A Breakup Letter to Stanford University

by Alok Vaid-Menon, ’13

you are eighteen — give or take a few
shots of espresso and one night stands —
and you are sandwiched in the backseat
of the car with the six suitcases you somehow convinced your mother
to let you pack for college — let’s call it,
being upfront to your roommate that you are
coming with baggage

and you never were one for cliches, but you felt
part of something bigger than yourself,
your parents — called it “becoming an adult”
but you called it staying out past your bedtime dancing
called it holding his hand on the street,
called it safe, and sometimes even

your peers thought you were endearing
for holding onto the y’alls and fixin to’s   —
the relics from your past that you
somehow managed to fit inside,
along with all of their new advice like:
do not eat with your hands, like
do not speak about things that interest you unless you are in a classroom,
like do not speak out,
like do not

so you believed
that this was the way things were supposed to be:
sitting in lecture and mistaking your pulse for a sign of life
mistaking school as an education

now you are twenty one years old
and your grandparents cannot come to graduation
but they tell you that they are so proud of you
that they came to this country and worked here
for this moment — their dandelion seed somehow blown
across the ocean and blooming into a man,
receiving a degree from an elite university
untying his noose and re-tying it as a bow tie
this is how you disguise a skin with a suit
this is how you make brown beautiful

and you smile, the most marketable skill you have learned at Stanford:
for they have not taught you to be fluent in the truth
that you have spent the past four years making caves in library basements,
trying to find more excuses not to drop out
that you have spent more time
running away from this campus then letting it teach you how to forget yourself

my university tells me that I have received a degree with distinction
but they will award the same diploma to the boy next to me: the one with one letter
and six figures away from me,
the one who invited a war criminal to speak at dinner sophomore year and called her
“an inspiration,” the one who just accepted a job offer with a business
that left hundreds of thousands of people starving, but at least hires gay people and liked the format of his resume —
the way that the blank parts are so beautiful like the silence
necessary to graduate from a university where we are assigned so much reading that
we forget how to speak, forget how to feel, graduate from a university
where we forget how to poor, forget how to brown, forget how to human

i received an email that our class has
selected Mayor Bloomberg to be our keynote speaker —
the man who encourages the police to stop and frisk our
brothers in new york and hide them in cages disguised as justice:
who needs papers when our bodies are already the evidence?
the man who tells the press that there are no homeless people in new york because he drowned them all in Sandy or paid them minimum wage to shine his shoes,
dick, and ego all at the same time (let’s call it, efficiency)

It makes so much sense:
the way this university has taught us that our hearts are only
useful if we can sell each beat for a profit:
STOPS its public service with the Haas Center
and FRISKS the activists for more results
STOPS its  education at the demonstrations
and FRISKS the keynotes for tips on how to steal the world

they tell me that i am surrounded by our future leaders
who will clap so hard when Bloomberg finishes his speech
because maybe if they are loud enough
they will not hear the growing pains of
our dreams becoming dictators
beliefs becoming Bloombergs 

So at the ceremony when you see me crying I will pretend that you understand.
So when you post photos from your new office view, your five star restaurants, I will pretend that you understand why I am not there
And when you refuse to see me
And when you refuse to see us
Like Bloomberg and Condoleezza, and all the other bullies you
wanted to become in middle school
Like Hennessy, and Blair, and all the other white men who
designed your curriculum — I mean this empire — and disguised it as an education

We will be outside burning our degrees to keep warm,
But, we, we will finally be happy
Without you


alok vaid-menon is an activist who 
creates art that envisions what ifs and 
other alternatives. you can read some more
of their work at: http://returnthegayze.tumblr.com/

If you’d like to see Alok and their comrade, Janani, perform poetry across the U.S., check out their tour calendar: http://j1janani.wix.com/darkmatter#!landscapes/ck0q

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16 thoughts on “A Breakup Letter to Stanford University

  1. David says:

    This is one of the most self-absorbed things I’ve read on this site (and that’s saying something).

    If “smiling” was the only “marketable skill” you left Stanford with, that’s no one’s fault but your own. The privileged, ungrateful, holier-than-thou attitude in this piece is disgusting.

