To the Stanford Class of 2016
Written by: Jason van der Merwe ‘15
Just over one year ago, an excited, bewildered and enthusiastic teenager arrived home from one of the greatest experiences of his life. A South African living in Tennessee, this student’s hopes and dreams suddenly became reality as he was gracefully ushered into Stanford’s student body during Admit Weekend 2011. Exploding with joy, pride and gratefulness, this student didn’t fully understand the implications of such an offer and opportunity. But now his perspective is completely different.
That student is me. I didn’t deserve to get into Stanford; I still wonder how I got in. But what I do know is that I’m incredibly blessed to be in the position that I am in. I came to realize how truly lucky I am for the first time as I experienced Admit Weekend from the perspective of an actual student, and not a ProFro. Through my interactions with prospective students, I gained valuable insight into how carefully picked these admits are and masterfully the class of 2016 was sewn together. This perspective has allowed me to reflect on my own experiences here at Stanford.
I won’t lie - I haven’t always been perfectly enchanted with Stanford. I am a freshman, so I am beginning to approach the end of my first year at Stanford. Looking back at almost three full quarters, I have gone through many ups and downs. The downs have included the difficulties of constructing a new social life, maneuvering through new living situations, dealing with tough classes and never ending homework, bad decisions and missed opportunities. During winter quarter, I struggled to come to terms with my presence at Stanford. I often wondered if I was cut out for the Farm, if I could make it through, if I even fitted in. There were moments that I began questioning my decision to attend Stanford and wondered if I should transfer to somewhere with seemingly “less” challenges.
But I didn’t. And this is why.
Matriculating to college is a difficult process. You leave almost everything you’ve known for eighteen years of your life behind and start somewhere new. You presumably don’t know many people, so your social life needs to be reconstructed. You don’t have the familial support that you once took for granted. And for once, you’re not the top of your class. And then there’s the whole idea of “finding yourself”. I dislike this phrase because it implies that your true identity is simply lost and that you need to discover it. Instead, consider the phrase “coming alive”.
Stanford helped come alive in ways that I never expected. In fact, even after only one quarter, my parents noticed the difference. My father said to me during winter quarter, “It’s amazing, you’re a lot more relaxed than you ever were in high school.” That’s incredible, granted I have never worked more and pushed myself harder than I have in the past year. I’m more ambitious than I was in high school and I’m more open to new ideas. I have enjoyed some of the most hilarious moments of my life and I have heard some of the most amazing life stories ever. I have argued and debated with peers on many topics and I have learned more than I have offered.
There is only one reason for the growth I have experienced and that is Stanford. Stanford is not an institution - it’s a community of like-minded people who share a goal of enriching the lives of one another and the world with truth, beauty and excellence. I would have experienced the downs at any university that I might’ve chosen, but I truly believe that I would not have gained as much from those experiences if I were not at Stanford.
ProFros: Most of you have made your decisions and the rest of you will decide today. Whatever you choose, be sure that it is your decision and that you are excited for your future. For the Stanford Class of 2016, I want to say thank you. Your presence here over the weekend renewed my excitement for Stanford. I was reminded of youthfulness that should be ever present in my life. I was humbled by the amazing stories that you have. I was amazed to see how fast the year had gone by. I still remember my Admit Weekend clearly.
My advice to you is simple. Get ready for the best times of your life. Get ready to come alive. Get ready to fail and succeed, to become resilient and compassionate, thirsty for knowledge and hungry for truth. You are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to come here and I hope that you will take advantage of every opportunity. I am extremely excited for all of you to join us on campus in September. 2016, welcome home.
Editor’s Note: Give kudos and thanks to the person, place, or moment at Stanford that inspires you by submitting your story today!