An Optimist’s Guide to Finding Meaning at Stanford

How to Find Purpose and Direction On Your Way Through

Alina Utrata
24 min readSep 9, 2019

By Ibrahim Bharmal and Alina Utrata

NY Magazine recently published the article “A cynic’s guide to killing it at Stanford: How to Network Your Way Through Stanford University.” The article is a (cringe-worthy) guide for how the ambitious incoming freshmen should navigate Stanford, what they dub a “finishing school for the burgeoning independent commonwealth of tech.”

The two of us were — gasp! — Stanford literature and history majors, respectively. What a humanities major teaches you is that myths are important and stories have power. Articles like the NY Mag article perpetuate a myth about Stanford that we hear over and over and over again — that it is not only full of “techies,” but that those techies only care about self-enrichment, networking, and personal success.

Stanford is what you make of it. Yes, it is located in Silicon Valley. And yes, tech and tech culture permeates the campus and student body. We will not pretend like the world the article describes does not exist at Stanford. In fact, part of why it irritates is because it is correct.

But we love Stanford. And when you love something, you celebrate its positives. You highlight the good. And most importantly, you try to make it better. You can absolutely take “How to Major in Unicorn” as your guiding star and network your way through the University.

But we hope you don’t.

People usually associate Stanford with grads like Peter Thiel, Larry Page, Evan Spiegel, who epitomize “drop-out tech culture!” But Stanford actually has a rich tapestry of graduates who have gone on to impact the world (and perhaps less problematically than Thiel, Page and Spiegel).

Our alumni include the astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O Connor, William Rehnquist, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer (who majored in History, by the way). Michael McFaul and Susan Rice, who served as President Obama’s Ambassador to Russia and National Security Advisor, respectively, were classmates at Stanford. They both were involved in activism to pressure the University to divest from South Africa during Apartheid — and Stanford students helped catalyze anti-Apartheid activism across the world. Two presidential candidates, Cory Booker and Julian Castro, are Stanford graduates — as is MSNBC journalist Rachel Maddow. Sterling K. Brown, Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor known for his leading role in This is Us, majored in Theater and Performance Studies. We could go on, but the point is this: Stanford is what you make of it.

What the NY Mag article gets right is that getting into Stanford is a one way ticket into the privileged elite of the United States. The second you are admitted to Stanford, you will have privilege and you will have power. Over the next four years, you will watch your friends join McKinsey, and Goldman, and Google, and Palantir, and Facebook, and Blackrock, and all of these places where the power and prestige of a Stanford degree matter. You will wonder — should I do that too?

This is not a decision you will make tomorrow. There are a series of decisions you will face at Stanford, about who you want to be and what you want to do in the world. It’s easy to keep climbing the ladder. And while Stanford will tell you that you are amazing, it will not tell you that you have responsibilities.

But you do. You made it into Stanford on the backs of others — of your family, of your community, of a deeply inequitable and unjust society, of systemic racism and classism, of oppression and violence. You have a responsibility to the world that you live in — to make it a better place, to the best of your ability, in the best way you know how.

The NY Mag article invites you to ask yourself the question, “What should I do for me?” We challenge you to ask yourself the question, “What responsibility do I have to others? How are the gifts and privileges that have been afforded to be best utilized to help others outside myself?”

So, incoming freshman: Stay humble. Listen. Listen, listen, listen and learn. And, if we might offer some practical advice, sign up for HUMRTS 101 and visit the Handa Center for Human Rights at Stanford. The human rights community was the community that saved us, where we found people who valued and cared about the same things we did. The community you need is at Stanford — you just have to go out and find it, and maybe yourself along the way.

We’ve curated our own list of advice for incoming Stanford students: “An Optimist’s Guide to Finding Meaning at Stanford: How to Find the Beauty On Your Way Through.” We hope it will provide some useful tips and grounding advice as you navigate your way through Stanford, and through life.

