Stanford Quarterly Reflection (Y1Q2)

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In this quarter, Stanford became my default. As such, my memory of my time at Stanford has begun to take the blurry and general form I associate with “real life.”

§ Academics

My workload increased this past quarter, as I left the one-unit courses behind in favor of some required humanities courses and entertaining medium-unit classes. I received my first A+, and also my first A-, in my Stanford career. On balance, this lowered my GPA by 0.01, as the unit counts were skewed in favor of the A-. I took five courses:

  1. ARABLANG 2A: Accelerated First-Year Arabic, Part II
  2. CHEM 29N: Chemistry in the Kitchen
  3. COLLEGE 102: Citizenship in the 21st Century
  4. CS 40: Cloud Infrastructure and Scalable Application Deployment
  5. PWR 1KAA: Writing & Rhetoric 1: Forward Momentum: Writing About Movement(s)

Arabic continued to be a positive staple of my week. It also expanded its impact, when I took a late-night excursion into San Francisco with a friend visiting from UChicago and we tried out a pizza place recommended on the authority of Khaled. It was lovely! The proprietor remembered Khaled from his days at USF. We also went on later that night to discover a crepe place near where we went to high school, which was surprising as we had not encountered it before and because restaurants open past midnight are rare gems in San Francisco. I got back to Stanford very late.

CHEM 29N was a total treat, if not particularly rigorous in either its chemistry or its cooking. It is stuck in the classic funding limbo, wherein the program is given little money due to its low output but cannot increase its effectiveness until it receives more money. Still, I got a lovely addition to my fledgling apron collection.

COLLEGE was aggressively mediocre. There is great value in the liberal arts and indeed they are fundamental to Stanford as an institution. You will, however, not find this value in COLLEGE 102. The class is a compromise: primarily between those who want to require a liberal arts core and those opposed as well as between those who want to overhaul the Western canon and those who do not.1 The end result is boring.

CS 40 was a course super relevant to my day-to-day coding work and a lovely introduction to the exciting world of 3-unit courses, but as it was its first quarter running there were still some kinks to work out. “Figure out programmatic declaration of self-hosted services” has been on my todo list for quite a long time, so I was excited to both learn how to do this and get school credit for it; however, instead, I just spent a few weekends spray-and-praying AWS CDK gibberish at the screen. I understand that they’re going to switch to Terraform or Ansible next year, and I wish them luck with that (and myself luck with self-study of the same). Ideally, I would have come away from the class with the skills required to write cloud-agnostic declarative infrastructure, but I have not. Unless you’re looking to hire me, in which case I absolutely have.

§ And Now to Address PWR

I am unable to imagine a more painful academic experience than PWR 1KAA. To gather the world’s best and brightest—driven, talented youth—at great expense in money, time, and effort, and then force them to divert significant effort into this aimless toil feels criminal. It is astounding that this has been allowed to occur. To absorb the material of this course would be a detriment to your writing ability.

And though I suspect there would have been no PWR 1 courses that I would have loved, it did not have to be a complete failure—for that, the instructor is responsible. As explanation, and a means of self-restraint, I will simply deliver the following anecdote: A very good friend of mine, in a different PWR course, had scheduled a session with a tutor to work on his final essay. His tutor canceled, and he was assigned my PWR instructor in their stead. He left the meeting astounded, with no actionable advice and significantly more confused. He had some choice words, and told me genuinely that he felt sorry for me.

I pray, sincerely, that I never again encounter anything like this course during my time here.

§ Personal

I fear that I have waited too long, and have become too engrossed in the day-to-day of this new quarter, to do this section as I would have liked. But I will appreciate people nevertheless, and devour my camera role repeatedly as I seek to return to the proper mental state.

I want to appreciate Nika and her illegal bunny. I want to appreciate Daniel and Ryan for a raucous night of festivities; I admire Daniel greatly for his ability to commit and his fearlessness in social situations, and I am grateful to Ryan for his non-stop encouragement. Huge love to Jack and Sam, who tried the Vision Pro with me and got many a late-night Zareen’s. Kelly, for an even later Zareen’s, failed attempts at glasses shopping, and lovely brownies besides—you are a light. Vivek for climbing on the Shangri-La scaffolding. Nate for hitting 195 before me.

The JSA Retreat stands out as a highlight of my experience this winter. The chances of finding such a space as we created in that house are less than one-in-a-million, and I am in awe that it exists here at Stanford. I would not be the same without it, and I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that it is the defining part of my Stanford experience. Diego’s cooking was not half bad, and I love I Love London.2

I was warned that winter would be dreary and horrible. I’m just not sure what people are on about; this was my favorite quarter yet.3


Let the record show that, on these fronts, my positions currently stand as follows: I am opposed a required core at Stanford, and broadly aligned with the idea of updating the Western core. To the former, I think the increasing number of required courses is bad; the WAYS system, in which you are required to study specific fields but have a great deal of choice in how you do so, is significantly more aligned with the spirit and culture of Stanford. If you want a core, and the specific impacts that having such structure brings, look elsewhere—aforementioned UChicago friend is thoroughly enjoying his time on the school’s intense and rigid path. We should not attempt to backport this to Stanford. To the latter issue, I am hopeful that we have advanced as a species since much of the classics were written. I do not hold these texts sacred. I do, however, hold excellence sacred—and don’t think updating this corpus will be as easy as cutting a few pieces and throwing in a few modern works from traditionally marginalized voices. This process needs to be done well and by actual experts, which I do not believe has happened yet in a curriculum I have encountered. It has certainly not happened in the COLLEGE department, where courses are taught by brand-new “teaching fellows” who agree upon a core curriculum but all refuse to teach it and instead occasionally do and say things ranging from the abhorrent (see: Ameer Loggins) to the casually wrong (my teacher suggested, and doubled down on, a claim that China and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are more accountable to the citizenry of their nations than the United States government).


Which, while we are on the subject: I’m saving my spring break trip for my Q3 post.


Small sample size, but still.