it differently at different points in my life. Though I can never walk through that door and tell myself that everything will one day be as it should, perhaps, just maybe, there is a small chance I can do it for someone else.
Sometimes, I feel like Stanford is a place made for perfection. It’s hard not to feel that way sometimes as the sun sets over burnt orange tiles and ignites the skyline in glowing embers of amber and purple.
But perfection is imperfect.
I am not here to compare one sublime sunset to another. Likewise, “the comparison game” is the shortest pathway to self-destruction here or anywhere. Living a life measured against others is not a life worth living. That does not mean you should lower your expectations or ambitions. Instead, it means that you should live for what you want. Like any good runner knows: The surrounding people are not the competition. The competition is oneself.
So this is what Stanford has taught me: Always challenge your beliefs. Don’t hesitate to challenge others for them. Go find something that you have always thought of doing and fall in love with it. Soft serve is as delicious as it is dangerous. Don’t run a power play with two safeties in the box. Neanderthals definitely didn’t interbreed with humans. Or maybe they did. The pandemic of the middle ages was probably a virus and not the bubonic plague. Or maybe it was. China might be much better off existing as multiple states. America might too.
Don’t eat too late at night. Get out and exercise, even if it’s just for a bit. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. If someone else is angry, assume that they had a bad day. You can get free coffee in the business school. There is free printing if you know where to look. Get some shower sandals, please. Clean up after yourself at the dining halls. Do the things that you only can do while you’re here. Take a class online so you can take one that you really want to here. Don’t pull an all-nighter — call it at 4 or 5 and get a couple hours. Ask for help or direction if you need it because there are so many here that only want the best for you. Chase perfection but never be it. Live to love. And never, ever, ever live afraid.
Although the year-plus that Nicholas Radoff spent as a writer for The Daily is but a tiny fraction of the time he spent a member of the Stanford community, the lessons learned from Nic’s everyday presence in the office — about enjoying the little things in life, about being truly passionate about what one believes in, about the sweet highs and bitter lows of being a Bay Area sports fan — won’t soon be forgotten by those that have had the opportunity to learn from him firsthand. Ask him for his stories at nradoff ‘at’ stanford.edu.