There’s a glaring similarity between all my classes. Whether it be my seminar on terrorism or my Renaissance-based lecture, a common denominator ties every single Stanford classroom together — the girl sitting across the room drinks from her navy blue Hydro Flask after every comment she makes; the guy sitting besides me types avidly away in his Macbook Pro littered with California and CS-themed stickers; even I wear mud-brown Birkenstocks (despite the fact that it’s raining outside).
Our Macbooks, Hydro Flasks and Birkenstocks come in an array of colors, shapes and sizes. All across the spectrum of Stanford students, one is guilty of owning at least one of these products, and if not, has probably considered getting one. The appeal of the Macbook’s aesthetically pleasing keyboard is too much to resist. The pink and purple ombre Hydro Flask in the bookstore is calling my name. The new two-strap, granite white-colored sandal is begging to be shipped to my P.O. box.
It’s funny because none of these items appeared the least interesting in high school. I hadn’t even heard of Hydro Flasks until coming to college nearly three weeks ago. I didn’t understand much of the appeal until I realized that the vacuum-insulated bottle isn’t the thing that makes it super cool (although 12 hours of ice cold water sounds amazing) nor is it the comfort of the bulky Birkenstock (because Madden Girl also has some great dupes that are even comfier) — it’s the name that’s associated with it.
Macbooks are not cheap. The new Macbook Pro is nearly $1,700. Birkenstocks average out to around $130 a pair. The 18oz Hydro Flask is already $30, and if you want a standard mouth cap then that’s an extra $10.
These items are a symbol of the status quo. You can easily get another insulated bottle or a different type of sandals. There are laptops hundreds of dollars cheaper that are equally as good and if not better with screen touch technology. It isn’t the product that sells, but the name.
When I tell the girl across the room that her bottle is cool, I say, “I really like the stickers on your Hydro!” When someone asks me about the gigabytes my laptop has, I make sure to say that, “My Macbook has 128.”
Whether it was intentional or not, these three objects are the fundamentals of campus culture. They’re a token of status. Not everyone can afford to have the touch bar Mac or spend an easy $40 on a water bottle. Having these objects equates to being a quintessential Stanford student. So what happens when you don’t own these objects? Or perhaps have off-brand versions?
The number of times I’ve had to defend my nameless insulated water bottle is ridiculous. Yes, it still cools my water for ten hours. No, I don’t have to buy a separate cap for it. The number of “convincing” arguments I was dragged into over the course of my high school senior year for having a touch screen Windows laptop was endless.
And have I fallen to the trap of this campus trend? Kind of. I don’t regret my transition from Windows to Mac. I like the way my Birkenstocks fit with literally everything — both dresses and cut-off shorts. I spend hours scrolling on Redbubble trying to find the perfect aesthetic stickers to decorate my laptop with.
Having these objects is completely okay. They’re actually fashionable, trendy and efficient. However, it’s important to understand the implications of the holy college trinity. Not everyone can own them, and not everyone has access to them.
So maybe next time you enter the lecture hall, you’ll notice all the glowing Apples in the rows and columns. Maybe you’ll count the Hydro Flasks you see on Arrillaga dining halls. And perhaps you’ll end up comparing why two-strap sandals beat the toe-strapped ones. At least now we can take into account the amount of privilege one has when it comes to fitting the “college student” archetype.
Contact Rachel Ochoa at racochoa ‘at’ stanford.edu.