P.S. Andrew Granato, a Stanford alum who contributed reporting for the NY Mag article and one of Alina’s friends, noted: “I think of the article as a satire of the way that ambition works on an elite campus in Silicon Valley. Looking at responses to the article, some people have seen it as a wholehearted endorsement of being hyper-ambitious in tech, and some people have seen it as a knockdown of campus culture. People can choose their own takeaways; my hope as the researcher is that, by presenting a satirical guide that is nonetheless backed by entirely true facts about the campus, that it serves two aims. One, that causes people to think about their own relationship to ambition and education and what they want to get out of Stanford or wherever they are. Two, that it de-mystifies information that is locked up in elite social circles to make it accessible to everyone.” -Andrew Granato, Economics, Class of 2017. Andrew has also written very eloquently about power and privilege at elite Universities in the Aristocracy that Let Me In, which we highly recommend.

№1 Regardless of your personal background and goals, Stanford is still an undergraduate experience

Although perhaps there are more NY Times articles written about them, undergraduate students at Stanford are still undergraduate students. Most of your classmates will be eighteen or nineteen, and it will show. For most of you, it will be your first time living away from home. You will make stupid mistakes. You will get sad and feel homesick (Alina went home almost every weekend during freshman year! Ibrahim cried every weekend of freshman fall while on the phone with his mom!). You will feel lonely, like you are the only one with no friends, and everyone is doing better than you. It’s OK! You’re growing up. You’re learning. It’s scary — but you’ll be alright.

“Four years is long, and you can change your friend groups, community affiliations, major, extracurriculars, living style, everything until you find what’s right. Some people click with what they want to do right away, but most dabble. I graduated surrounded by unfathomably wonderful friends, most of whom I didn’t meet until midway through junior year. Go easy on yourself and when you feel yourself worried about sunk costs and time wasted, replace those thoughts with considering the lessons learned and perspective gained instead.” -Julia Daniel, Human Biology, Class of 2017

“I think Stanford is a place, like any university, to grow, learn, make connections, and develop a concept for what you want your future to look like. Over my four years, I learned about what needs the world has and which of those needs I could perhaps work towards fulfilling. . . . The university offers space for people of all majors and interests to study and develop.” -Hana Kapasi, International Relations & Economics, Class of 2019

№2 Stay humble and realize that there are things beyond simply your “accomplishments”.

“You didn’t come all this way to just get rich by making some poor 14 year old addicted to an app you made that keeps them scrolling until 4 am and makes them feel bad about themselves. You are worth more than that! . . . Be critical — don’t take things at face value, make your own definition of success and what constitutes a meaningful life. Don’t do something for the sake of it — i.e. start a startup just because.” -Anjali Katta, Engineering Physics, Class of 2019

“Stanford is one of those places where you’ll find what you look for. If you look for people who can help you make money, you’ll find people who want to make money off of you. And if you look for people who care about you, you’ll find wonderful caring communities. . . You can fall into music, or a new language, or abstract math, or whatever your passion is. And whenever someone says “Stanford is this” — yes, it is that, but is also so much more.” -Max Vigalys, Electrical Engineering, Class of 2017

“If you do the internal work of getting your feet grounded, the opportunities to benefit the lives of individuals, communities, and (by extension) the world are limitless. My hope for any current and future Stanford students is that you will find the people, activities, spaces that enable you to feel full of light. To look honestly at what you’re doing and feel anchored, knowing how important and valuable this work is because it genuinely makes life better for someone (or many). The fleeting ego boost that comes from trinkets cannot compare to the joy that comes from purpose and meaning. I wish for you all this radiant joy. And, if you want to find it at Stanford, you will.” -Janet Coleman-Belin, Architectural Design, Class of 2019

№3 Stanford students, like many university students, struggle with mental health issues

It is really easy to compare yourself to others at Stanford. There is a culture where students brag about feeling really stressed, or not sleeping, or working too much at the expense of your personal life as a way to validate your worth. Don’t do this! We all have imposter syndrome, and it’s OK. You have value and you belong at Stanford outside of any of your accomplishments. You are not “failing” at Stanford if you aren’t doing everything and working 100% of the time — and one of the biggest things you need to learn is how to set your limits.

