by Julie Lythcott-Haims, '89
Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising & Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Athletics at Stanford is unique. When I have the chance to speak with prospective student-athletes about what distinguishes Stanford from its peer institutions, our prominence in NCAA Division I athletics immediately springs to mind. I tell them, “You can choose to challenge yourself in the classroom, but not in the athletics arena; you can choose to challenge yourself in the athletics arena but not in the classroom; but if you want to have the opportunity to be world class at both the only place that allows you to do that is Stanford.”
Athletics at Stanford is also unique in the way that it serves to bring our campus together. Sports are an energizing force on many university campuses but there is something different and special about the many ways by which athletics enriches Stanford life. Athletics at Stanford builds family.
I am a campus administrator today but once upon a time I was on the women’s novice crew team at Stanford, and I often speak fondly of that experience. While the stories of grueling workouts are always fun to retell, and the thrill of competing for the Cardinal is fun to relive, the piece of the story I am sharing with you now is the fierce loyalty to Stanford forged not by competing for Stanford but by being on the sidelines cheering for my Stanford teammates.
You see I wasn’t very good at women’s crew. Freshman year, about 30 women came out for novice crew, but the coach intended to field only two boats of eight. Week after week Fall Quarter the tall girls were released from the drudgery of running laps on the practice field and doing endless workout drills, and were taken to those sleek bullet-shaped shells at the boathouse. I was not among them. Once the two boats were filled, I imagine Coach Wendy Davis hoped the remaining 14 of us would drop out, but we didn’t. We came to practice day after day, ran the drills, did our ergs. Much to the dismay of the coaching staff we stuck it out, but ultimately we were rewarded for our efforts and commitment by their decision to field a third boat of women’s novice rowers. I stroked that boat – which means I sat across from the coxswain and set the pace. You might say I was the best of the worst. We were tough and scrappy in that third boat. We tried hard. But we weren’t very good and our first regatta proved that point.
The San Diego Crew Classic lay ahead but I knew Coach could only send two boats. Determined to still be a part of it, we of the third boat road-tripped to San Diego – about an 8 hour drive – to surprise our teammates. They didn’t know we were there until they heard us on the bridge spanning the river, cheering louder than the other supporters. Our Stanford teammates looked up in astonishment when they rowed past us wildly applauding their efforts.
I don’t remember if we won or lost in San Diego, but I do remember that in that moment atop that bridge, I learned that we Stanford folk are a family. We pull for each other, we pull with each other, and we belong to each other when all is said and done and the last spectator or opponent has gone home. I like to try to inspire our students to feel the same. I tell them that whenever the Cardinal competes, I feel like I’m competing and the outcome – win or lose – feels personal. Thankfully at Stanford there are far more wins than losses, and there is a great deal more to Stanford Athletics than mere wins and losses. But even in those moments of great disappointment over an outcome, we take solace in knowing at least we are headed back to Stanford. To the Stanford family. Where we belong.
Julie Lythcott-Haims ’89 is Stanford’s Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising and Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. At the helm of the office known as Undergraduate Advising & Research, Julie oversees pre-major advising, pre-professional advising, undergraduate research grants, the transition of freshmen and transfer students, and academic standing and petitions. She aims to foster in undergraduates a deep and authentic sense of belonging to Stanford’s community of scholars, and oversees the design of programs, opportunities and outreach efforts in furtherance of that goal.
Julie has a degree in American Studies from Stanford and a Law degree from Harvard. She practiced law in Palo Alto for several years prior to rejoining the Stanford community as an administrator in 1998.