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Why I stayed in Spark even though I left USC

Editor's note

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This post is very special to me—not only does it come from a dear friend, but it also captures the feelings, particularly the adoration and delight, that Spark makes me feel as well. I know so many others feel the same, which is so special. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Spark at Reddit with Steve Huffman. 2019.
Spark at Reddit with Steve Huffman. 2019.

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Joining Spark is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve done in the last 4 years. I hope to convince you to join Spark by giving you one person’s take on the role and culture of Spark at a particular point in time.

I actually transferred from USC to Stanford 3 years ago, and yet I find myself incredibly loyal to Spark's mission and people, all the way up to today. That is the main kicker of this essay: that Spark has such strong bonds that someone who left the university is still involved enough to hype it up.

I got my first impression of Spark during my freshman year (Fall 2017) at a table Spark had set up as part of the USC Marshall club fair. I wasn't a business major but was very interested in entrepreneurship, so that’s why I was there. There were a bunch of people representing the Spark table, and they were extremely gregarious—and also notably they were not homogenous as far as people go, which I found encouraging. This one guy named Ankur was extremely friendly, and I ran into him on campus a couple times thereafter, and he was always just as friendly. That was cool!

I tried to join that semester but didn’t get in. I was a little bitter for a while, then gave it another go next semester and got in.

When I met some of the other members of Spark, it was genuinely the first time ever I clicked with someone else instantly and deeply. I think it was something like: Oh wow, this person is very ambitious about doing something good for the world in an entrepreneurial sense, like me! But it was also: This person is really kind and down to earth and also, well, sort of soft, like me!

I joined two of Spark committees during that first and only semester I was concurrently at USC and in Spark. The first committee organized the Startup Career Fair. The second was Founders, which organized fireside chats with current startup founders. I was also part of this little side adventure where we got Sambazon to sponsor Break to Make, Spark’s all-women’s makeathon. One thing I remember about the committees—SCF in particular—was that we were very motivated to uphold the legacy of graduated Spark members who had sweated hard and executed well to organize these things in the past. The stories of Spark’s founding were of legend. And the goal of Spark was that we wanted to get the greater student body involved with their own entrepreneurialism. We were that backbone. We were upholding this duty.

For fun and work, we occupied so many spaces. West Ann, Hacker House, upstairs Marshall, Spark House, Landon’s apartment, LA City Hall, The Boring Company, Adobe’s office, UCLA, Stripe Press, Ben’s house (Ben’s house!!).

By virtue of having many shared experiences, Spark made itself into an extremely tight-knit group, and I was extremely fortunate to be a part of that. We always made it a priority to invest in our friendships with each other rather than just remain coldly focused on “material/business”, aka regardless of whether we actually did X committee well. (Oops, I probably shouldn’t say that). But I have seen what the opposite looks like, at Stanford for example. And I think that in Spark, we strike the better balance.

I think the culture of Spark has worked out quite well. In one dimension, we have a long string of Spark alumni who cofounded startups together after they graduated. In another dimension, for many of our retreats, Bay Trips, etc., alumni come back to meet the new members, share their post-grad wisdom, and offer their support. (Alumni in their mid and late 20s; Spark is not that old). A major component of Spark is simply that we take care of each other and support each other’s ambition, regardless of time and space. We have strong alumni communities in NY, LA, and SF (incidentally the three biggest cities for yuppies lol), and this means that you will never find yourself lonely in these places if you visit or move there.

It was really hard to leave USC because of Spark, and in the years following, it still hurt. I missed my best friends; they were from Spark. It mattered less when they graduated and moved to the Bay Area, since I ended up being nearer to them at Stanford, but sometimes I wish I could get those years back.

I didn’t leave USC because of some falling out. The reason is a bit different. I gave up my senior year of high school to do undergrad at USC through USC’s RHP program. If it weren’t for me having taken that risk to make myself uncomfortable, I may have never ended up at USC and therefore with such a wonderful family in Spark. So I left again on principle when the next opportunity to be uncomfortable presented itself. My version of chasing the future, I think.

That my ties to Spark didn’t just die then and there is a testament to the strength of Spark. Everyone was supportive of my path, and it was just like I was another member or alum even though I wasn’t at USC. By the next school year, Founders had finally gotten Jamie Siminoff from Ring to come speak on campus, so I found myself helping check guests in. When Bay Trip Fall 2018 rolled around, I jumped right back in, and we had a very smoky time in San Francisco amid the wildfires. Thanksgiving 2018, a lovely Steak n Fam (semesterly potluck party). Then August 2019, back and promoting Spark at the Viterbi club fair and even interviewing new Sparklets. Bay Trip Fall 2019, I was on crutches, and I am still very touched and bewildered that everyone took turns carrying my backpack and helping me get through the city. For by this point, the group had almost entirely new members.

An infinite expanse of memories is what we have to offer, essentially. The kind of folk you’d want to build the future with, stare at campfires with, and celebrate at your wedding with.