The habits of the elite are changing from loud luxury to quiet luxury, luxury goods to luxury beliefs, finance guys to tech bros. Nepo babies used to strive for Harvard’s Z-list, now they dream of dropping out of Stanford. Our alma mater is situated in the epitome of the modern elite: Palo Alto has always been a town of quiet luxury, with its adjacent Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli in the Stanford Shopping Mall, TheRealReal store that only sells Birkins on University Avenue, and the seemingly nondescript houses and cars that only millionaires can afford.
Gen-Z loves to “eat the rich”—a phrase rejuvenated by a recent TikTok trend, where people are shamed for being able to afford Spotify premium. Stanford students are no exception, but they forget that the rich are the ones who built their university (estimated cost: $478M in today’s money), pay their financial aid bill, and create their future jobs. The same students who are vocal about such things are the very ones who want to make as much money as possible and obsess over starting salaries. But that’s rich, coming from them, since anyone who has made it to Stanford has already become part of the very class of people they are hating on.
This anti-elitism isn’t real. When they can benefit from elitism, they embrace it. Look at identity politics: we have made status on college campuses to be activism, not traditional status symbols. Sorority girls post timely Instagram stories on current events they are uninformed about and set their pronouns in their Instagram bios. If you don’t agree with the tyranny of the minority, you have to “check your privilege” and adopt the politically correct beliefs, or join the oppressed. To this minority, it is apparently politically correct to go around and chastise people for not being on financial aid and to show off stealing from the financial aid office (there are many reimbursements that one can get, like the $600 textbook quota that many unfairly claim).
At Stanford, even the rich support this, cannibalizing themselves. Legacy sorority girls Zillow people’s houses to gossip about their parents’ net worth. They judge others for wearing ostentatious designer clothing (someone once told me they were “scared” of a girl because she wore Gucci), all while wearing their own “quiet luxury” designer clothing. They complain about not being able to afford going out to dinner, but they basically live at the package center with all the online shopping orders they have to pick up. They have no shame in counting pennies—there is too much “privilege” in being able to not ask someone to Venmo you $5.82 for a coffee you bought them.
Elite institutions are dead. Private societies are in decay. They are being replaced by other exclusive societies that are elected on identity politics. Elitism in the traditional sense used to go hand in hand with wealth, but it no longer does. Colleges used to be places for the wealthy to loaf, now they are somewhat of a meritocracy that elevates everyone. We are overcorrecting this separation, and in the process, elevating a new subset of elite voices.
What it means to be elite has always shifted with every new group that ascends the social ladder. The separation of elitism and wealth is catalyzed by other factors too: today’s tech billionaires do not embody what society most values. Likeability, attractiveness, and social intelligence used to be more critical than spending time in Wall Street Bets at the right time. More and more, it is easier to dismiss their ascent as flukes, and so we use them as society’s scapegoats. But unlike the activists crying out to raise taxes on billionaires, they’ve at least achieved the American dream. As these activists infiltrate our institutions and actively tear down any semblance of status gated by wealth, they take over and strive to achieve the same position and status in society. Yet they have contributed little to society and therefore rule with fear, not respect.
Stanford students should just accept that we attend an elite institution that transforms its students to become the elite. After attending Stanford, you will never be the underdog. Big corporations will diversity hire from Cal Poly SLO; a Stanford graduate is forever branded as privileged. It doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters that you have now fraternized with the elite, making you one too. As these people tear down classic notions of elitism from within, they have to realize that they have become the elite—and check their privilege.