Learning in the infinite library

Opinion by Vihan Lakshman
June 8, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

It wouldn’t be a senior reflection without some I-should-punch-you-in-the-face level of pretentious literary references, so naturally, let’s drop some Jorge Luis Borges into the mix.

In all sincerity, “Philosophy and Literature,” taught by Professors Lanier Anderson and Joshua Landy, was probably my favorite class at Stanford. It introduced me to Borges’ “The Library of Babel,” a short story about a fictional room that contains every possible sequence of characters to fill 410-page books. It’s a story that helped me change the way I think about college by conjecturing that we would go crazy if we ever found ourselves in such a room. After all, while most of the books would contain gibberish, the answer to any question we’d have, the cure to every disease, the very meaning of life, would be have to be somewhere in that library, but we would never find it amidst the sea of shelves before us. In a way, Stanford can feel a lot like this practically-infinite library; all of the world’s knowledge is before you, but the maddening part is figuring out where even to begin, considering that four years isn’t nearly enough time to absorb it all.

Ultimately, though, this scenario shouldn’t frustrate us at all. Instead, I would argue, we should just grab a book and see what we can find in the time we have. For me, this is where The Daily comes in. In the last few years, I’ve spent more time on some stories than I have studying for tests or finishing up problem sets. Given that writing has always been very time-consuming and a struggle for me (and with the number of other cool things to do at Stanford), I spent a lot of time wondering if I was making the most of my time working for The Daily. Maybe my true calling lay elsewhere, and I’d just pulled the wrong book off the shelf?

Maybe. But I wouldn’t swap out this experience for another. I’ve made a lot of mistakes these last four years; there’s a lot I wish I could change. But at the end of the day, I’m so grateful for the educational experience I got because it was just what I needed, and I have The Daily to thank for that. Having never been an editor, I didn’t spend nearly as much time at the office as many of my incredible friends. The late nights I did spend, I spent watching reruns of Stanford football, getting my butt kicked in quiz bowl and shredding all of the skin on my knee making a diving catch in street football, and those were some of the best nights of my life. The Daily has left a huge impact on my life both emotionally and (in the case of the scars on my knee) physically.

When I first came to Stanford, I never thought I would spend so much time as a writer, or that I would focus the majority of my academic journey on math classes, or that I would be an RA. I still have a long way to go to keep improving in these skills, but I’m so much better than when I started. And that’s how I would define education: I’m so much better — as a friend, as a student, as a human being — than when I started.

I still have no idea what I want to do in life, but diving into so many new endeavors in college — headfirst and extremely unsure of myself — has been a blessing I never saw coming. Stanford has not only given me the gift of a great education, but it’s also helped me refine my understanding of what excites me and opened my eyes to many new pathways and filled that journey with more great friends than I ever deserved to have. In the library of the Farm, every book has the answers you’re looking for — it’s just a matter of being willing to pick one up and enjoying the unexpected turns along the way. There are no wrong choices and every one can change your life for the better.

For us seniors, the story is just about over, and as our eyes linger over the last few words on the page, we will get to take with us so many important memories and lessons from this magical place. For me, it’s the lesson to have courage to jump into something new, to remember that there’s beauty in the struggle of working hard at something you love and that there are more people than you realize who have your back. I’ll have to leave Stanford, but I don’t think what I’ve learned here will ever leave me. Wherever I go, the weather probably won’t be as warm, the sun won’t be as radiant, the grass won’t be as soft, but the essence of what Stanford has given me will remain.


Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Vihan Lakshman's journey at The Stanford Daily came full-circle as he began his career as a football beat writer and now closes his time on The Farm in the same role. In between, he has served as an Opinions columnist and desk editor, a beat writer for Stanford baseball, and as a member of The Daily's Editorial Board. Vihan completed his undergraduate degree in Mathematical and Computational Science in 2016, and is currently pursuing a master's in Computational Mathematics. He also worked as a color commentator on KZSU football broadcasts during the 2015 season. To contact him, please send an email to vihan 'at' stanford.edu

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