Without Stanford Wrestling, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
I am originally from a small town in the middle of farm country. Surrounded by corn fields, it’s the one stoplight kind of town you might pass through to get some gas but otherwise not give a second thought to as you drive away. With no AP classes and lacking the resources of many other schools, it wasn’t the type of place that sent kids to Stanford; in fact, before me it never had. Wrestling provided an opportunity for me to even consider Stanford. Through my successes both on the mat and in the classroom I was able to catch the attention of the coaches at Stanford. Without their encouragement, I would have never had the courage to submit an application and without my wrestling achievements I never would have been able to stand out from the thousands of other kids that apply every year.
When I first stepped on campus, I was shell shocked; I had never been in a place where everyone around me was so talented, and it took me a while to find my bearings. During that time I struggled academically and athletically, and I began to question if I could actually succeed at Stanford. Without the wrestling team, there is no way I would have made it. My teammates offered me a community where I felt a sense of belonging and acceptance, and in talking freely about my struggles I began to understand how to succeed as a Stanford student and wrestler. I began to understand that in order to be successful I needed to put in a lot of hard work both in the practice room and in the library. Through that hard work I began to find small successes that allowed me to gain the confidence I needed to thrive. By the end of my Stanford career I was involved with numerous clubs and organizations, earned two engineering degrees, was a four year starter and two-time captain of the wrestling team, and was on my way to starting my career in the energy industry.
Given my story, the decision to cut the Stanford wrestling team hurts me deeply because the university is taking away opportunities from many young men and women from many different walks of life. Wrestling is a diverse sport across race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and is one of the top sports for first-generation college-bound students. These kids will not have the same opportunity I had to attend a world-class university, to find a community of teammates that encourages and inspires, and to learn how to set goals, work hard, and build a meaningful life. Beyond the wrestling community, his decision also negatively impacts the Stanford community at large, because the university will lose a group of men and women who act as role models and show others how to be successful through hard work, determination, and pride. I am frustrated and upset by this decision, but above all I am hopeful. I know how hard this community can work and I know we will fight every day until this decision is overturned. I am excited for this fight because I know it is worth fighting and I know that we will win.
- Michael Sojka