EdusalsaDiscover Your Stanford
  • Posted 7 years ago


Dear Freshman Nina

Hello, my eager younger self.

By Nina Gibbs

Dear Freshman Nina,

Hello, my eager younger self. It’s the two-years-older you writing to try and point you in the right direction. Now, take some deep breaths and listen.

Sweetie, a new chapter of your life is just about to begin, and I am so excited for you. I know that you’ve outlined in your head vague ideas about opportunities and experiences to have when you get to campus. Let me clarify some things.

Here’s the good news: some of them will happen, and some of them won’t. Now, about the ones that won’t work: don’t be too disappointed if you’re not best friends or really friends at all with your roommate. You will find friends eventually that you can share your stories, your joys, your sorrow, and your tears with. It just takes time. Until then, your journal is your best friend. Write all the squirmy, anxious, joyous feelings down on the page. I promise you’ll feel so much better once you get them on paper.

As for your other hopes, the rest of your dreams will materialize in some form. But you have to be willing to put yourself out there, to try things you’ve never done before, and to do your very best even if failure seems highly probable. Failure is part of the learning experience. Statistically, if you try enough times, you’re likely to find something that works and you’ll just get better. So do try out for musicals, do sign up for a capella auditions, and do go to all the new club events that seem interesting to you. Be open to new things at Stanford because you are a freshman and you don’t know what you want. Even if you think you have your whole life plan set, it’s going to change.

Now, before you promise your time to every club, I want to prep you for the realistic expectation that you only have maybe 2-4 hours in a day for clubs. Here’s the math:

24 hours – 8 hours for sleeping – 1 ½ hours for eating – 30 minutes for showering, caring, and clothing yourself – 4 hours for commuting, waiting, and sitting in lectures – 4 hours for studying – 1 hour for Facebook and emails – 1 hour for exercise = 4 hours of free time to spend how you like.

Therefore, 4 hours – 1 hour talking to a friend – 2 hours in a club meeting – 1 hour making something for the club = zip hours.

That said, you cannot do everything. But you will try to do everything anyways! Just remember to let go of burdens that you can no longer carry when the overall Stanford load becomes too heavy.

I want to clarify what your college education is all about, little one. It means that you learn a great deal. It also means that you don’t know things when you get here and when you leave you know the answers to the things you didn’t know, hopefully. That said, when you cannot figure out the answer and when you make a note of something that was unclear during a lecture, I want you to stop beating your head against the textbook and go ask questions during the professor’s office hours! You will not be considered stupid for not knowing the answers. Professors want to help you learn. If you feel too intimidated to ask a question, that’s silly. You are not expected to know all of the answers. If you really want to seem bright, ask questions. Smart people don’t have all the answer and are just human beings figuring it all out, too! Your only goal is to make sure that you understand the material in the pace that the teacher has set for you, even if that takes you five hours and the guy across the hall “an hour.” Remember, at Stanford, your role is to be a good student; ask questions.

More about studies: I have an analogy that I want you to keep near and dear to you. Learning is like a spider’s web. Okay, I understand that sounds gross, but each time you take notes, make flashcards, go to office hours, you’re adding a new thread to the web. The web represents your understanding of the material. The threads represent the depth of understanding. The spider represents you, and you are a different spider than everyone else and will make your web in a way only you can. Now you keep spinning your spider’s web until you have so many threads that when a bug, or a midterm, reaches your web, you will be fully prepared to catch it. If you didn’t put in the time to make the web, some of the questions on the midterm will fall through the holes in your web. Poof. Tears. We wouldn’t want that.

So, I’m not saying that making a spider’s web is easy, especially at Stanford. Because Stanford is not easy. Emergencies will happen. Sometimes you won’t feel like doing work. Let me be honest, there will be bad days, there will be days you feel like crying, there will be days that you won’t want to look at your midterm grade. Then, cry, drag yourself across the floor and be like Sadness from Inside Out, or be Disgust, or be Anger. Emotions are healthy and you don’t have to be Joy all the time. Then fall asleep when you’re tired of those emotions. The next day will be better than the last. Believe in that.

Here’s some bad news about studies: Stanford classes are a lot of work. Devote yourself to them, but always realize that there’s an outside world that isn’t Stanford. Learn to take breaks away from campus. Find a place where people don’t look worried about midterms or papers due or a hard MATH 51 assignment. Go to Golden Gate Park – look at pictures in the De Young Museum. Get coffee at Philz. Anything. Just don’t think about Stanford 24/7. It’s not healthy to think of work every single day and every single hour. Indulge in breaks.

I also want you to know that you are important. No matter what grade you get or what major you choose, you are worthy. So I want you to invest in yourself. Invest in “you” time. So, sleep in on Sunday. Go exercise –you’ll feel so much better. Go out to Palo Alto on Friday and spoil yourself to a delicious meal at a place you found on yelp. Watch a movie on Netflix. If you’re not doing one thing for yourself that is just for your pleasure each day, rearrange your schedule.

More on being important: Take one class each quarter that is fun, just for credit, will make you smile, and think about life in a different way. Life isn’t all about chemistry, physics and serious classes. Try voice classes, dance classes, swimming classes, and improvisation classes. You deserve fun.

And if you’re not perfectly understanding how to do everything, welcome to life where uncertainty lies and tough decisions are made.

But to make it all better, here are a few little secrets you should know: 1) No one knows what they’re doing because everyone is simply making it up as they go. So don’t let anyone make you feel like your way is not the right way. 2) It’s all going to work out in the end. So stop worrying so much.

With love,
Junior Nina

Nina Gibbs

Nina studies Product Design at Stanford. She enjoys doodling in sketchbooks, writing poetry and short stories, dancing, and just generally making life more colorful.

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