Jack Golub graduated Stanford in 2020. He now teaches English in Austin, Texas.
Dear Classes of 2020 and 2021 (and perhaps even 2022),
I left Stanford and became a teacher. My school is pretty different from Stanford, though. A lot of the students never pay attention. Our principal is a bit, uh, robotic. We don’t treat our custodial staff as an integral part of our school community… Alright, perhaps not as different as I thought.
In all seriousness, Stanford is different. At Stanford, I struggled. I often felt listless and confused. Spring quarter I’d usually get a little depressed. I guess getting drunk at 11 a.m. just didn’t do it for me. But I felt loved. I felt loved and supported by my peers, right from the start. My frosh year, half the dorm tried to help me learn CS106A. That they failed is irrelevant. My junior year, as an RA, I was down bad at times. My friends reached out to me. They came to see me. They listened, even when I had nothing to say. At Stanford, I felt confident that the people around me had my back. I knew my administration had the resources to provide me with an unparalleled education, including a daily menu of rich cultural events.
I largely felt that my Stanford journey lived up to our motto, “let the winds of freedom blow.” I was given a gift that let me grow. Not everyone gets that gift.
I currently teach seventh grade in Austin, Texas. I chose to teach because I thought I could connect deeply with students and uncover, for them to see, a surprisingly vast potential. Uvalde sits only a couple hours away from my school. Since May 24, grief and anger have stolen my thoughts. I have felt lost. I cried in front of my students as I lied to them, telling them that I would protect them no matter what, all while knowing that my body won’t beat an AR-15. I have felt small. I needed to remind myself that we, recent and new Stanford graduates, stand on the shoulders of giants.
We stand on the shoulders of the strong and loving Muwekma Ohlone tribe, a people who have survived and continue to survive colonialism and white supremacy. They are capable of such strength that they continue to love this sacred land, where they have lived for thousands of years, at every cost.
We stand with conviction on the shoulders of bell hooks, whose fierce voice for justice still resonates in her absence.
We stand expressively, and yes, securely, on the shoulders of Issa Rae.
We stand in all-white Air-Force 1s on the shoulders of Phil Knight.
We stand thousands of miles beyond earth on the shoulders of Mae Jemison and Sally Ride.
We stand on the physically less imposing yet altogether revolutionary shoulders of Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
We stand bravely, ready to speak truth to power, on the shoulders of Christine Blasey Ford.
We stand on the shoulders of Stanford luminaries. Shoulders that are daunting in their size and, sometimes, in their shortcomings. To recognize how big we are, we must acknowledge both.
We stand on the shoulders of the first president of Stanford, David Starr Jordan: pioneering psychologist, strategic president and prominent eugenicist.
We stand on Leland Stanford’s shoulders. Our founder who was ahead of his time in creating a coed school loosened from some constraints of established gender norms. He built this school with money made from exploiting Chinese railroad workers.
We have been poured into by our families and this school. Our teachers in the front of the room, our teachers sitting alongside us, our teachers serving us food, our teachers cleaning our bathrooms and those teachers calling us, asking when next are we coming home.
2020 and 2021, we stand here, now, at the perfect time. We are not eager to burst forth, filled with passion and optimism, onto a broken world awaiting our leadership. We are not looking ahead to what doors this Stanford degree will open for us in the future.
This is the future. We are already here.
We have learned that those doors won’t magically open. Sometimes, the task of taking care of ourselves is more than enough for one day. The amazing future of fulfillment and powerful change that we normally would be promised during this weekend has, for many of us, not quite arrived on time. Maybe it got stuck in the Tresidder mail office. The line looks long, and I don’t have my ID card anymore.
So, I won’t pretend that our good intentions and intelligence are enough. I won’t ask for a moment of silence so that we can acknowledge our grief and then move on. The change we desperately need in the world won’t happen until we change ourselves. Until we realize, collectively, that we have been given a gift that can never be earned or repaid. We stand so high, on such grand and great shoulders, such flawed shoulders, that we cannot come down. We are here to stay. Whatever we do with the power of our knowledge and our relationships furthers the legacy of this school. For better or for worse.
Some of us have already begun honoring this gift. Since March 2020, we have learned of the courageous and creative capacities we hold within. When Stanford abruptly kicked us off campus we instinctively thought of others. We built a robust mutual aid network in mere days. One of us mobilized neighborhood helpers to deliver groceries to those that couldn’t get them, literally feeding the hungry. Another assembled a team across the country to design and sell clothing and use the proceeds to buy crucial baby care items that parents and foster parents could not afford. Others of us served in less visible ways. We took care of, even homeschooled younger siblings. We helped family members and friends leave dangerous relationships and battle sickness. We started therapy to become better at loving one another, at loving ourselves. We survived after losing people dear to us. Finally, and this is true, one of us quit Goldman Sachs after only four weeks on the job.
The time to change our expectations of ourselves is not today. This whole weekend is the time to remember and celebrate and give thanks.
To remember late nights in the lounge. The shock, which turned to thrill, then eventually irritation at roll outs. The relief at finishing finals followed by the bumbling camaraderie of Nomad. The randomly sunny, 80-degree winter days spent lounging, spike balling and pretending to do work. Those two weeks in 2017 where everyone simultaneously discovered Polo y Pan. The amazement of our first time at Gaieties. The, for some of us, sloppier enjoyment of all the other Gaieties. And, for a few of us, our naked prancing across the stage of our final Gaieties.
To celebrate that we did something difficult together. The challenges we overcame — all those late nights in Green Library working on p-sets (I actually can’t relate to that one; thank you, humanities), speakers antagonizing us yearly with their false narratives of Christian nationalism, COVID. The moments of triumph — the band getting un-banned, securing pay raises for student staff, that moment during every Common Origins performance where all five hundred members are on stage at once and you’re thinking to yourself, “How is this possible?”
To give thanks that the frantic hallway goodbyes of March 2020 were not permanent. Thanks for the teachers and other staff who believed in us and challenged us in equal measure. For our frosh communities. For the creative writing classes that make everyone who takes them feel like we have something important to share. For the glorious culmination of fellowship that we call Special D. For the relentless student activists who showed us how bright our inner lights can shine in moments of crisis.
Today is the time to remind ourselves of the gift we have received.
Tomorrow is the time to change. To do the uncomfortable, setback-ridden work of loving one another more. To push our professional efforts, no matter what we do and especially if it seems unrelated to our society’s challenges, closer towards justice.
To stay humble and continue to fulfill this tremendously powerful gift.
Tomorrow, and every day after it, is the time to use that gift.
I hope that one of my students makes it into Stanford. If they do, I believe they will stand on even sturdier and stronger shoulders.