Stanford University is the perfect combination of academics and athletics. I’ve heard that sentence a million times. From coaches, administrators, teammates, and my parents. I’ve also said it a million times to explain why I chose Stanford. But what do those words really mean? I didn’t find out until my freshman year as a Stanford student athlete on the women’s water polo team.
My whole life, I’ve been chasing my older sister, wanting to be exactly like her. During my high school years, I focused on math and science, just like she did as an aspiring mechanical engineer who now attends Stanford University. I took classes like AP Physics and AP Calculus. I essentially took the same exact high school course schedule as she had done two years prior.
It wasn’t until I joined my sister at Stanford that I realized I absolutely despise math and science. If had to do another derivative or calculate another net force applied to an object, I’d be sick. What I really wanted to do was write, but it took a lot of my freshman year at Stanford to realize that. Participating in Stanford athletics was key in this self discovery.
One of the most integral parts of the women’s water polo program at Stanford is the TED talks we are required to do two to three times a year. Each player is required to create a ten-minute presentation on anything they are interested in and present it to the team. The topics range from chemistry and lactase dehydrogenase to art and using art to express big data.
My first TED talk I chose to do on my PWR 1 paper. And sure, one of the reasons I selected this topic was because I already had the research completed. But the main reason was because I loved writing my PWR 1 paper, which I soon realized was not a popular thing to love. In it, I had written about the inequalities in women’s sport. I loved crafting the arguments and organizing my paper. Even more, I loved presenting my findings to my teammates because I got to share my favorite two activities: sports and writing.
I took many things away from my first experience with these TED talks. First of all, my teammates are smart. And not only are they smart, they prioritize academics, a lot of times even over athletics. I was finally starting to realize why people claim Stanford is the perfect mix of academics and athletics. In fact, as our coach JT explained to us, the reason behind doing TED talks was to foster public speaking skills as well as learn more about the topics our teammates were passionate about. And here we were, putting words into action by spending several practice hours listening to academic TED talks instead of training to improve as athletes.
Secondly, the diversity of the TED talks made me realize that people at Stanford are passionate about different things and that is perfectly fine. In fact, it’s more than fine, it is encouraged.
Which leads me to my third and final realization: these TED talks made me realize that I love writing. In fact, I wanted to major in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. And it took my freshman experience as a Stanford student athlete, surrounded by unique teammates who pursued various interests as well as a coaching staff that prided academics, to realize what I wanted to major in and the career path I wanted to pursue.
So goodbye proofs and derivatives and science labs, and hello essays, grammar, and spell check.