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Views from the Sixth: Groundhog Day on the Farm

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The seasons are flipped at Stanford: it is the fall, not the spring, that brings new life and fresh beginnings. Freshmen arrive on campus, balloons, banners and tables go up and come down, and email lists experience their seasonal flooding. Sophomores, juniors and seniors return for their respective rounds. A few fifth-year undergrads might be still kicking around, experiencing the pain and loneliness of watching their closest friends move on without them, anxious to catch up.

For me, though, this start of the new quarter represents the dawn of year six, and brings to my mind the 1993 film “Groundhog Day.” The lead character of the film, a weatherman reporting on Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself reliving the same day over and over again, his memories of each successive day intact but everyone and everything else unchanged. As a sixth-year undergrad, it’s easy for me to empathize. No coterm, no leaves of absence, not even a quarter abroad or a summer off-campus. Just five years of classes, going on six. Stanford and all it entails, over and over and over again. Perhaps the last one standing of the Class of 2018, and definitely the only one to never have taken a break. When we’re freshmen anxiously awaiting NSO, dreaming about possible futures and what form the mythological Stanford experience will take for us, a sixth year is never what we envision, except perhaps as a nightmare. As usual, the truth is more complicated.

Even figuring out how I got here is pretty hard, and while I’d love to spend three pages giving you the full story, here’s a brief outline. If I were the groundhog of Punxsutawney, I saw my shadow my senior year and declared two more years of education. I could have graduated on time with a philosophy major, but instead decided to double major in CS. I hated it and failed as a result, but over the course of my fifth year I discovered how much I loved people and the communities we inhabit. Now I’m using my final quarter of scholarship to take classes I actually enjoy and hopefully finish a minor in the process.

At first glance, the outlook may be depressing. The protagonist in “Groundhog Day” repeatedly wakes up in the same bed, shows up to the same absurd ceremony, and fails to dodge the same freezing cold puddle, plunging his leg into it over and over and over. I wake up, show up to class for the millionth quarter — sometimes even the same class in the same room — and the same problems that plagued me in 2014 often still get the best of me in 2019. I’ve spent quarter after quarter staring at the graduation paperwork pondering whether or not to turn it in, desperate to leave but too stubborn to throw in the towel. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I’m the only one who seems to be stuck here, unable to move on as my peers leave me further and further behind.

Unlike in the movie, however, I’m here because I want to be. Accepting the divergence of my timeline from those of the rest of my class was a difficult process, but it’s always been clear that Stanford and I still had more to offer to each other. My education felt incomplete, and I still had more to offer different communities on campus. I was fortunate enough to be gifted the means to make it happen. The female deuteragonist, when at the conclusion of the movie asked why she remained in the hotel overnight, replies, “You said, ‘Stay’… so I stayed.” Such is my relationship with Stanford.

In the film, the lead character spends much of his seemingly infinite time learning both new skills and new information about Punxsutawney’s residents. But if you’re going to be stuck somewhere forever, Stanford is a much better place than Punxsutawney. I’ve taken classes on everything under the sun: computer systems, economics, Japanese literature, and so many flavors of philosophy. I’ve raced with Stanford Dragonboat, helped resuscitate a dead fraternity, learned the alto saxophone, and danced my heart out as the Stanford Tree. Now, I’ve found my voice in writing for The Daily. Somehow, this barely scratches the surface of all the university has to offer.

The protagonist of “Groundhog Day” at first dreads his existence of repeating the same day over and over. By the end of the movie, he came to cherish his cyclical world and the people that inhabit it. By learning new things and new people, he grows from an unashamed narcissist aimlessly wasting his days into someone desperate to understand and genuinely connect with others, relishing every moment. And in the end, the cycle is broken. He wakes up in a new day, and the seemingly infinite time he once possessed is rendered painfully finite.

As I file my graduation paperwork, my extended Stanford journey is coming to a close as well. The timid, selfish and reckless frosh that I was in 2014 has come a long way, but I’m not quite done yet. The title of my column, Views from the Sixth, derives from the Drake album and references the viewpoint I inhabit, but it is also a nod to the many views I still want to see in my final quarter — things I want to see from Stanford, from the Band, from my classes, and from myself. Views are best when shared, and if I’m lucky I’ll get to see a few more of them before I graduate.

Something the freshmen and I have in common is the knowledge that our time here is limited and that we must make the most of it. I wake up every morning, write the number of days left in the quarter on a post-it note, and carry it with me when I bike to campus. The feeling is bittersweet.

For Stanford, my Groundhog Day: I love you, but all good things come to an end.

Contact Anaxi Mars at anaxi ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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