Widgets Magazine


The Young Adult Section: Situational

Not all schools are like Stanford, especially when it comes to people. Outside Stanford, fame comes from standout names, but on the inside, Stanford tries hard to get everyone on the same page. On the first day of NSO at Roble, for example, each RA already knew the name of each student that passed in the hall. This is how it is at every dorm.

It isn’t inherently good or bad. Some students freak out when they first arrive and are called out loudly before saying a single thing. Other students feel warmly welcomed, exactly because they don’t have to say a single thing before being called out so loudly. Most dorms even feature a world map with all of the residents’ faces on it; in one glance, everyone is held together nicely in one frame. Stanford also places dining halls strategically close to living areas, so that not much transportation is required between sleeping and eating. So, for most Stanford freshmen, meals-with-friends equals meals-with-dormmates.

Thus, the freshman dorm is often the central life headquarters, and opportunities for bonding are prepared in advance. Compare this to Carnegie Mellon, where “you’re on your own” (as my little brother said).

The year after, though, there’s this thing called the “sophomore slump.” This phenomenon is shared by enough college students that it gets a title. It’s probably a complicated psychological phase that involves academic disillusionment and identity reanalysis, among other things. But, also, students just have to move their residence. In sophomore year, familiar faces that used to head down to 5:15 p.m. dinner together are dispersed. This small fact can make the second year at the same school feel like a different world. Many friends just don’t seem as close anymore — by location. They might even be “all the way across campus.” A lot of students seem to think this is the main reason they stop meeting. Beginning sophomore year, students even start saying it’s hard to meet new friends in classes. Either that or a friendship formed within 10 weeks ostensibly disintegrates by the next quarter.

A friend’s sister at Harvard considers all of Stanford’s community campaigning very contrived: students dropped conveniently into community-looking structures and encouraged to make what look like friends. She sees it as misleadingly free of individual action. That reminds me of a girl at the Hume Writing Center (presumably a graduate student) I overheard, arguing that Stanford holds its students’ hands for everything.

“OH, I never see you anymore!” we exclaim. It reflects a shift in friendship that apparently mystifies us. It’s not just from freshman to sophomore year that we feel our friendships take chilling turns. It happens every year we move residences, if in doing so we are separated from a particular hallmate. It happens every quarter when we change classes, and a classmate we used to see at least twice a week (plus to study) seems to drop off the face of the earth. What happened?

But it isn’t that campus geography or the quarter system tarnishes relationships. Rather, these are just the things that slot us next to someone by default, fooling us into thinking we’re engaged in something real. We don’t always realize, though, that we’ve gotten close with a situation and not a person, or that we have only context in common. This is why, when settings change, the ground falls out from beneath so many supposed friendships.

Relationships are maintained by outright effort. We prove our fondness for someone when we find ourselves pursuing them, especially when we didn’t have to before. This takes intention, re-prioritizing and proactivity. Most of the time, we don’t even register we’re doing this. We simply register a thought, which turns naturally into action, which represents a legitimate decision — which, ultimately, is the foundation for something real.

Time tells, but so does place. I was thinking about this while my little brother was visiting me this past weekend. I realized how much I’ve always loved our friendship, across all of the distances we’ve been apart. I’ve also been thinking about this in the context of graduation, as greater distances between friends become the standard situation. Past that ceremony lies an immense space for us to decide which relationships are set in Stanford stone and which come with us wherever we go.


For now, though, Nina’s set at Stanford — so email her at ninamc “at” stanford “dot” edu.

  • leskruth

    Soooooo true! 

  • Stanford Senior

    But we are engaged in something real. Connections are connections regardless. And I greatly appreciate the circumstances and places in which I meet wonderful, interesting, awesome people. And I will remember them and sincerely appreciate them. Does that mean we have to hang out? I don’t know. Perhaps it is just that time and place that we shared. But it is beautiful circumstance that allows us to find people in our shared contexts and share moments and experiences, even if that means we will never meet up again.

  • Klisa623

    So very true, Nina