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Finding My Place

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When considering the potential challenges the first year of college can present, my biggest concern was finding my place. And I know, it sounds vague. Everyone hopes to “find their place” in college, and if you don’t report back to your eager friends and family that you truly “found your place” after your first quarter in school then there must be something wrong with you, right? For me, finding my place initially meant doing exactly what I was comfortable with, and no more. A dancer inside and out, I figured I should get involved with something that mimicked the high-intensity dance team I had invested practically all my time in for the past four years of high school. Cheer team tryouts were within the first few weeks of school, and because I was so desperate for any kind of peer interaction outside of “Where are you from?” and “What’s your major?” I agreed to try out when a fellow dancer in my dorm asked if I was interested.

Now in that moment, I had no idea what joining the cheer team would mean. I thought it would bring new friends, fun experiences, and some sort of familiarity in this extremely intimidating mecca of knowledge and innovation known as Stanford University. Yes, the cheer team did bring me these things. But it also brought something I never would have expected, something that completely changed the entire trajectory of my freshman year-- something that separated my first year of college into “before the accident” and “after the accident” in my memory.

Crack! This painful sound still haunts me. It was just after winter break, we were gearing up for basketball season, and before I could even perfect all of the basketball cheers, I was in the emergency room. It was a total fluke. A fluke that left me with a left knee full of severed ligaments. This crack meant major surgery, and surgery meant a lengthy recovery fraught with discomfort and limited mobility. Whereas most people would be concerned with the health aspect of this injury, my worries immediately shifted to my academics and the ailing social life I was attempting to build.

How long will I be out of school? Will I be forced to take the quarter off? How will I pass my classes if I physically cannot get to them? How can I make friends now when I am confined to my dorm room? Who will understand my situation? Do these people even know me or care about me? And, most importantly, who will help me?

Sure, I could submerge myself in the gaping pool of my own apprehensions and sulk. And I would be a liar if I said that I never did. I was back in school after a mere two days off, crutching down hallways and slipping in showers. Those who lived with me repeatedly told me that if there was anything they could do, please let them know, but not wanting to burden people who were still practically strangers to me lead me to decline their offers. At first I was angry at them for not clueing into the severity of my situation and offering me more than just a generic phrase, but with time I realized, how could they? On paper we were all adults, but in reality we were all still kids floundering about, trying to figure our lives out and, dare I say it, find our places.

And that was only the beginning of my breakthroughs. I had been injured for about a week when Saturday night rolled around. My entire dorm was out having fun, laughing, learning about each other, doing everything I so desperately wanted to be doing, and I was stuck on my bed icing my knee. Someone in my computer science class asked if he could catch up on homework in my room, doing an assignment I had yet to even look at between the countless doctor’s visits, trips to the pharmacy, conversations with professors, and episodes of wallowing in self-pity. He came in and started working diligently, but as soon as the waves of boredom and frustration hit, we were talking about anything and everything non-school related: music, interests, hobbies, family, high school experiences… for a full five hours. He provided me with true comfort and friendship, something that I never would have achieved had I been awkwardly small-talking my way through all of the Saturday night dorm-room parties. He told me that no matter how difficult it was, I had to ask for help, because I was kidding myself if I thought that I could handle this all alone.

With that small but very significant interaction, I knew I had to start making changes. I could no longer settle for what made me feel most comfortable. No one was going to predict my every need. I had to ask. And I had to be unafraid in sharing my weaknesses and struggles, because in the end, they are what brought me to the people I am now the closest to.

Looking back, I can still think of everything that could have happened differently had I not been injured. But now, celebrating 6 months post-surgery and reflecting on my winter and spring quarters, I think of everything that not being injured would have impacted. It is almost a guarantee that in your first year of college you will face adversity (hopefully not to my degree), but it is this adversity that leads you to rely on and care for those around you.

Instead of focusing on immediately finding your place at Stanford in the big picture, take your days one meaningful interaction at a time. Because these small conversations and seemingly meaningless exchanges are what will sum up to your community (not your “place”) at Stanford.

Julia Raven

Undeclared, Class of '21

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