Uncertainty for incoming freshmen

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Gasp. Scream. Tears. 

As my fellow classmates in the class of 2024 opened their Stanford acceptance letters, a big weight seemed to lift from our shoulders. Our hard work paid off. We were accepted by one of the most prestigious universities in the world. To many, it was a dream come true. 

Yet, what we didn’t foresee in our wildest dreams was the uncertainty that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Distant learning began as we finished our last semester of high school. A semester that was meant to be spent with friends, going to parties, hanging out — all done through physical high fives and hugs — as we close this chapter of our lives and head on to the next. We were supposed to be by each other’s sides through graduation —not through a computer screen, and definitely not, as my school district proposed, through a three-day graduation ceremony done in small groups of 20 (#socialdistancing!). 

The world seemed to have flipped upside down. 

My mom tells me that I’m lucky to live through such a historical moment at the tender age of 17. It’s as if she’s jealous. This proposition, however hilarious, does have its truth. 

Through so much of senior year, I’ve found lessons hidden beneath challenges. One of those was the ability to deal with uncertainty, a basic tenet of human life. I thought the dreadful three-month period from submitting my college application to receiving a final decision was tough. All I could do was hit submit and see the graffiti celebrate my efforts on Common App. And then, what? Wait. Those three months were filled with an utter sense of powerlessness over an admissions committee’s final decision, however subjective.

Funnily enough, what’s even more whimsical and unpredictable than human nature is a microscopic virus named after “king.” The coronavirus became level two — or king, should I say — of the uncertainty challenge. Can I face five, six or seven years of uncertainty? When will social distancing end? Will school start in the fall? Will I even move onto campus? Should I take a gap year? Will online learning be worth it? 

I am not alone in asking these questions. Through meeting so many of Stanford’s class of 2024 and through talking with current Stanford students, it’s clear that many of us are considering alternative options to distant learning. Most of all, we’re anxious to hear from President Marc Tessier-Lavigne as he plans to announce the University’s decision regarding fall quarter this June. 

It’s hard to imagine an online fall quarter, one where frosh are traditionally supposed to socialize and make new friends. From virtual admit weekend, we already got a sample of that. It’s difficult to make human connections via screens. The lack of little moments, like whispering to the person next to you as you listen to a speaker talk, makes activity fairs and admit weekends less engaging. As a result, the attendance rate drops. People watch replays. It’s just not the same. 

And so now, as we face 45-minute, online AP exams for the first time in CollegeBoard’s history, and as we consider starting college right where we grew up with our parents still by our sides, it’s difficult to imagine what the future truly holds. Not to mention, if fall quarter is in person, it is inevitable that — as Dr. Anthony Fauci suggests — a second wave of coronavirus will emerge later on. In essence, the next four years of college represent one big question mark. Study abroad plans may become canceled in a moment’s notice, and so much more continues to be unknown. 

If there is any lesson we can take from this, it’s that the world, at this moment, is more generous to those who are adaptive and flexible than to those who are rigid and need a plan. As someone who is obsessed with a planner on a daily basis, this will be one heck of a learning experience. Join me for this ride, will you?

Contact Iris Fu at irisfu ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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