On Why You Can Never Really “Get Out”

I’m one of the few and the proud from my neighborhood to accomplish the feat of “getting out.” If you are poor and went to Stanford, I don’t need to explain what that means, but it has a particular meaning. Getting out means leaving the neighborhood and escaping poverty. It means that you assimilate into the middle or upper class and it’s a very American dream. The fact that I went to Stanford matters. I know it matters because I know how I was treated before I went to Stanford. Everything from the way clerks in stores to the way my doctors treat me are impacted by my having gone to Stanford. My intelligence didn’t change, but it’s the ultimate “get out of jail free” card with everyone with authority and power. I know that the only reason I can write and be heard is because of the school I went to. I know that my healthcare is better when I go to the doctors in my Stanford gear. I watched several family members die because of substandard health care. When my cousin killed himself the summer before I entered Stanford, the therapist at Stanford told me that it was expected given his demographic information, as if demographics made it easier to mourn the death of someone I cared about, as if his life was worth less. Because I have two Stanford degrees, I can promise you that if I died tomorrow people would make a huge deal out of it. No one would have cared outside the individuals who loved me when I was 15.

I am grateful I went to Stanford but I encountered so much bigotry there, directed at me, directed at my friends, directed at my family. Directed at the people who backed me no matter whom I was or where I was. People who sacrificed so I could do the thing they knew they couldn’t. People whose love was imperfect but incredibly real. I was never angry with my parents for what they couldn’t give me. I knew that if they had the choice they would have given me everything, but my parents didn’t have the choice. My success was built on a community that to this day is incredibly grateful to have been part of building something. This knowledge is never that far from my mind or from my heart, it propels me in ways I don’t even notice.

My childhood was hard, but I’ve known the kind of love that is forged in blood and sweat and hard labor. I know that kind of love that makes you say with the utmost sincerity that you would die for someone. I would. There are people in my life that I love enough to take a bullet for, so taking the heat at Stanford felt like a completely fair burden. How else could I possibly repay the love I have known?

I got out. The proof is in this blog. The proof is in the way I now eat salads with weird cheeses which are delicious but which were completely foreign to me when I got to Stanford. The proof is in the number of languages I speak and the places I’ve traveled to. I can’t deny that reality. But, part of me can’t or won’t leave, and maybe that’s because the place where I still feel the most love is the place where I experienced the deepest pain. Or maybe it’s because I still owe a huge debt. To my big sister who sacrificed for me in ways I will never be able to pay her back for. To my mom, who gave me the best of herself at the sacrificial alter. To my little brother and sister who taught me how insignificant my life was in the face of the love of a child. You never leave. You just carry that part of you everywhere. Balancing the two is hard and a testament to how divided our country is, but I am both. I was born both. I lived as both no matter where I was. Someday I will die as both. I can no sooner let go of that piece of me than I can give back my years at Stanford. I can only move forward, as a complex and a deeply loved and loving human being.