I have always been inclined to view my life in chapters. Some are long, some are short, some are particularly challenging and others utterly thrilling, but what can be guaranteed each and every time is that each chapter will have a beginning, and each chapter will, sooner or later, come to an end. The chapter of my life before Stanford has now come to an end, but I’m almost certain that the story has only just begun.
Despite what many may assume, my summer before coming to Stanford did not play out as I expected. As I saw myself then, the page had turned, and I was hovering on the precipice overlooking my next chapter, ready to take the plunge into the unknown that awaited. At a time when I should have been overcome with excitement for my next adventure, I was overwhelmed by grief for my pre-Stanford self and terrified for the loss I was bound to feel for the parts of my life that I had to leave behind.
For so long I had been making plans for my move to Stanford and creating Pinterest boards for outfit ideas to suit the California lifestyle, but it wasn’t until I had exhausted every possible Excel spreadsheet on potential classes that it suddenly hit me: I was going to Stanford. It may sound strange, but I was so successful in subconsciously suppressing the reality of moving 5,000 miles away from from everything I knew and everything that made me who I am that, when the realization finally hit me, my emotional floodgates burst open, and for a while, I doubted my ability to see my dream through.
I spent the first few weeks of my summer in a desperate frenzy to retrace steps from my past and visit old childhood memories of ice creams at the seaside and picnics with family in the hope of clinging onto the last shreds of my identity that were so rapidly slipping through my fingers. I was beyond distraught as I watched each sun set on the final days of my childhood, but I was yet to realize that actually, the person I was “before” wasn’t going anywhere.
Arriving on campus in early September, I quickly came to understand that as much as Stanford was going to make its mark on me and shape me in ways I couldn’t even begin to comprehend, it was also my responsibility to make my mark on Stanford and allow my identity to shine through in this vibrant and diverse community. In no way has coming to Stanford caused me to lose any aspect of myself, but rather it has provided me with a platform from which to better understand who I am and share this with the unique and wonderful people that surround me each and every day.
One aspect of my identity that I have recently learnt to view in a new light is my physical disability. I have never been afraid to exhibit this part of myself — having a zebra-striped electric wheelchair isn’t exactly what I’d call subtle — but in the majority of social circles, I have tended to steer clear of this topic in fear of the awkwardness that often follows any mention of aspects of my life that relate specifically to my disability. Although being a full-time wheelchair is in no way the sole factor that defines my being, there’s no denying that this is a huge part of who I am, and, through open conversations and the inclusive community I have found at Stanford, I feel I have the space to express this, explore this and be accepted regardless.
As an international student from the U.K., I have also found that my peers are eager to learn about my life growing up and discover in what ways this differs from their own, giving me ample opportunity to bring aspects of my culture to campus and retain this integral part of me. Whereas before being British meant very little since this was the norm, I have now come to appreciate my background and better understand where exactly I have come from.
It’s true that each chapter has a beginning and end, but I am now starting to see my chapters less as entirely separate from one another and more as each building on and enriching the previous one. For all entering a new phase in life, whether this be going to college, starting a new job or even retiring after a long and fulfilling career, I have learnt the importance of staying true to your identity despite the immense changes taking place around you and the value of taking these huge leaps of faith in order to reach a better understanding of who you really are.
Contact Tilly Griffiths at tillykg ‘at’ stanford.edu.