• Tony Chen

To the Past, and the Future - Tony Chen

Dear Freshman Self,

When you receive this letter, you are most likely wearing a Stanford sweatshirt, facing your laptop which has Stanford’s website as your homepage, and with 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays in your hands.

Well, eventually, you will replace that Stanford homepage with a countdown page because you simply procrastinate too much and need better reminders. The sweatshirt is a pretty comfortable and sturdy one but just remember to wash it more often, because…it's called a “sweat”shirt for a reason. As for the essay book, you can just throw it away. For one thing, you won’t read anything after page 11 anyway. For another, it’s not because you can’t get into Stanford — in fact, if you want an answer about that, I don’t even know, since you won’t even apply to the school.

While you will be off to an extremely amazing school at the end of the four years, that’s not the main point. What you will gain over the next four years extends far beyond that. Believe it or not, Stevenson transforms you from the moment you picked up PUBG after your roommate Nick — and tons of other games afterwards from Cities Skylines and sim motosports to No Man’s Sky and Sea of Thieves. In fact, I’m now rushing to finish this letter so that I can play the freshly downloaded Cyberpunk 2077. Once immune to video games, you will begin to see them, along with countless other things that you ignored, in a new light. The next four years will open up your mind and open up your world. You will throw yourself out on a gliding boat while trimming sails over the deadly cold waters of Santa Cruz, and you will struggle to keep up with the others’ pace on a pair of cross country skis in Yosemite woods. You will take courses that you never thought you would — AP Lit, art history, song writing, movie making, and more — and fall in love with the vast world of humanities and arts and even revel in thoughts of majoring in film studies or literature in college. You will rise beyond the little niche of computer science, which will in turn inspire you to take a new perspective on what CS is and what you want to create with codes.

As you read this letter, you might recall that a few days ago, you answered the question, “If you have to give up one of academics, sleep, and socializing, which one would you choose?” Without hesitation, you picked socializing. Clearly, the answer becomes different after four years. Despite constantly running laundry machines next to your sophomore Silverado room and never-ending flushing noises in two neighboring restrooms in your junior Day Boys room, you made genuine friends living in a vibrant community 24/7. With them, you will find joy in searching the right proportion of milk and tea by trying out endless cups of self-made milk tea in the dining hall, or simply walking through the amphitheater in a darkening fog after a Saturday dinner.

In short, what you will gain over the next four years is a better understanding of what life means and how you want to live.

In case you are wondering, yes, I’m still single, so that’s not part of the fun.

In fact, the 4-year journey is not always fun.

You will still need to go through the painful loss of 30 SAT points because of just one wrong math question. Your 17th birthday will not start with your own growth but in studying the growth of America during late-night APUSH grind. Writing college essays will temporarily turn you from an extrovert into an introvert according to the MBTI personality test. Worst of all, your senior year will be lost in the crevice of time. Amid an unanticipated global disaster, you will not be able to throw graduation caps high in the air, because you will receive your diploma not in the amphitheater (as you again and again imagined) but in your home, where the ceiling poses a height limit.

But how shall I tell you to do anything different? I can’t simply instruct you to move your pencil to another bubble on the scantron or install a Youtube-blocking plug-in as soon as possible. I can’t tell you to at least visit Simoneau's once and buy a cup of coffee since you won’t set foot in the place at all for 4 years and can’t implement your plan of spending a dime there only on the graduation day. I can’t tell you to turn your head back and have another enduring look at the Douglas gate when loading luggages on the departing car over the Barrow’s parking lot at 14:40:34 March 14th 2020, and that will be your final glimpse ever as a Stevenson student at the beautiful campus to which reminiscence will only induce more reminiscence. I can’t even tell you to simply boost your attitudes: focus on the better and disregard the worse. For one thing, this letter won’t even reach you, since I don’t remember receiving such a letter when I was a freshman, and you are me. For another, it would be condescending for me to talk like that when I am the one on the other end of the shore while you are the one still struggling to stay afloat in the swamp, and any attempt to swim in another direction will annihilate the shore that I am standing on.

Admittedly, there’s still a slight chance that this letter does reach you, warping the force of causal determinism somehow. Then, you are not only me from the past, but me in another parallel universe, a completely different chain of causes, effects, and possibilities. In this case, I don’t want what I say to bind you. Don’t let the past bind you. Don’t let the future bind you. You have the capacity to outdo me, the capacity to discover what I am ignorant of. It is your path to take — a splendid one, given its meaning because and only because it's unique and independent.

Most importantly, the four years taught me that the beauty of living is to embrace the uncertainty. This is the same thing that I’m trying to do now, and hopefully what four years later me as a college senior is also trying to do. To live is to allow life to bring your and my minds to where we never thought could be.

Good luck to you, and to myself;

To the past, and to where the future hails.


Tony Chen

Version 2021, Earth C-137


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