  2. JustAnother says:

    I sympathize with him on a lot of the hypocritical stuff, and WANT to sympathize a lot more as I’ve had a seriously rough time at that school, but as a whole (especially if you’ve read his other stuff, or that of his friend), it’s unnecessarily looking for bad, for the darker shadows, for anything that can possibly pointed at with a finger and shout (in a catchy slam-poetic rhythm) “Racist! Homophobic! TOO politically correct!”. It’s looking for drama, for glorifying aspects within a life that has been (to his dismay) touched by the feeling of normality. He is angry at the normality of it all, the lack of a “literary” feel. It’s result is like reverse racism, reverse phobias. Where white is inherently bad because of the missteps of a brainwashed culture generations ago, where the size of your parent’s wallet is suddenly a badge of your sinister soul, where working for a goal that has been passed to you through social and parental education is proof of your evil intentions. The student next to you is not a demon, but, like you, is aiming for what he/she believes to be right, and if that “right” is your “wrong”, blame it on social upbringing. Nurture before nature. It is so shallow to hate them all because of their goals (they aren’t even really THEIR goals!).
    On the other hand, I do feel like I’ve been jumbling around lots of the same thoughts as this fellow schoolmate – minus the hate, because when I get angry at the system, at the people, I choose not to look at them with fury, but rather to question why it is that I am bothered, why it is that I let it affect me, and what social influences have allowed this to happen. I look upon it in ways to help myself. Change starts from within. This guy needs to be, as Dostoevsky put it, “Slapped”, shaken by the external world, the realization that others are just like oneself (projections of oneself even).
    Get out of your underground, open your eyes, grow out of all the anger (it is only met by anger from the other side – a division of sides which you are only engendering).

    I share a lot of his feelings, but sometimes, when you see all your disagreements flattened out on a screen, by another person, they suddenly seem much more empty. So thanks for a great poem, and one that has helped me move out some from my own grumblings.

  3. undergrad says:

    Why do you assume that no one can possibly be happy in a job with a 6 figure salary? And the graduation speaker is picked by the senior class presidents (with input/probably some oversight from people in the President’s office), who are voted in by each class. So if you don’t like it, maybe you should have ran for office or pushed your representatives more, instead of just publicly bitching about things with no suggestions for improvements

    • undergrad says:

      It’s also total bullshit that a “progressive” blog has pre-publication comment moderation. Makes you wonder what comments they’ve censored…

      • STATIC says:

        Hi Undergrad,

        Unfortunately we receive a lot of spam comments, which can compromise the security of the site, so we have to moderate comments.

        The STATIC Editors

  4. Anonymous says:

    If you don’t find your Stanford degree valuable at all (as exemplified in your last Stanza) why are you still a student here? I don’t mean that rhetorically, it’s a serious question.

    You complain that Stanford is this hetero-normative white supremacist empire that hasn’t given you the education you wanted and yet here you still are.

    And the reason you are still here is because deep down you realize you do value your Stanford degree and you realize that it will benefit you in the future. This makes you two-faced. You’re simultaneously benefiting from a system that you do nothing but complain about.

    I mean, dropping out would be the ultimate form of protest, wouldn’t it?

  5. Stanford '13 says:

    A lot of readers are being enamored by the eloquence of the writer as opposed to the pretentiousness, aloofness, and ungratefulness of his underlying views.

    This is one of the worst pieces I have read in a long time.

  6. if you don't have anything nice to say... says:

    Does this author like ANYTHING? Is there anything he feels positively about? Is there anyone he would accept as a graduation speaker, except maybe himself? Beautiful poem, and clearly sentiments that ring true to others, but it gets exhausting to just hear this author and other activists constantly shit on everyone and everything, even themselves (for example, actively hating on white people– aren’t there lots of white people fighting for any number of his causes?). I would just love to hear one positive or uplifting thing from this community every once in a while, or even just an acknowledgement that so many Stanford students ARE listening and supporting. I feel no motivation to engage with any of this author’s messaging because I just feel like I’m getting yelled at for not being as perfectly aware/politically correct/gender-hetero-racially-anythingnormative/informed etc. as he is. Buddy, many of us are doing the best we can here.

