Five years ago to now: The difference at Stanford

March 9, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

I am close to completing my second consecutive quarter since I returned to Stanford after being away for four and a half years. With my 28th birthday coming up this month, I’m nearly a decade older than when I first started at Stanford. I consider myself much of the same person as when I began, but of course time and varying experiences have made me grow and perhaps even pushed me to change. But these changes are so gradual that it’s hard to even know they are there. And then there are the obvious changes here at Stanford that happened while I was away.

I noticed some things in passing that are different around campus. On my trip to Stanford Bookstore in September, I saw Meyer Green for the first time. Though I had studied in Green Library many times years go and hold fond memories of those time-crunching study sessions, new greenery and park benches offered new and pleasant scenery to the trip I now take every weekday for class.

Sometime during fall quarter, I went to Tresidder Memorial Union’s second floor to print out a paper for class. I opened the door to the room I remembered there being a computer cluster in, and I was quickly told, “The Lair is gone.” On my way down the stairs, I decided to take a peek at what else might be new. The gym that was once in between Treehouse and CoHo had been replaced by a FedEx Office Print and Ship Center. These larger changes on campus make my most recent experiences at Stanford feel more distant from my time before.

To pinpoint and define yourself in new terms is an obscure task, and I don’t suggest searching inward. Rather than looking for hints during a contemplative moment — a meditative move I consistently made in my early twenties — think of yourself in your actions. It’s in these outward moves that we can find the real changes. So I think less about who I am and more about what I do.

I do try to go to office hours every week. While I went before, I didn’t make it a routine. I do now. Furthermore, I remain grateful for each opportunity I have to discuss ideas with amazingly bright professors and teaching assistants. Stanford is a wonderful place, and it’s wonderful because of the people here.

I walk slower. I don’t rush. Instead, I leave earlier. Life is brief, and stretching the seconds is better than trying to squeeze something in. I remember going to class years ago, but I don’t remember how I got there. As a student-parent with far less free time, my time has become more precious, and I’ve learned to cherish it more.

I do my best. As an undergraduate, it’s easy to look at grades as a barometer of our efforts, but instead of highlighting the result, we should focus on the process. If we spend enough time trying — trying to learn, trying to better ourselves, does it matter beyond that? This is why most of us are here: we are here to learn and to try to grow beyond ourselves. Rather than reaching for the stars in someone else’s sky, find your own light by putting forth your best effort, and reach for your own,  personal stars — they never go out.

It’s March, and it’s still cold. It rained last week, reminding me of the several winter quarters years back. I remember the rain. I never minded the cold showers, and I still don’t. Some things don’t change.  


Contact Courtney Clayton at cclayton ‘at’

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