Stanford graduates Nikhil Goel and Sanjay Kannan recently co-authored a self-described manifesto entitled Dreaming of Stanford: How to Rethink High School and the Pursuit of College. Like intelligent, cool older siblings, Goel and Kannan guide students through successfully finding their passions and reshaping their motives for college. In an email to El Gato News, Goel described the book as “a guide to high school, self-definition, and self-education.”
The manifesto begins by detailing conversations between Goel, Kannan, and their respective family friends. After they are asked for application tips and revered for their high SAT scores, Goel and Kannan realize that Stanford is not the “be-all, end-all of academic life.” However, for recent grads writing a statement on why Stanford isn’t the only answer, their self-awareness is key. The manifesto is not a scholarly criticism on the cons of elite colleges, nor is it an award-winning self-help book, yet the authors promise to offer “a series of questions and references to help you conclude things about your own life.” By citing obscure references to Ashton Kutcher while explaining how to find your passion and linking scenes from Rebel Without a Cause, the Stanford grads insert humor into their quest to deconstruct myths about success. Their light-hearted, well-meaning approach helps guide their argument in the right direction, turning the informative manifesto into a relatable and easy read.
Footnotes and links to related sources, news outlets, YouTube videos, and other pages in the text clarify and supplement the manifesto’s argument. The authors also include an appendix filled with books and assorted texts on existential crises, just in case the reader is curious or the book induces unexpected bouts of “cosmic horror or unshakable terror.”
The 22-year-old authors stress the importance of living life in order to pursue passion and genuine interests, instead of solely competing for college acceptance or unwanted recognition. In the forward, Goel and Kannan write that their purpose is for readers to, “for maybe the first time in [their] waking existence, control the direction of [their] actions, and more broadly, [their] life.”
Nikhil Goel (left) and Sanjay Kannan (right)
In Chapter Two, the authors discuss different ways for students to find a passion, quoting from Designing Your Life, the book two Stanford professors co-authored together in 2016. Even while covering passion, one of the most tired and over-discussed topics in self-help books, Goel and Kannan take a humorous approach and detail specific, step-by-step ways to expand your curiosity. In one footnote, they state that it is not too late for high school seniors to discover their passion. “People say that second semester is a never-ending party,” the authors write, “but treat it equally as an opportunity to scheme on your life like never before.”
In Chapter Three: Mission, the authors ask readers to derive a long-term goal for their lives. If college is not “a productive step to help you achieve your overarching mission,” Goel and Kannan assert that it is not worth going. While college is a good insurance plan, they justly believe that for some, honing a craft every day is a better option than spending four years in college. However, Goel and Kannan realize that current college students may also be reading their work, and they address university student-specific topics as well. In Part II: Rebellion, Goel and Kannan go on to discuss problems in the modern school system, unhealthy pursuits for success, and how to understand parents.
The authors state that their personal goal is “to consciously define [themselves] and to rebel against externally-prescribed definitions.” As college application season reaches its peak and admission decisions come flooding in, this time provides a retrospective, sometimes satirical take on the merits and pitfalls o dreaming of attending elite colleges.
These 50 pages of advice successfully tackle one of the most pressing, anxiety-inducing subjects for students: how to plan and live a successful life on your own terms.
Follow Nikhil on Twitter @nikhilmgoel