Goodbye, College. Thank You for Teaching Me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I am finally graduating from Stanford (or so I hope...Stanford just does not seem to want to let me go...or my money, to be more precise). Well, at least I am done taking classes. Therefore 'tis now time to reflect.

To be honest, I do not remember well who I was 4 1/3 years ago. That is how my brain works. It overwrites my perception of who I am with my current self every month or so. I think it might be a defense mechanism from having been yanked out of my comfort zone (school, country, language) three times before the age of 13. But it is extremely important for me now to take a little break and synthesize the last four years of my life. So what is it that I have learned?

  1. The most important thing that Stanford has taught me is to believe in my own abilities - the ability to succeed at what I undertake, the ability to follow through and the ability to grasp things I do not at first understand. As long as I remember myself, I was always a perfectionist, but never the best. During my first two grades in Russia, I was a straight B student. The official nick name for straight B students in Russia is "horoshist" ("one who is good") and for straight A students - "otlichnik" ("one who is excellent"). And I was always a "horoshist." This feeling followed me all the way to high school.

    I went to high school where it was cool to be smart and about 20-30 graduating seniors would get accepted into Stanford each year (and I am not even talking about other top-tier colleges). I ended up taking the middle lane math and science classes (because the school system basically screwed me over by scaring me into not taking the hardest ones when I came to the United States in 8th grade...I now know I should generally ignore the advice of administrators in learning institutions). Throughout high school, I felt I was smart, but not smart enough. I was good, but not excellent. Needless to say, I never thought I would get into Stanford, mainly because I was being compared to outstanding students in my graduating class. Getting the letter of acceptance was one of the happiest days in my life.

    So I came into Stanford a little hesitant. However, over the next four years, my confidence started to build up. I realized that I was actually fairly smart and able, even compared with my Stanford peers. I also realized that I do not need to be the smartest one and the most perfect one. The biggest lesson I learned was that I just needed to deliver high-quality results. They do not need to be perfect, but they need to be on time and well thought out.

  2. The next big life lesson is to not be concerned about time constraints and not fear getting involved in different projects. Of course, you should not go overboard. But you should still throw yourself into things that you think might be interesting. You are not obligated to like them, but you are (almost) obligated to give them a try. When I was in high school, I was very protective of my time and always thought that getting involved in a time-consuming extracurricular activity would take up too much of my precious time and make my grades suffer. So I spent four years studying (and, let's be honest here, watching TV). I even spent the first two years of college studying for classes and partying on the weekends, not leaving much room for anything else. By senior year, though, I realized that I could be a successful student and get involved with activities outside of class (I also have to thank my overachieving friends for showing me the light). So I started getting involved with and signing up for everything that sounded remotely interesting (and lucrative). My GPA suffered only slightly, but I got a much richer experience out of it. So rich that, this past quarter, I took a full graduate load, TA-ed a core economics class and wrote my undergraduate honors thesis. I had no social life, but I had a hell of an academic experience.

  3. I also learned to ignore the little voices in my head that tell me I am not good enough or not smart enough to understand something. Because I am. The potential is there and I can undertake anything I want and be successful (with the others' help, of course).

  4. Finally, I learned that most 20-, 21- and 22-year old guys have the emotional maturity of 13 year-olds. It is too bad, because some of them are pretty charming. And frats on Friday and Saturday nights scare me a little.

I learned much more than this, of course, and will revisit this topic as things come back to me.