We personally know so many of my friends and classmates who have struggled with mental health issues while at Stanford and beyond. It’s OK if you feel like you need to take time off, or if you can’t do all the things or classes you want to, or you need to reach out and ask for help. Stanford has the Bridge Peer Counseling Center that you can anonymously call 24/7. Check it out here if you need, or you can use Stanford’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) here.

“Stanford is an actively toxic environment, which means the onus is on you to find the antidote. Surround yourself with people who care about you, including both peers and professors, and distance yourself from those who don’t. The University does not prioritize your mental health, so you have to. Take a quarter off, or a year, or three years if you need to. You will not be able to help others unless you take care of yourself first.” — alum, Class of 2019

№4 So, first, drink this tea (or coffee) and think about systemic injustices that Stanford was founded on

We don’t actually drink that much boba, TBH

“Less than 15 minutes away from campus in East Palo Alto, almost 23% percent of students in Ravenswood City Elementary School District do not have a consistent place to sleep each night. The Stanford Shopping Center is built on top of sacred burial grounds for the Muwekma Ohlone. These facts are rarely talked about in many circles at Stanford.” -Janet Coleman-Belin, Architectural Design, Class of 2019

“Though Stanford has moved away from its eugenicist founding president, the institution is still biased to preference ideas that value conservatism under a veil of progress. Do not be complacent when the university protects rapists and abusers, do not be complacent when the university disrespects the workers on campus and your own mental health. Going to Stanford means that you are obliged to use your privilege to better the world, and you should start while you’re still on campus.” -alum, Class of 2019

“As someone who works on tech policy in local government in the Bay Area, I can tell you that Max is right that the tech ecosystem carefully nurtured by Stanford is changing the surrounding communities in more ways than can be counted. It is creating siloed societies divided between the young tech/marketing/consulting elite and the service labor who uphold their lifestyles (on increasing hours of daily commute). The attraction of kombucha on tap and the high starting salaries trap many young people into tinkering with the design of a like button instead of investing their time in nonprofits, in healthcare, in education.” -Kaylana Mueller-Hsia, International Relations and Political Science, Class of 2019

“There are many of us who understand the privilege of attending Stanford as a responsibility to harness those opportunities to dismantle the economic, racial, and social systemic injustices that allowed many of us to reach Stanford.” -Stanford student

“Being at Stanford taught me empathy in a way I could not have imagined. I learned to listen both to my peers in the room and to nearly forgotten figures whose stories have only recently been salvaged. Take advantage of the wealth of others’ human experiences in front of you during your four years on campus, both past and present, to enrich your own.” -alum, Class of 2019

№5 Wear these shirts, because they have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on them

(By the way, those Palantir shirts with the Lord of the Rings riff in the NY Mag article are really adorable, but Palantir has a contract with ICE to provide software for deportations. You know what’s also adorable? Not separating families.)

№6 Pick your major…or change it sophomore year…or junior year

The best advice I ever got about picking a major was: plan out all the classes you want to take, and then see what major lets you take those classes. YOU HAVE TONS OF TIME! Spend freshman and sophomore year taking all the classes you’re interested in and expanding your horizons — even classes that don’t seem “useful” to you.

“Really figure out what matters to you and don’t be afraid to pursue it — If that thing is interactive sculpture go for it! You might not believe it but you don’t have to major in CS or go into finance (GASP). Be honest with yourself and have the courage to stick to what you want to pursue even if everyone around you decides their passion is consulting.” -Anjali Katta, Engineering Physics, Class of 2019

“A respect for human dignity and an effort to protect it is always a choice, whether you go into law, tech, medicine, history; are an artist, bus driver, engineer or activist. To me, this ethos encapsulated what I cherished so much about my Stanford education and what made my time there so meaningful — doing the right thing with rightful intention is ALWAYS a choice, no matter the field.” -Stanford alum, International Relations, Class of 2019

