Palm after palm line up, each vanish towards the horizon to a unfamiliar place. The seatbelt hugged me, restraining me from planting my face upon the cool glass window. “One palm tree, two palm tree, three palm tree…” Counting became the beat of my steady breath, the only task allowing me to contain my excitement. Little did I know that I would revisit these friendly palms, each reunion more surreal than the previous, welcoming me home.
High School Summer College (HSSC) received 600 high school students with open arms and allowed them to experience the full Stanford college package: dorming on campus, taking college credit classes, participating in campus activities, and eating dining hall food. As a participant, I was able to immerse myself in classrooms with fellow HSSC students and college students. I took three classes: BIO28S (Genetics and Biotechnology), CS106A (Computer Methodology), and EE40M (Intro to Making). Each had varying class numbers and methods of instruction. I chose these classes as a means to explore, to step out of my comfort zone, but I would soon find myself allured by the research conducted in labs, the lines of code that filled my computer screen and the soldered wire connections that powered my projects.
Although classes were rigorous, my peers and instructors made the experience worthwhile. Hours spent in office hours were a mixture of laughs and sounds of scrawling pencil on paper. Days spent in lab jamming to music and inhaling the smell of burning solder were days I felt like an inventor. All-nighters spent coding while drinking boba were worth the satisfaction of clicking submit 10am the next morning. Sure, midterms and finals were stressful but the support I received to cultivate my knowledge was worth more than a letter. I didn’t spend hours, days, all-nighters on grades; I spent them on strengthening neuron connections and challenging myself.
Academics was only a morsel of my experience. The big bit was the community. Stanford brought together a motley of people with differing backgrounds, origins, cultures, languages, lifestyles, and socioeconomic class. Meeting people from around the world or even across states was enlightening and prospective. I truly was a small fish in a large pond, a single star in the cosmos. However, I decided to expand my horizons. 3am chats with dorm mates taught me to share more of myself, my stories and experiences. Whiteboard drawing challenges taught me how to become a professional meme drawer. Movie marathons taught me that staring at moving pixels for too long can make your eyes water, but also that tearing up during a movie is alright. Trips to San Francisco taught me that being lost can be the adventure. Volleyball tournaments staged in front of a cotton candy pink sunset backdrop taught me that no court is too small for added players. Lying on plush grass with golden California sun painting my skin taught me to breath and be present, taking every moment in.
My eight weeks were not defined by the prestige of the school, but the people I met and my experiences. My friends, mentors, TA’s, and instructors made Stanford home. Stanford was only a means to shelter us and bring us together. My experience and others were what we made of it. Keep an open mind and explore because you never know what treasures you may find buried below the surface. Maybe you will also find a home away from home too.
For more information regarding the HSSC program, visit https://summer.stanford.edu/.
By Nancy Zhu (278)