Wednesday, 14 June 2017

To the End of Sophomore Year

(Aka The Great Settling of Sophomore Year)

I wish I’d written myself a letter at the beginning of this year so I could compare how I felt then to how I feel now. I didn’t - but I did journal a lot at that time. And I remember journalling during Summer ’16 about how excited I was about sophomore year and obsessively listing all the reasons that sophomore year was going to be the

Long story short, it wasn’t. And if I could write a letter to my past self, there are a couple things I’d like to say. Leggo.

Hi Soon-to-be-sophomore-me,
Sophomore Fall, Week 1: Looking at this
picture from the Activities Fair takes you all
the way back

You’re really excited about sophomore year and that’s great. That’s one of the things I like about you - your positive outlook on things. So sophomore year wasn’t great in all the ways you thought it’d be. In fact, almost everything on your “Reasons Sophomore Year is gonna be Amazing” list has somehow gone wrong or backfired or been not quite what you expected.

It’s okay though. You will learn so much, and grow so much, and sort of feel like a different person at different points in the year, yet somehow it all comes full circle and by the end of the year you’ll feel closer to being who you want to be, or recovering the person you used to be. Maybe it’s a bit of both?

Let’s start at the beginning, though. Lemme tell you straight up that sophomore slump is real, and it’s different things to different people. I’m not sure whether you thought it might affect you or not, but it definitely affected you, and when you hear about people who are absolutely loving their sophomore year you’ll wonder where you went wrong.

You didn’t go wrong, and you weren’t wrong for having high expectations, either. Life just…isn’t predictable. And each quarter is going to feel like a roller coaster in its own way and you’re going to have some highlights and low-lows. But you’ll weather them, I promise!

Fall Quarter is the hot-mess quarter. Looking back, you wonder if it was your worst quarter at Stanford - not grade-wise but management wise. You did some rough all-nighters that were not just unhealthy, but completely unnecessary. You’d be a perfectionist and tell yourself that you had to finish x assignment or complete y task that night, and that the only way to do it is to stay up all night. False. There is another way (hint: it involves sleeping. More on that later). You’ll try to stay up, feel energized at first, feel the 3am slump of despair, self-pity and self-loathing, wondering why on earth you do this to yourself and what kind of crappy person you are to be struggling through x assignment or y task at this God forsaken hour of the morning. You will cry. You will feel so alone. You’ll fall asleep on the couch for a few hours after venting in your journal. You’ll wake up with just enough time to finish x assignment/y task and you’ll go through your day like nothing is amiss.

But, those dreadful nights bore some fruit. It was after a night like that that you wrote about the sophomore slump in a self-addressed venting session on your laptop where you typed and typed and typed about everything you’d been feeling up to that point. And something made you click “Post” to your blog then “Share” on Facebook. And waves of support would come flooding in and you’d realize just how many other people related to almost exactly what you were feeling.

You will feel the liberation of being so honest and the vulnerability that comes with sharing so many of your deepest thoughts with the Internet. It will make you nervous. You will be afraid of judgment. But you will also feel some increment of a step closer to achieving your lifelong dream of reaching people through your writing. It will feel like this is what you’re meant to do. People will tell you months after that they read your blog, and those small ounces of support will mean the world. They will remind you to keep writing even when you feel like you have nothing to say (as you will).

Winter Quarter is the quarter you finally discover the wonder, the magic, the healing power of SLEEP! Yes, this deserves all caps and an exclamation point because you have been endlessly steep-deprived since about Form 2 and you had accepted that as your default state. Somehow, during Winter Quarter, you will form some kind of sleep-schedule, and 7.5 hours will become your new magic number. You will choose to sleep instead of fighting your assignments at 2am. It will be wonderful. Somehow, you will find yourself with about 17 units of classes, 2 of which are from a class you’d already taken for half of Freshman Spring. You will have oodles of “free time” which really means actually taking care of yourself, exercising and feeling more in control of your life. You realize that free time doesn’t need to be filled with things, and you will try not to feel lazy for having so much free time.