  • If you’re emulating: Susan Rice (Obama National Security Advisor), Stephen Breyer (Supreme Court Justice): History
  • If you worship…Rachel Maddow (MSNBC journalist): Public Policy
  • If you’re more into . . . Sally Ride (First woman in space, astronaut): English (!!) and Physics
  • If you wish you could be . . . Cory Booker and Julian Castro (US Presidential candidates): Political Science
  • If your political Goddess is . . . Sandra Day O’Connor (first female Supreme Court Justice): Economics
  • If you want to grow up to be . . . Micheal McFaul (US Ambassador to Russia): International Relations and Slavic Languages
  • If you’re in love with …. Reese Witherspoon: English Literature (she dropped out actually! See not only tech bros drop out!)

№7 Then meet (and get lifelong mentors who support and love you as a holistic person) with the faculty and staff

Penelope van Tuyl & Jessie Brunner

The staff of the Handa Center for Human Rights, in addition to being human rights super stars, are the people who have been there when both Ibrahim and Alina were in the midst of a crisis. We rushed into the Center — and they put down whatever they were working on and helped us talk through our problems. Walking into the Handa Center is like taking a deep breath. We joke that students always leave advising sessions saying “I feel so much better now about everything!”

Beth van Schaack

The former deputy ambassador for Global Justice at the US State Department and one of the most amazingly supportive humans on the planet. Sometimes we are genuinely confused if she is an internationally renowned human rights lawyer who has prosecuted war criminals or if she is a fashion icon, because BVS style is unreal. Also responds to emails with lightning speed despite constantly being involved in 1 million and 1 projects to save the world, because of course. She is one of her students’ biggest and best advocates, and can always find a human rights project you can get involved with. Once she complimented my friend’s shoes and my friend told me she would never take them off again.

Karen Biestman

“Karen Biestman wears many hats at Stanford, but most students will either meet her through one of her Native American Studies courses or at the Native American Cultural Center (NACC). Her classes and programs at NACC are innovative and support intercultural sharing/ learning. Her class on Federal Indian Law is a great way to learn about indigenous sovereignty and can help prep you for the work you will see in some law school classes. She will go out of her way to take care of students and always has an open door. She is everyone’s auntie and the person who really made Stanford a home for me. She introduced me to my first group of friends at the University through the Stanford Native Immersion Program (SNIP), supported my academic research, and always made sure I had access to the resources I needed. Staff at community centers are really the heart of Stanford. They are often amplifying student voices in conversations with the university and providing the advice needed to figure out day-to-day living at Stanford.” -Carson Smith, Political Science and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Class of 2019

Abbas Milani

The head of Stanford’s Iranian Studies program. Take one of his seminars and you will spend two hours in open-mouthed academic awe as the man manages to explains how anything, anything (Iran, modernity, Islamic theology, nuclear reactors) relates back to Shakespeare. One of those academics who, despite being knowledgeable about everything, still listens to new intellectual discoveries with wonder — and has the type of brilliance that makes you feel that you too are brilliant, and have interesting and valuable intellectual passions. Catching sight of him biking around campus is guaranteed to make your day, every day.

Norman Naimark

One of the all-time best history professors, objectively the most hilarious lecturer in the history department, and the person Alina credits with her ability to write coherent essays. Professor Naimark’s students will know he is an absolute stickler about good-writing, but he somehow delivers his feedback so that you are laughing while also realizing that he is 100% correct about your tendency to use passive voice. His introsems are also always on point. He has high standards, but you’ll find you’ll work extra hard in his class because he genuinely cares so much about his students that you just can’t let him down!

Dereca Blackmon

The Associate Dean and Director of the Diversity and First-Gen Office (DGEN), Dereca is probably one of the most insightful, charismatic, and intelligent people amongst Stanford’s far reaching student affairs staff. Speaking to Dereca has the comforting effect of speaking to your mom but the sharp, cutting insight of all things related to race, class, and equity. She’s like Stanford’s very own Toni Morrison (RIP Queen). Dereca is a fantastic person to know for all students, but can particularly be a breath of fresh air to students who identify as First Generation and Low Income (FLI). Stop by the FLI office to meet her and her incredible team.

