Why Mehran Sahami and Cory Booker were right

Opinion by Kyle D'Souza
Oct. 20, 2015, 11:59 p.m.

Professor Mehran Sahami says the darndest things. This past Wednesday, at a panel called “The Purpose of a College Education,” a student asks, “What advice do you have for us?”

Professor Mitchell Stevens from the Graduate School of Education speaks first. He advises “dating around” academically to find the best major, practical advice that we’ve all received from our advisors and teachers.

Next, professor and all-around rock star Mehran Sahami interrupts, and in response to Stevens, remarks, “I would drop the academically part. Everyone should just date.” The room bursts into laughter.

While this may seem trite, I argue that Sahami gave students the most meaningful advice of the night. We all were drawn to Stanford because of its academics, athletics or arts; however, in many ways, its greatest gift is its people. Odds are, we will never get the chance to be surrounded by such a diverse mix of fascinating people in such close proximity again.

However, while Stanford is a bastion of diversity and openness, it can promote a culture in which we are reluctant to branch out. With the rush of school, midterms and clubs, our commitments can get so overwhelming that the easiest thing to do is to settle into a routine — hanging out with the same people, doing the same activities and never trying something new.

I know that firsthand: This week, with two midterms, a long problem set and a PWR presentation coming up, I barely have time to breathe, let alone branch out by meeting new people at Wine & Cheese at Kairos or by attending a talk on Space Law Policy at the Law School. Yup, this week’s going to be tough.

Yet, I urge you to think about your best experiences of communities at Stanford. For each person it might be different, but ask around and you’ll find that it generally revolves around one of these: SPOT, freshman dorm, Sophomore College class, study abroad cohort, a new activity, class or community.

Each of these communities is dramatically different, but they have one theme in common. Luck, Chance, Serendipity. They essentially bring a group of people together randomly, and leave the rest to you. A freshman dorm might be the best example of this. Bringing together a chemist from Kenya, a diver from California, a 6-foot-8 engineer from SoCal and an Indian kid from New Jersey, my corner in Soto was emblematic of the potential diversity of any freshman dorm last year.

The people who surrounded me transformed me over and over again. Whether you are an archaeology or a computer science major, you will ultimately look back on the late night chat, the barnyard dance, the collaborations on Math 51 and that great concert that you shared with a friend.

Last week, while on BuzzFeed, I stumbled on an article on Sen. Cory Booker, who was once a star football player and fellow columnist for The Stanford Daily. One of Cory’s last articles was about dating, where he acknowledges his own dating anxiety and an unconscious urge to stay within his comfort zone. He says it best, “It bothers me how often I find myself relaxing in my comfortable niche at this university, content with ‘my crowd.’ It’s unfortunate, but I have found that when I get really comfortable a part of me ceases to grow and, consequently, begins to die. Yet when I have motivated myself to get off my large tuchas and ask someone new to share a meal or drink, the turbines begin to fire… my attitudes often get challenged, I gain new perspectives and I usually have fun. He ends the article by offering a simple experiment, randomly placing two people on a get-together, and challenging them to meet up at least once and go from there.

While it’s been over 20 years since Sen. Booker penned this article, the same constants hold. Stanford students are still incredible and, in many ways, busier than ever. Because of this, I want to give you all the same much-needed challenge that Sen. Booker posed 20 years ago.

Before Friday night, drop me an email at [email protected] with your name, gender, gender of the person you’d like to meet and your telephone number. As Sen. Booker once made clear, this is not a dating service. I don’t want to know anything about you besides your name and those three one-word responses. Over the weekend, I will randomly match people together for a get-together, a friend meet up or a date, whatever you’d like to call it. It is up to you whether or not to commit, but I encourage you to try it out. After all, if it works, you could make a lifelong friend. And if it doesn’t, you’ve learned never to trust a new columnist.


P.S. Who I am and why I’m writing: My name is Kyle D’Souza, I’m a sophomore at Stanford, I’m on my fourth IntroSem and I’ve taken classes in about 12 subjects. Last time I checked, I’ve subscribed or been placed on roughly 86 mailing lists, and this is my first opinions column with The Stanford Daily.

The decision to write stemmed from an article I read this summer by Nicholas Kristof entitled, “He’s Jesus Christ.” Kristof profiled Dr. Tom Catena, a doctor living in war-torn Sudan who serves as the only permanent doctor for about half a million people. Capturing the humanness of his day-to-day life, Kristof opened up a door into a different world through a simple column, and his article helped bring in over $200,000 to help support the people who are the most in need right now.

So why did I tell this story? I guess it’s to say this: Part of the reason I want to write is driven by narcissism (Who wouldn’t want to write for such an amazing audience!). But, I’m really writing to tell stories, give a voice to the voiceless on campus and off campus and to have you leave the column thinking that you gained something. My role models for this column are John Oliver, Nicholas Kristof and Steven Levitt of “Freakonomics.” While I know I’m not going to harness their storytelling abilities completely, if I can bring light to the issues that everyone’s thinking but no one’s saying, I’ll be happy.



If you have any ideas, comments, questions or concerns, give me a shout at kvdsouza ‘at’ stanford.edu. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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