‘Nonanswers’: What are you doing this summer?

Inspired by the questions we ask in daily conversation but never find a happy conclusion for, Nonanswers explores the feelings, confusions and tribulations of Stanford students. Every essay in this column will be centered around a timely question, and will be structured around personal experiences, conversations and stories from my time on campus. Feel free to submit a question for me to dissect, or send me an answer (or nonanswer) for one that I ask.

Spring quarter at Stanford is everything people made it out to be. The air is warm and inviting; people are tanning outside in Casper Quad; the energy on campus is simultaneously excited and at peace. I have deep regrets over taking so many hard classes because all I want to do is lay in the grass, hop in a fountain and soak up the sunlight while it’s here. It’s crazy to think that my freshman year is almost over — that a year ago, I was a second-semester senior, caught up in the frenzy of prom and graduation, counting down the days until I was here. In the time since then, I think I’ve begun to take life slower. I now find myself clinging onto each new day, trying to squeeze as many joyful moments out of every hour as I can.

Even though it’s spring and we’re all in better moods now that the weather is nice, this is still Stanford, where people care about grades and jobs and LinkedIn updates. It’s only natural that the question arises as we crawl closer and closer to the year’s end: What are you doing this summer?

My short answer: staying on campus to work on linguistics research through a VPUE grant.

My long answer: trying to figure out if grad school is something I want to pursue; hopefully exploring off campus on weekends with anyone who’ll also be here; missing home and trying not to feel FOMO about the fact that all of my best friends are reunited for their first summer after college.

I’ve wanted the opportunity and resources to conduct meaningful research for years now, and after months of applications, interviews and decisions, I’m immensely grateful to finally have that chance this summer. I just can’t help but feel this sense of lost time. After college, summers are no different from your springs and your falls. Work is year-round and you work until you retire — suddenly, in my mind, I am no longer 18, but much older and having passed by all of my chances to truly be young and free.

Last summer, I was flying through suburban streets in the passenger seat of my friend’s Toyota Camry, hands stuck out of the sun roof, screaming along to Olivia Rodrigo and laughing when we got the words wrong. I was eating Italian ice on a beach towel, watching the sunset over the Long Island Sound, pushing down the lump in my throat and the feeling in my chest that once August rolled around and everybody left for school, life would never be the same.

I’ve done a good job keeping in touch with my people. I call my closest friends and family at least once a week and text them whenever I can, and that kind of consistent communication helps to close the 3,000-mile gap during long stretches of being away. When I was on campus for Thanksgiving break, I FaceTimed into our friend group’s Friendsgiving dinner. My parents send me daily pictures of the home-cooked meals I’m missing. Oftentimes, during these calls and those moments when it was hard to be optimistic about school, someone would drop the sentence, “This summer is going to be so much fun, don’t worry about it.” When I accepted my internship offer, it felt like a tiny betrayal of a promise I didn’t make but was holding onto either way.

It’s true, my life won’t ever be the same as it was a year ago. There’s no guarantee that I’ll ever spend a summer on Long Island again, and even if I do, there’s no saying whether my friends will have stayed around or left for their own journeys by then. The process of sharing my summer plans was interesting. My Stanford friends were more or less expecting it. A lot of people stay on campus for research; a lot of people are doing something this summer that will go on a resume. My friends from home reacted with the kind of bittersweet pride that makes your heart pinch and exhale. One said, “When I miss you too much, I’ll remember that you’re chasing your dreams and it’ll make me feel better.”

It sometimes feels like the culture here is very much one of “what you do,” in the sense that students are measured by the work they produce and the things they create; the capital they generate and the social power they hold. I want to be in a space that cares about who I am. I want people to ask how I’m doing rather than what I’m doing; I want to be remembered not for my professional and academic accomplishments, but for my character and the way I make people feel. My plans for this summer are to keep that promise to myself, to take it day by day. I get to go home mid-August, and even though I’ll only have a week before my friends leave for college, it’ll be a week filled with drives to the beach and celebrations of our youth.

Originally posted 2023-05-09 01:20:05.