Guest Blog Post: Living My Dream by Lakshmi Saligram (updated)
Can’t believe it’s only been a week since Splash. It seems like ages ago. What a crazy week this has been. But when Lakshmi Saligram sent me her guest post, it sent my spirits soaring – Ah, what a beautifully written article. Lakshmi – a true Bangalorite, in heart and spirit – completed her undergraduate studies from R.V. College of Engineering (RVCE), Bangalore, India. It is not uncommon for people to assume that only IITians go to Stanford – which couldn’t be far from the truth. And Lakshmi is a testament to that fact. And one of the kindest souls I’ve met at Stanford. She recently graduated from the Management Science & Engineering (MS&E) program at Stanford and is headed to bustling Chicago. In this post, she talks about following her dreams and discovering herself.
In my first few weeks at Stanford, a common remark after friendly introductions would be, “You are from India! Oh! From Eye-Eye-Tea?”, and I would have to give the oh-so disapproving Indian head bobble and correct them, “No, not Eye-Eye-Tea, not that smart”. The response was mostly in humorous jest, coupled with a humble admiration for the IIT cult, but as the weeks progressed, I strongly felt that I was not up to the mark. I struggled to cope with the ever increasing workload, and found it hard to handle the constant pressure of never-ending assignments and required readings. I wasn’t doing well on tests, and was consistently outclassed by my peers in class. I also seemed to lack the most basic of computational skills. Nothing that I had learnt before this seemed to have prepared me for this academic onslaught.
Plus, I was terribly homesick. I had never ever lived on my own. And for the first time, I found myself continents away from my family. I was engulfed in a sense of emptiness. It was a terrible feeling. I felt helpless, and confused. And, the worst thing was that everyone I managed to talk to seemed to be handling the pressure just fine on the surface. I concluded that I didn’t belong there. I didn’t deserve to study at Stanford. The admissions department had made a mistake. Just get me outta here!
This was pretty much my story all through Fall and Winter, but things took a turn for the better in Spring. First and foremost, the weather improved. The sunnier it got, the happier I became. I also landed an internship; reducing a lot of the stress and uncertainty that had engulfed the long cold winter. But something else changed: I learnt to choose classes that I was really interested in, and more importantly, I began to enjoy what I learnt. You see, this was a new way of learning for me. I had never enjoyed what I learnt during my bachelors.
I did my bachelors degree in Electronics & Communications Engineering (ECE), because anyone who “did well” in class 12 usually opted for this track in India. Since I didn’t know what to do with my life at that time, I did what everyone else did. Very quickly I realized that I hated it, but in the messed-up Indian university system that I studied in, once you selected your field of study, there wasn’t any turning back. So what if you made a mistake? So what if you started liking something else? We don’t care. Just sit, and study. And study I did. I hated it, but my grades never showed it. But there was no love, and now in hindsight I realize, if you don’t love it, you will never learn it.
So I began to love what I learnt. It was an amazing feeling, and I started to feel that confusion and helplessness slip away. In its place grew a strong, quiet sense of self-confidence. It took me a while to realize that I was like a flower bud; I just hadn’t had the proper nurturing, or opportunity to blossom yet.
Spring was also the time I started making friends. Those countless hours in conference rooms with my wonderful project teammates made a world of a difference. We learnt together and played together. They helped me realize my strengths and taught me skills to overcome my weaknesses. Spring was also the time that I got back to my favorite hobby: event management. My 4 years in undergrad had been spent in organizing fests. I loved it! And I was good at it. Finally, I got to relive those golden moments with the Stanford India Association (SIA). I was back in my comfort zone, surrounded by like-minded people. It was a wonderful escape from schoolwork, and I ended up making some of my best friends-for-life.
Summer-Fall-Winter. June 2011 to March 2012. The best days of my life hands down! I can’t help but smile when I recollect these last 9 months at Stanford. I experimented with classes, got a chance to be on the “dark side” as a teaching assistant, was a community associate for my neighborhood, helped organize a mind-blowing Bollywood party with SIA, and interviewed for weeks on end before landing a pretty cool job. I have never been more content in life, or more confident about myself. I also can’t remember ever having worked as hard without complaining. I think that’s a testament to how much I enjoyed it.
I don’t know about other Universities in the US, but I think Stanford’s greatest quality is that it allows you to discover the true you, and fosters an environment where you can develop the way you want to. My father has always told me, “Life is like a marathon, at one point you will be ahead, at other times, you will fall behind. But always run your own race.”
And Stanford let me run my own race. That’s why, at the end of it all, I’m proud of myself. Not because I aced my classes (because I didn’t), but because this degree turned out they way I wanted it to be. I made the decisions on what to study, and how much to study. I met extra-ordinary people whose life stories enchanted me, and made me feel like doing more with my own. I was pushed to my limits, and I stretched my imagination. And every night I went to bed feeling, “today was a good day, but tomorrow is going to be so much better”. And it was.
I’m going to miss Stanford with all my heart. I will forever be grateful for the opportunities I got, the great minds I met, and the community I lived in. I’m going to miss those sun-kissed sandstone buildings, looking down on me, ever smiling, ever comforting. But I will miss the people within those sandstone buildings even more. Thank you for the enlightening talks, the enchanting discussions, and the countless hours of whimsical, wistful dreaming. You have helped shape the journey of my own self discovery. Thank you Stanford for helping me live my dream.
If you’re new here, this is the ninth awesome post in the series of guest blog posts. This experiment has been successful so far because of people like you. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear from you. You’re welcome to write about anything under the sun. The more, the merrier. Drop me a line, and I’ll get back to you.
I’m curious how different and challenging it would be for a person not from IIT to make it to Stanford or MIT. I wonder if someone would like to write a guest post on that. Maybe I should convince Lakshmi to share her story and do another guest post. What do you guys think?