Duck syndrome, anyone?
Self-care will become a buzzword in your life, and you will start to notice the things you value most: relationships and faith and well-being and having time to reflect and think. You will realize  - and sometimes resent - how much Stanford works against these ideals, how the glorification of being busy or sleep-deprived has somehow become a norm, how it’s better to be over-committed than under-involved. False. You will have to constantly remind yourself that your needs are not someone else’s, and it’s okay to do you. You don’t have to do as much as everyone else seems to be doing, and you will have to remember that you have found things that are important to you, things that you’re happy to remain a part of. You will have to remind yourself that you value depth over breadth, and long-term commitments mean more to you than dappling. And, similarly, that the dapplers might prefer the opposite, and that’s fine, too.

Halfway through the quarter, you’ll decide that you want to go home for Spring Break, because homesickness has started creeping in, and the Carnival Season coinciding with Stanford’s rainy winters is always going to be a sad time for you. You will cry because you long to be at Panorama, and you will dance to soca in your room instead of studying, and you will feel euphoric when the DJs at the CSA party play Palance to end the night. This is somehow enough to take you through to Spring Break, a much-needed vacation which flies by with a swoosh.

Spring Quarter is going to be it’s own roller coaster - both because of it’s fast pace and the ups and downs. The ups and downs are much less stressing and much more self-reflection. You will look at yourself in the mirror and wonder if you like what you see; then you will look at who you are on the inside and wonder the same things. But you’ll also finally feel at peace with your involvements at Stanford, and feel like you’ve found your niche here. You will have late nights but only a couple all-nighters (not ideal, please try to cut this habit) but this time you ditch the self-loathing and somehow let yourself breathe. You will find yourself unprecedentedly invested in things, and will sometimes feel insecure about your own excitement. Then you’ll remind yourself that regardless of what people think, you should give yourself the freedom to be yourself. No one else can give you that freedom.

You will fill your time with things you love, and though you’ll have much less free time than Winter Quarter, you will feel just as fulfilled. You will come to appreciate the friendships that you’ve had here, and each relationship you’ve formed at Stanford will become that much more important in your life in it’s own way. You will marvel at how quickly the quarter flies despite everything that happens in that time and how much things change.

You will make some difficult decisions. You will question yourself. You will go through oscillations of thinking, from “I got this” to “What am I doing?”. You will question your feelings. You will remind yourself that it’s okay to feel what you feel, that there’s no blueprint for how you’re supposed to feel about x thing or y situation.

Stolen from your own FB timeline: Love me some
double chocolate
(aka an uncharacteristically

public acknowledgement of your blackness)
You will also feel intellectually stimulated. You will fall in love with your Creative Non-Fiction class and tell everyone who asks how much you’re loving the readings, the discussions, and the class itself. You will read more than 7 books this quarter, and 12+ essays from your classmates. You will add 3-4 more books to your reading list. You will write a 20-page essay about racial identity, and in doing so, you will open up to people you’ve barely met about something you’ve just started to figure out yourself. You will feel inspired, and enlightened and will begin craving a deeper connection to your history and your ancestors’ history and what it means for yourself at present, specifically what it means in the context of racial identity. You will start to think more about the notion of blackness, especially as it relates to you.

You will end the year with the same enthusiasm and hope that you came in with, and again, I’ll tell you to not dampen that excitement. Stay positive. Life is still unpredictable, but that’s okay. You still have a lot to look forward to. A Summer at Stanford is one of those things. You’ve already run through your “Why Summer 2017 is going to be amazing” list in your head a million times. You wonder whether you are making a mistake in having the same high expectations that got you into the sophomore slump in the first place. But then you will remember how sophomore year only went uphill from Fall Quarter. You will be glad for the person you’ve become at the end of it all, and realize just how far you have to go.

You realize that you have reached the halfway point in your Stanford career. You are awaiting the final approval for declaring your Human Biology major, which feels like it’s what you’re meant to be doing. You will declare a Creative Writing minor once HumBio gets approved. You start making a mental list of all the things you hope to do or try before you leave Stanford, and suddenly two years doesn’t feel like enough.

It will be enough - and I know you’ll make the most of it.


A beautiful and calming scene outside of Old Union - a
reminder that peace can be found at Stanford,
and anywhere.