Sughra Ahmed

Sughra is the Muslim Chaplain and Associate Dean of Religious Life. Despite recently joining Stanford, Sughra has already made enormous strides in celebrating the great diversity of the Stanford community. She places the well-being of students above all and has expertly supported all communities of faith under a US presidency that has ushered in new waves of hate. On a personal note, Sughra helped Ibrahim reconcile what felt like two conflicting worlds. Ibrahim came from a very religious, Muslim background and as a result struggled with his faith coming to Stanford. It wasn’t until meeting Sughra when he truly felt that his Stanford life and religious life could be compatible. He was looking for her words for 3 years and returns to her advice well into post-grad life. Incredibly responsive to her email, too. Check out this fellowship on religious exchange that she and the other Associate Deans oversee.

№8 Maybe they’ll even let you TA, or do an alternative spring break trip with them, or do a directed reading

  • Do you know you can do student initiated courses at Stanford? That sounds really cool.
  • The Haas Center offers super cool “alternative spring break” and “Thanksgiving Back” courses where you get to go on a trip with a faculty member and learn about social issues in the community.
  • Bing Overseas Studies Programs has super amazing abroad programs, and you can even do a summer quarter! Did you know your financial aid transfers over to your time abroad?
  • Sophomore College and Intro Seminars are also a great way to get to know faculty (and the faculty that do choose to do these classes, in our experience, really care about their students and mentorship.)
  • There’s also Bechtel International Center, whose amazing, wonderful staff is the reason Alina got a scholarship at a master’s program she loved.
  • Or, you can always email professors and ask to do a directed reading with them. This is such an awesome way to get to know faculty, AND the chance to read books on niche topics you care about for unit credit. !!!

№9 These classes are practically training you to deal with real world problems

“Learn how to think! Take classes outside your area of interest (history, philosophy, English, Classics, creative anything) My top recs are anything taught by Rush Rehm (personal fav is Classics 17N — To Die For: Antigone and Political Dissent) Martin Lewis, Joel Benin, and Rob Reich.” -Anjali Katta, Engineering Physics, Class of 2019

“Take anything in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. These classes take an intersectional dive into a variety of topics from literature and art to technology and law. Any major can learn from these courses as they dissect the structures of oppression that our institutions (cough, cough I’m looking at you, Silicon Valley) are built on. Anyone who wants to be a future leader will need these types of classes to help understand the real-world impacts they are making, whether that be in politics, grassroots organizing, big business, or whatever your post-Stanford path holds.” -alum, Class of 2018

  • SPANLANG 108SL/HUMRTS 108: Spanish Immersion and Asylum Law: This is a super awesome class where it’s literally taught entirely in Spanish, and then students spend a week during Spring Break using their Spanish language skills as volunteers with the Dilley Bro Bono Project in Dilley, Texas working directly with detained Spanish-speaking families seeking asylum. Amazing.
  • Hacking for Diplomacy: It’s literally a class where you get to go and do a project with the State Department. HOW. COOL. !!!
  • EARTHSYS 185: Feeding Nine Billion, literally one of the coolest and most thought-provoking classes Alina has ever taken; really gives you a helpful perspective and grounding in the global food system
  • Take English 90 or 91, two of the most popular creative writing classes at Stanford. They always fill up fast, but they’re honest one of the best classes at Stanford. Ibrahim started his arts thesis in this class and a 20 page final became a 200 page book.
  • History 47 History of South Africa with Jim Campbell is a must
  • ARTHIS 1A/1B with Alexander Nemerov is supposed to be I N C R E D I B L E. (Alina never took it and she is sad.)
  • Anything with Juliana Bidadanure (she has a class on Universal Basic Income!!)

