Benjamin Midler’s column “Observer” seeks the long view. It sometimes comes up short.
I thought that, when the time came to actually write this column, I’d know what to say. That, through the mist of my final year as an undergraduate, I would find the clarity to describe this feeling. No such luck.
Being a senior isn’t as I expected — not that I thought about it much as an underclassman. It was simply something I assumed would happen, but it was far enough away to not be bothersome, like colonoscopies. It’s here now, though, and it is a curious mix of serendipity and melancholy.
Perhaps this is a familiar feeling for others in the class of 2023, or to those who took a gap year or are co-terming, the feeling of walking around a familiar campus but not feeling like this is your Stanford.
When we arrived over three years ago, we were thrust into a dynamic culture and came to believe that this is how things are. Eurotrash was the first week of Fall, Nomad the last. EVGR was a curiosity that bordered our awareness, and people remembered when the football team was good. The band was fun.
Over the ensuing years, things changed gradually but seemingly all at once. To the bulk of students today, Stanford’s center of mass has dramatically shifted east. Gossip spreads on Fizz rather than the Missed Connections Instagram page, and everyone’s on TikTok. Well, nearly everyone: I learn of new TikTok trends by reading about them in the Washington Post.
Capgras syndrome is a neurological condition characterized by a disconnect between the literal and emotional aspects of identifying faces. Capgras patients are able to recognize the faces of loved ones but lack the accompanying emotional salience. As a result, they often believe friends and family are imposters, strangers wearing their faces.
I feel the same wandering around campus and talking with current freshmen and sophomores. I recognize this place, but something feels off, something I struggle to make concrete, yet it is unavoidable. There’s a bike lane on Santa Teresa, and the library closes early. Everyone rides scooters now, and students bemoan the administration’s “war on fun.” Someone put a churro outside the law school.
Perhaps a naive belief that nothing would change is catching up with me, or perhaps I’m being left behind. I inherited a Stanford that, no doubt, seemed like an imposter to the seniors at the time. Now it does to me.
Some things never change. ASSU is still passing non-binding resolutions in support of progressive causes, and everyone is a CS major. These are small comforts, but I still think about them as I walk around Main Quad and sit at the same bench I did several years ago.
Perhaps this is hubris. We step on campus with a sense of ownership, destined to leave with a mild forlornness.
Then again, perhaps not. As I sit at that same bench by the Quad, I recognize more people walking and biking past — the product of several years of classes and clubs. I’ll wave, and sometimes they’ll sit, striking up a conversation about the things that never change, about the things that have and, now, about the future.
Our hopes and plans morph over the course of our four years, honed by being here. Vague intentions give way to firm commitments. Acquiescence to external pressure is replaced by vim for newfound passions. Even those who tore up their four, five or ten year plans and now stare down uncertainty do so with the satisfaction of knowing that returning to square one is more desirable than heading down the wrong path.
Stanford is a fast-moving stream, but we’re not rocks caught in the middle. The current moves us as we do it, and with it we learn of new possibilities and about ourselves.
An English teacher once told me that being embarrassed by our past work is a good sign, it means we’ve improved since then. There’s a broader principle here. Reflecting, I know I would make different choices, wouldn’t have fallen prey to the same mistakes.
Has Stanford changed, or have I?
Finding an ending is difficult. I am ill-qualified to give advice yet am similarly disinterested in expositing on personal experiences. They’re of little use to you. I’m grasped by the thought that this is part of growing up — or simply of growing. Growing up implies an end.
Perhaps the most powerful realization is that, if something can change, then it can be changed. There’s liberty in that, in knowing that purposefulness bears fruit. It’s what I plan to take with me as I grow into my final year here and the many that will follow. I have no expectations, only hopes.