The final days of my time in America have been spent where it started. Four years ago I arrived at Stanford as a bewildered 19 year old, amazed and intimidated by American culture. Returning again to spend a few quiet days before returning to Singapore to join the police has been an opportunity to reflect on the formative years spent here.
Stanford, in many ways, was an idyllic paradise we could all escape to. An enchanted forest surrounds the university, keeping the homeless and the rougher sides of society away from its manicured lawns. Free from immediate danger and the mediocrity of ordinary life, companies and ideas grow among sun-kissed arboretums and free-flow frozen yoghurt, the isolation lending itself to an island gigantism of the entrepreneurial and intellectual sort.
Our very amateur time lapse video of us (trying) to move out
Stanford’s greatest achievement lies in bringing together an incredibly diverse group of people together, and making us all equal. Arriving as individuals escaping the real world, we assimilated into the common culture of flip flops and startups, dealing with the shared tribulations of laundry and problem sets. In the autumn of our youth we would help each other expand the horizons of our minds, understanding who we were as individuals, and what we wanted to do with life.
Stanford was many things to many people. For me Stanford was about coming to America, and finding confidence in a society in which I was an immigrant. It was about becoming an engineer, and the hours of frustration, practice and dedication to learn a skill. Stanford was also about losing love, pining for love, rejecting love– and against all odds, finding love again. It was about finding friends who genuinely cared for me and I for them, whose weddings I will one day fly out half the world for.
Yet it has come for me to leave. Life has become too comfortable. My heart yearns for home, and a place that would make it oscillate with some significant passion. Paradise is but a purgatory for a life unfulfilled. I will miss Silicon Valley terribly- the culture of innovation, questioning everything, daring to be different, dreaming crazy, and then building it. Yet perhaps this paradise was meant so that we could live in it, and take a little bit of it with us into what we were truly called to do.
As a freshman I would go on long walks early Saturday mornings, escaping the morning-after trivialities of dorm life. Going past Meyer, Tressider and halfway around Lake Lag, I would sit on the parapet of the Elliot Center and watch the sun rise. In the final hours of my time in America I would find myself there again, watching the unfamiliar faces of a new generation of Stanford jog by. One of them, a young Asian freshman in a ’16 shirt eventually came to a stop, settling on a bench not too far away. In the quiet evening air we stared into space, me keenly aware of his presence, him not noticing me. A journey starting, once again. Stanford-topia, forever.