№10 Learn this map to find community centers, support groups, and FRIENDS

By the way, everyone gets lost on campus. We still get lost on campus.
  1. Community Centers: 1a.The Women’s Community Center; 1b. Black Community Services Center AKA the Black House; 1c. El Centro Chicano y Latino; 1d. Queer Student Resources AKA QSpot; 1e. Muslim Student Resource Center AKA The Markaz; 1f. Asian American Activities Center AKA A3C; 1g. Native American Cultural Center AKA NACC; 1h. Ziff Center for Jewish Life & Hillel House
  2. Health Centers: 2a. Stanford Sexual Health Peer Resource Center AKA SHPRC /pronounced “shipwreck. (PSA: You can get up to 30 free condoms a quarter, free and subsidized pregnancy tests, and lots of other helpful goodies at the SHPRC store); 2b. 24 Hour Plan B Vending Machine (it happens.); 2c. The Bridge Peer Counseling Center; 2d. Vaden Health Center and CAPS (fair warning: ladies, even if you just want a band-aid, Vaden will give you a pregnancy test “just in case.” We guess that’s nice?)
  3. Academic Centers: 3a. Haas Center for Public Service; 3b. The Handa Center for Human Rights; 3c. Stanford Humanities Center; 3d. Hume Center for Writing and Speaking (you can sign up to see a tutor who will give you feedback on essays or oral presentations anytime!!! Alina went here often.); 3e. Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL)
  4. Memorial Church aka MemChu (it’s actually a non-denominational religious center!)
  5. Cantor Arts Center & the Anderson Collection (these museums are FREE! Awesome date idea…. )
  6. Theme Houses: 6a. Muwekhma, Native Theme House; 6b. Ujamaa, Black Theme House; 6c. Okada, Asian American Theme House; 6d. Casa Zapata, Latinx/Chicanx Theme house; 6e. Crothers Global Citizenship Theme dorm

№11 And if you can’t find them, here are some ways to make community and friendships

They are professors, peer advisers, community center staff, peer advisors, and most of all FRIENDS who love and support you. One thing we can unequivocally say about Stanford is that there is no lack of people willing to help. Please do not think you have to brunt the burden of figuring out this place in four years alone. From the academic to the personal, there are people at Stanford who are rooting for you.

“At Stanford, I met more than my fair share of tech bros, finance sellouts, and arrogant “entrepreneurs.” But I also met the BEST human beings I have ever known. People who are deeply kind, thoughtful, generous, loving, selfless, people who will dedicate their lives to public service, dismantling systems of oppression, and advocating for human rights around the world. . . These are the places where I found my home at Stanford — my places to grow and learn and thrive and discover a kind of tenacity, passion, and joy in other young people that I have never found anywhere else.” -Audrey Huynh, International Relations, Class of 2019

“I found that my Stanford path was formed not by this idea of superficial connections through networking but rather by building deep, meaningful relationships with people in Stanford’s community centers. These people created a foundation for me—a family. They provided me with advice — not only about my career, but about how to be a well-rounded and happy person. They directed me towards health and wellness services when the pressure to conform to Silicon Valley’s cookie cutter mold became overwhelming. As I leave Stanford, I feel comforted in knowing that I have a bright future ahead of me that is full of possibility, and it has been strengthened by finding good people who saw me as a person rather than a dollar sign.” -alum, Class of 2019

“In my experience at Stanford, people I interacted with in my circle of friends and broader communities were at Stanford to not only receive an incredible education, but to strive to use that education to uplift others. You’ll find many peers and professors and mentors who support that culture — who use their education and their varied experiences to empower others.” Stanford alum, International Relations, Class of 2019

№12 Try to land one of these very accessible and flexible summer fellowships (Or just go home! Go work at your old summer high school job. Or do nothing all summer. It’s literally okay.)