  7. check your privilege... says:

    as someone who didn’t graduate from a 4-year college, let alone a school like stanford, this piece makes me so mad. how could you be so ignorant and ungrateful? you really need to check yourself. not all of us have the privilege to attend such an INCREDIBLE university. and some of us actually have to deal with bloomberg’s fucked up politics, not just complain that he’s the speaker at our graduation

    • Stanford Alum says:

      while I kind of understand where your feelings are coming from, I think that you are really unfairly characterizing Alok’s sentiments as ungrateful. Stanford looks “incredible” from the outside…and just because popular belief says one thing doesn’t mean its true. And I really don’t think his feelings should be insulting to anyone who didn’t go to Stanford or didn’t go to a 4 year college. He had a Stanford experience that while, unfortunately unfulfilling, was HIS and he is entitled to that. In fact, his experience is largely synonymous with my own and that of many others I know. By definition its not ignorance if he actually had the experience and has a body of knowledge to speak on.

      And while at first glance it might seem insulting to some, I challenge those who feel insulted to really examine the source of their feelings. Why should someone’s sadness and disappointment and anger about their personal experiences be anything that another human being would be angry about?

      Alok’s sentiments are actually the ones that lead people to fix things like Bloomberg’s fucked up politics…..and things like our intentionally broken education system that is designed to keep most people out of four year colleges (with the exception of the elite who can attend “incredible universities” like Stanford with relative ease due to unearned privilege)….

      Attending Stanford also DOES NOT MEAN that one does not have to deal with “bloomberg’s fucked up politics”…Having grown up below the poverty line and having attended Stanford with many students from similar backgrounds AND many students who genuinely care about what’s happening to other people (even if its not happening to them), I think its totally unfair to assume he or anyone else “doesn’t have to deal with it”.

      Simply put, Stanford is not all its cracked up to be…and just because we went here does not mean we have to love it. As a rough analogy – would you expect a poor child adopted by a wealthy family to blindly love their family for the money and security that they provide even if that family makes openly derogatory remarks about other poor people? Why couldn’t he/she appreciate that they don’t have to worry about their next meal while simultaneously feeling unhappy about the way that their family treats people that the child probably identifies closely with?

      With regards to Stanford, there are pieces to love, for sure…but does simply having something that another does not mean that you have to love it in its entirety? No. Does not loving in its entirety stop us from understanding that we have been afforded things that others have not? Definitely not. In fact, it has only made me more aware that the things we commonly hail as “the greatest” (i.e. something like going to Stanford) are empty dreams at the end of the day.

      Once we start deriving fulfillment from the things that are real about the human experience (which is something that no institution can actually give you), the Stanfords of the world might actually become better places. We need to start building a world where being an community-college educated artist has a life outcome that is equally positive to that of a Stanford-educated politician. Generally speaking, everything has its place in this world – every job, every background, every sentiment. We need to start making room for all of them and stop expecting that one is more “valuable” or more “acceptable” than any other.

      Please don’t take offense to this post. Just trying to provide what I believe is an important and often silenced perspective.

      • Seriously? says:

        If you hate it so much, LEAVE! If its not all its cracked up to be, quit your self-absorbed bitching and DROP OUT, follow whatever holier-than-thou path that you see fit. If you’re still here, maybe YOU should examine the source of your feelings, because you sound like a whiny, hypocritical child who is willing to accept all the benefits of this education, but not wiling to show any gratitude. Quit biting the hand that feeds you and go find somewhere else to spread your negativity and anger, we do not want it here.

  8. Heather says:

    This really beautifully captured a lot of the feelings I had when I graduated. Thank you.

  9. Yeah yeah says:

    And we’ll be happy without you too!

  10. Anonymous Admirer says:

    Thank you (plural, apprently) so much for this incredibly original and informative piece! I never knew that Mayor Bloomberg had such weather control powers and will definitely be on the lookout come graduation. It’s good to know that at least someone is brave enough to speak the truth about these crazy mutants.

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