The Paly Voice acquired the following Graduation speech from its author, with the authors consent to publish. Associated Student Body President Claire Liu delivered this speech at Graduation on June 3. The views stated in these speeches do not necessarily reflect the views of The Paly Voice, nor those of its staff.
“Randy” by Claire Liu
A little over a year ago, I sat in the Meyer library studying for my last final of junior year. As some of you may remember, our class, along with members of the Class of 2014, collectively made this Stanford library one of the world’s most unproductive places to study.
So, after most of the Paly kids left that evening, I thought to myself, Claire, you have no excuse to procrastinate anymore. You’re sitting alone, a high schooler with no friends, in this corner of a library at a college you do not go to. You have a big test tomorrow and a borderline grade.
But if you know me well, you know I love to talk.
So, I spun slowly, casually on the spinny chair I sat in, my eyes glazing over every individual I did not recognize in that dreadful 24-hour study space.
Yes, I thought to myself, as I glanced at a familiar young man nestled in the sofa by the wall. He made me coffee at Town and Country just a few weeks earlier. This took me a while to realize, and I guess I was staring at him while testing my memory. So he raised his eyebrows at me, as if to say… hello there freaky girl, why are you staring me? I had to explain myself, so, slowly distancing myself even further away from the pile of reading I had yet to begin, I said hi, I know you, you work at Town and Country! And we talked for two hours that evening.
I’ve decided to speak about this conversation with this stranger, who we’ll call Randy, so I can further justify how horrifically I did on the test I was supposed to be studying for and share with you some lessons learned during my time with Randy.
To my surprise, Randy was not the person I assumed he was. He was no quirky Stanford student who enjoyed philosophy, thrift store shopping, and making coffee in his free time. He was a homeless 20 year old from rural Virginia, whose ripped jeans came from the free clothing closet at the local shelter. Randy didn’t study at Stanford — he slept at Meyer and showered at the Arrillaga gym. He had left home on bad terms with his parents months earlier, and bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco.
Randy told me about the place he once called home. He described it as a small town, where perspectives were limited, where the local high school offered only 2 APs, where there existed no downtown, no movie theatre, no diversity. It’s the type of place where racial slurs are prevalent, Randy said, and Fox news is trusted. While Randy’s description was perhaps sprinkled with hyperbole, it made me think about this place that I call home.
To Randy, Palo Alto was unreal.
In Palo Alto, Randy said, he found what he called a “haven:” a space to think and learn, a place to fail and not be punished, a place to progress and not be held back by ignorance or dogma or nonsensical tradition. Randy asked me what it was like growing up in a community where innovators constantly expanded the limits of what is possible, where students had access to computers and teachers and resources whenever they so needed, where young people were respected and empowered for their creativity and even their most bizarre thought processes. Then I asked Randy about himself. He said he was working various minimum wage jobs, so he could put himself through some Foothill classes. Eventually, he said he’d like to transfer, and sit in on all those Stanford courses as a full time undergrad, and more than just a random drop-in in the back corner.
Sitting across from me was this guy, who’d trekked halfway across the country, and was living without a roof over his head just to savor a taste of the life we live each and every day. I hate to be cheesy, but Randy’s eyes literally sparkled as he raved about the Bay Area, the weather, the intelligence of the Paly students he made coffee for every day. No conversation had ever made the concepts of privilege and gratitude feel more real for me.
At about midnight, I packed up my untouched homework and said goodbye to Randy. As I drove home, I did some thinking. There are three things I drew from our conversation that night that still resonate strongly with me today. They are listed as follows. Reach out, remember your roots, and refuse to settle.
Lesson 1: Reach out. As many of us learned in Ms. Mimi Park’s Humanities class, perception is everything and nothing all at the same time. Every day, I’m proven incorrect about something or another, and I’m reminded of how curiously unpredictable our world is, and how little I really know. Randy was not at all who I pictured him to be. He was a homeless high school drop out, but he had just as much to tell and teach me as probably any of the Stanford students surrounding us in Meyer that night. Continuously question your assumptions of other people. Allow yourself to remain open when things defy your expectations. Talk to people and let them teach you something new or see something differently.
Lesson 2: Remember your roots. We come from a magnificent place, where opportunities are plentiful, and creativity and innovative progress are the norm. Many of us might be all-too-eager to leave home. “Uhhh I can’t wait to escape the Palo Alto Bubble!” is a statement I sometimes hear and have said myself. But before we move on, I think we should take a moment to recognize that this city and this school have opened countless doors for us, doors that millions of others will have to work for years to break through. We have worked hard, no doubt, but in many ways, we just got really damn lucky. As I’ve grown older, I have learned that if used powerfully, in a way that benefits the lives of those who haven’t had it so easy, this Palo Alto privilege is not something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. As you begin your post high school journey, don’t forget what you’ve been given, and don’t forget the responsibility you have to do some good with it all.
and Lesson 3: Refuse to settle. If you’re unhappy with something, change it. If you haven’t yet found the passion, the people, the place that ignite your fire, keep on looking. Sometimes finding what we love means taking risks bigger than any we’ve taken in the past. While I’m not necessarily encouraging everyone to fly to another state and wander about without a place to call home in order to find what they love, I do find a lot of value in what Randy is doing with his life. Our time is short, and while they say that time flies when you’re having fun, I think it flies no matter what. SO HAVE FUN. Live deliberately and seek the rush and the passion that satisfy you. Do what you have to to get to that place, even if it’s terrifying, socially unacceptable, or completely ridiculous. You have limited time to make your one thrilling, wild, meaningful life everything you want it to be. Class of 2015, the clock is ticking, so, in the spirit of Randy, get out there and live your life freely, fully, and exactly how you want to. Thank you.