New Stanford students, with their residence flags in tow, arrive at Memorial Auditorium for Faces of Community on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Image credit: Chris Tuite)

A packed audience lit up Memorial Auditorium last Thursday night with their phones in the air during a stunning musical performance by Stanford junior Richard Yuan. The product design major took the stage with his guitar and keyboard to sing about the challenges of navigating college life and the uncertainty of young adulthood.

“No one knows what the hell will become of ourselves. And only time will tell,” Yuan sang. The song also addressed the doubt many students feel about their choices.

“Took me two years to find a major, that’s got nothing to do with songs!” he sang, to laughter from the audience.

Yuan was one of the many student speakers and performers who brought the crowd to their feet during the Faces of Community event. Part of New Student Orientation, or NSO, the event featured Stanford students sharing deeply personal stories in varied formats and musical performances for new frosh and transfers.

“It allows the incoming class to truly understand that they have a place here at Stanford,” said junior Chase Klavon, who spoke at the event about her mental health challenges.

Plans originally called for the event to take place at Frost Amphitheater, but poor air quality caused by wildfires in Northern California forced organizers to change venues.

A packed audience of about 1,700 people lit up Memorial Auditorium during a performance by junior Richard Yuan at Faces of Community. (Image credit: Chris Tuite)

Stories from the Farm

Faces of Community is produced by the Office for Inclusion, Belonging and Intergroup Communication, and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, and has been part of NSO for over 20 years. Its goal is to introduce new first-year and transfer students to the diversity of the Stanford community and the unique and varied personal stories, talents, and identities of current students. Klavon said the event is extremely crucial to the Stanford NSO experience.

“Storytelling is such an influential medium that allows us to find meaning and make sense of ourselves,” she said. “Being able to share my story with the Stanford community was one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had during my time here.”

Throughout the evening on Thursday, Klavon and other speakers and performers opened up about challenges like mental health, identity, and academic failure.

“I felt like a big fat Stanford fraud,” said junior Priyanka Gupta while recounting how she learned that she’d failed an introductory course for her major by one point during her frosh year. The experience shattered her self-confidence.

“I started taking the least amount of classes that I could – ones I didn’t care about,” she said. “I began to fight with my family and shy away from my friends. I developed major depression and anxiety. My hair had grown long and unruly. Instead of gaining the freshman 15, I lost the freshman 15.”

She said her story is not unique and assured new students that failure eludes no one.

“Every single one of you here in this audience will experience some version of this,” she said. “… you will undoubtedly reach a moment where you realize how burnt out, scared, and alone you feel.”

But she assured students that they are not alone and are not impostors.

Junior Chase Klavon speaks at Faces of Community. (Image credit: Chris Tuite)

“Stanford students have many shared experiences that connect them. Pain is one of them. But so is resilience. So is the ability to patch up your burns to let yourself heal,” she said, adding that Stanford is more than red confetti and academic esteem. “It is hard work. It is getting hurt. It is getting up. Whether you like it or not, Stanford will completely reshape you.”

Klavon spoke candidly about mental illness, recalling a breakdown she experienced in her campus dorm room one day.

“I’d lost control of my emotions. My vision was blurred, I was shaking uncontrollably, and numbness metastasized to every inch of my body,” she recalled. “I felt nothing. I was nothing. And I wanted to die.”

She’d had these feelings before, but for the first time, decided to tell someone about it. She texted her father, who called her immediately. She struggled to explain to him that while everything in her life seemed to be going right – she was a manager of the women’s basketball team, an academic peer advisor, and had great friends – she was still at the lowest point in her life.

Members of Cardinal Calypso perform at Memorial Auditorium for the Faces of Community event on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Image credit: Chris Tuite)

Klavon revealed that she’d been diagnosed with anxiety and OCD at a young age. That night in her dorm room, she felt worse than ever before. “Each day felt like a battle that I could never win,” she recalled, explaining that no one around her knew that she struggled to get out of bed, attend class, and eat.

That call to a trusted confidante – her father – helped her gain perspective and redirect her focus on the parts of her life that brought her joy.

“I learned that asking for help, whether from a therapist or a friend, does not make you weak. It makes you so immensely strong,” Klavon said.

She told new students that there may be times in life, including at Stanford, when they feel so far removed from themselves that they don’t know who they are, and then an internal voice tells them that it would be easier to give up.

“I promise, it’s not,” she said. “While people may not talk about it, struggling is normal. But remembering that you’re not alone can help you to stay grounded.”

The event included musical performances by Talisman, Cardinal Clypso, and Mariachi Cardenel de Stanford.

Applications to speak or perform at next year’s event will open in the spring quarter.