“Stanford’s money paid for me to go abroad four times in four years — three internships and a study quarter abroad. Find that money and get that experience, because there’s no better time to do it than undergrad.” — alum, Class of 2019

“As a student who has chosen to dedicate my life to public service, it is Stanford who has provided me full funding for every unpaid government internship I’ve had, every human rights research project I’ve been a part of, and every social justice training I’ve learned from or taught. Max Read was right: there is a LOT of money floating around at Stanford. Use it to do something that matters. I spent four joyful years milking Stanford’s money to see the world, crush the patriarchy, investigate mass human rights violations abroad, prosecute hate crimes and human trafficking, and advocate for the rights of immigrants and refugees in our country and you can too.” -Audrey Huynh, International Relations, Class of 2019

“Do exciting things in your summer — yes, there is VC money but you know what else there is? Grant money for summers and other research projects so you can literally do whatever you want and someone will pay for it. There are programs to do research in Palau or an arts grants where you could make sculptures across Europe. Heck there’s even a grant to take a quarter off and do service at any non-profit you want. When could you ever do that again?!” -Anjali Katta, Engineering Physics, Class of 2018

There are literally SO MANY ways to get summer internships (and FUNDING for summer internships) at Stanford, that it is CRAZY. Along with the base stipend, if you receive financial aid, it will be supplemented! The Haas Center for Public Service curates a pretty comprehensive list here, but we’ve highlighted some good ones:

№13 And if you want a meaningful and supportive community, don’t sleep on non- tech extracurriculars (or, actually, just sleep, we’re exhausted)

Did you know Stanford has over 650 student groups? And did you know if none of those tickle your fancy you can apply to make your own EVERY QUARTER? Here’s a full list, and here are some that we think are worth looking into. Drop by the activities fair in White Plaza if you want to check them all out:

No 14. Or if this isn’t the right time for you, take time off!

Stanford makes it so easy to take a quarter off — you literally just fill out one form, and you can take the quarter off, no questions asked. You don’t even have to do anything! One of my friends took Winter quarter off just to catch up on sleep. If it’s right for you, do it!

By the way — it is a lie that you cannot succeed at Stanford while also having a healthy sleep schedule. Alina has never pulled an all-nighter. (Ibrahim has, and that’s OK too.) Respect your limits. Take care of yourself.

Here are the Netflix shows we binge-watched while at Stanford:

  • Parks and Recreation (in fact, Ibrahim finagled this as “research” and wrote a paper on how Leslie Knope fulfills the Aristolteian model of good governance. Yes it was awesome. Thank you Luci Herman’s PWR Class: The Rhetoric of Public Leadership!)
  • The Great British Bake Off (why are they just so nice to each other?!)
  • Vampire Diaries (Alina will not be taking any judgment at this time)
  • Galavant (it’s now on Netflix!!)
  • The United States of Tara
  • Superstore
  • Masterchef
  • Honestly any Tasty video series or video of Kids Trying Weird Foods For the First Time
  • Golden Buzzer videos on America’s / Britain’s Got Talent (Ibrahim watches these regularly for catharsis)

“There’s so much pressure to do Stanford “right.” Different people take that to mean spending time with “influential” professors who don’t value you or your growth, inventing the next big startup, devoting time to a club you don’t care actually care about, or forming transactional relationships to build your “network.” Doing that leaves you with no time to build lifelong friendships with authentic people, to foster a mentor relationships with professors who truly care about your personal growth, to savor the fun times at Stanford, to take some classes that serve no apparent purpose to you other than happiness or intellectual interest, and to give yourself the time to deal with the painful, hard ones. There is no guide to Stanford: try your best to survive and hopefully you thrive.” -Jayaram Ravi, Political Science, Class of 2019

Alina Utrata received her BA in History with a minor in Human Rights at Stanford University in 2017, and MA in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast in 2018. You can follow her on Twitter @alinautrata.

Ibrahim Bharmal received his BA in Comparative Literature and International Relations with a minor in Human Rights at Stanford University in 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @ibbs_b.



Alina Utrata

PhD’ing in Politics and International Studies at Cambridge via Queen's University Belfast via Stanford.