David Powell Wood
Undergraduate Alumnus in Comparative Literature
When I first came to Stanford, I thought that I would learn the most important lessons in lecture halls. Upon reflection, however, I’ve come to realize that my most valuable learning happened in contemplation and conversations out- side of the classroom. This is not to say I didn’t learn anything in my academic studies, or even that I didn’t learn anything in lecture halls—many of these experiences were rewarding and useful. But the biggest difference between the David who came to Stanford and the David who left is in how I consider the world. In 2008, I had a lot to learn about the differences between theory and practice, intentions and actions. During my time on the Farm, I had a crash course in appreciating differences and understanding marginalization. I am deeply grateful for everything that my peers and experiences taught me.
The shifts in perspective from these lessons, as well as from my courses, have led me to be increasingly inter- ested in the influence of identity and personal experience on how we experi- ence art and the world at large. This is too overwhelmingly huge a question to have an intelligible answer, but I believe that my time spent learning about art has prepared me to at least see its shadows on the wall. Literary study is the art of interacting with something whose entirety is far too immense and complicated to ever fully comprehend. The individuality with which each of us approaches contemplating art can lead to significantly different interpretations of any particular work of art. Unless we assign greater value to one individual’s method, and thus that individual’s worldview from which it is derived, all of these interpretations are similarly valid. This mosaic of different interpretations forms a work’s overall meaning, in as much as it can exist independently of an interpreter.
While I may be taking a break from literary criticism professionally, I don’t think my time at Stanford and in Comparative Literature classes was in vain. On the most utilitarian level, the analytic and presentational skills I learned in CompLit and CS classes are invaluable at my current job. More importantly, however, my classes and compatriots have fundamentally improved the subtlety and completeness of my experience of the world. I wish everyone who has been a part of this journey the best, and thank them for all they have shown me.