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Text of student Convocation speech by Sreya Guha, ’22

Good afternoon, President Tessier- Lavigne, Provost Drell, Vice Provost Church, Dean Shaw, Dean Hicks, faculty, trustees and our most important guests, all of you, our new students and your families. It’s an honor to be speaking to you today as you start your journey at Stanford.

Three years ago, I moved into room 219 in Larkin and attended Convocation in Main Quad. My heart was beating fast with the excitement of what was to come: paving my own path, having independence and finally learning how to ride a bike. But at the same time, I felt overwhelmed and confused by the vastness of Stanford and how to navigate it. I didn’t really know how to get my head around the idea that this campus was going to be my home for the next four years.

In fall quarter, I took an Introductory Seminar called Self Theories taught by Professor Carol Dweck. As some of you may know, Professor Dweck is responsible for much of the research behind the growth mindset theory, a groundbreaking concept in social psychology, that suggests that with a growth mindset, you believe that you can improve certain skills or attributes through effort and persistence. The class focused on developing this growth mindset and understanding how to implement it in daily life.

Through the class, I realized that developing a growth mindset involves working through discomfort. For one assignment, we were required to do something outside of our comfort zone. At the time, I was surprised that someone so respected in their field cared about a bunch of 18-year-olds confronting their fears. And honestly, it felt like a challenge I wasn’t up for. The week before the assignment was due, I listened to my classmates talk about asking their crushes out on dates and trying out for new clubs while anticipating rejection. Inspired by my peers, I decided to have a vulnerable conversation and contact an old friend with whom I had had a falling out with. It was a shot in the dark, but I was so proud of myself for taking that step. At the end of the quarter, I promised myself I wouldn’t let this practice become a one-time event: I would challenge myself to keep growing during my Stanford journey.

In time, I learned to grow more comfortable being uncomfortable. For my Sophomore College class called America in One Room, we traveled to Texas to observe 500 Americans across the political spectrum debate contentious issues in a national experiment on deliberative democracy. Unexpectedly, the organizers of the experiment asked our class to step in and moderate these conversations. Despite having no expertise in political science, I volunteered. Listening to individuals open up and discuss issues that they were passionate about, or directly impacted by, encouraged me to center humanity in the midst of politics. Stepping up and accepting the challenge of moderating helped me adopt a more empathetic approach in regards to thinking about issues, both big and small.

Later in my sophomore year, I started thinking about applying to be an RA in a frosh dorm. I wanted to continue supporting others through difficult conversations, and also play a role in the special awe and wonder of frosh year. But, I was hesitant at first. I had an image of what an ideal RA should be like and it just felt like I wasn’t good enough or had done enough to be that person. But, recalling Professor Dweck’s class on having a growth mindset, I remembered what I promised myself. I decided that if staffing was important to me – and it was – then I just had to go for it. I had to believe in myself and my own capabilities. I chose to trust my own experience and knowledge and told myself that I could foster community and create a safe home. I ended up applying and staffing Burbank last year.

Though staffing in a year with a pandemic and unprecedented circumstances was pretty hard, I also learned so many invaluable lessons. Most importantly, I learned from my relationships with others. In one of my favorite books, When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanidhi writes, “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still, it is never complete.” Kalanidhi was right – human relationships form the basis for all the knowledge we have. Every lunchtime conversation or late-night study session with residents in the Burbank library forced me to think differently or consider an opinion I had previously disregarded. For every challenge I faced while staffing, I can also think of multiple moments of immeasurable growth, reflection and rewarding experiences.

When I think about who I was my frosh year and who I am now, I realize that the biggest difference is a stronger sense of self. For me, the last three years have been an opportunity to define myself both in and out of the classroom. I’ve forced myself outside of my comfort zone and defined my own values and priorities. It’s not necessarily an easy journey. It’s hard to leave your home and the comfort of everything being familiar. But it’s also intensely rewarding and exciting. And most importantly, you don’t do it alone. Stanford is a rich and vibrant mosaic knit together with each student’s distinctive story and experience.

As I look back now, as a frosh, you have the world at your fingertips in terms of who you want to be and so much support no matter which direction you go. The next few years will be full of ups and downs from meaningful friendships to hard exams and assignments. You’ll have eye-opening conversations in the dining hall, take classes you’re truly passionate about and find so many more ways to challenge yourself and grow. Today is just the beginning and I can’t wait to see where it takes you all.

Thank you.

And now, it is my honor and pleasure to introduce the President of Stanford University, Marc Tessier-Lavigne.