May Zhou’s Suicide – Tragedy at Stanford


Update: A reddit post that includes a comment from a friend of May’s sister that provides more context and perhaps some confirmation to my initial thought,

Here is a strip of the news of the missing Stanford student:

A body discovered in the trunk of the car in a Santa Rosa Junior College parking lot was identified as that of missing Stanford University student Mengyao `May” Zhou, a Santa Rosa police spokeswoman said late this afternoon.

The spokeswoman said some items found in her vehicle “were consistent with a possible suicide.”

Zhou’s car, a silver Toyota Corolla, was found parked on the campus of Santa Rosa Junior College, the newspaper said.

Notice what was said about her:
Zhou, an accomplished student with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is assertive, happy and confident with her studies at Stanford, said her father. … Zhou was a National Merit Scholar at La Jolla High School and earned perfect SAT scores. She had a straight-A average throughout high school and earned the top score on all of her Advanced Placement tests.

Sad, especially it’s somebody from the same school and the same age as me, and much more accomplished. I got a few words to say… though I have no intent and am not making any judgement. Whether it is suicide, I sense some pain/stress/pressure involved for the girl through out her academics since I was kinda similar, until high school at least… a student always with excellent scores (not perfect like her), with Asian parents. I was certainly not a happy person. I just wonder, yes, we can be driven, she is definitely driven and successful… probably much have to do with the expectation of parents, but how much happiness actually fills the gaps of those time and how much/long can we endure – the constant stress/pressure to be perfect, the constant ever-growing expectation from parents/teachers/friends/peers, and burden that comes in social relations when one seems so perfect, etc…

Hence I became skeptic (again, I’m not judging) when her father says that she’s happy… is she really? Or rather, does he really know that she’s happy or what she feels? Perhaps he thinks she is happy because she is successful in his standard and therefore, she should feel happy. I guess what I want to say is that Asian cultural instinct of high academic requirement in parents has a tendency to cause negligence to the children’s real inner feelings. In other words, they think that, “as long as I teach you so you get a good education/degree, you’ll have a good future, and therefore you will be happy.”

Maybe this is the cause of tragedy…(disclaimer: again I am just hypothetically speaking) that she feels her closest people (parents) cannot understand… no one is reaching her heart… the feeling that she has no one to communicate to and share her sentiments and thoughts in a deeper level… making her very isolated… at least, when I myself realize that the closest people to me don’t really know me nor they care to, it’s pretty painful and I just have to forget about it. It’s the excruciating pain of absolute solitude. If I focus on that pain/feeling of isolation, I may just be angry at everyone and the world constantly. As a side-effect, I will go around causing pain for others, endure it however long possible and eventually, take my own life…

That is, how can we be happy when people automatically assume we are happy, which effectively create a non-understanding, dis-communicating environment around “us.” It’s a suffocating kind of loneliness.

Well, it’s late and I’m just jotting down thoughts w/o trying to organize much. I hope my words make some sense and you get something out of them. Perhaps someone else won’t have to feel what was described after their friends and family read this.

As last words, think about if what you are doing and will do in the future is really worth the sacrifice of happiness, or the happiness of others.

(Photo by Adam Pender)

3 Responses

  1. Dario says:

    I see your point… even if I am not asian, I can imagine what it may feel like.
    What I find really really absurd -for the lack of a better term – and as you noted, is the Father description of her daughter “assertive, happy and confident”. For god sake !! if she really killed herself, how could she be any of that??! Confident?? like what??? confidence is the result of the acceptance of oneself… happy??? yeah right.

    But even you, Kin, felt in the same trap… may be without realizing it.. you miss the point of her death.. or better of her life… you used words like “successful” and “accomplished”. Success is not great grades, its not a 6 figure salary, is not a phd or a master, or a having a house and 3 kids. The only meaning of success, in my mind, the only true accomplishment of anyones life… is simply being happy. Knowing and accepting yourself. Anything else is simply what modern society, cultures, and ever changing values impose to the un-thinking individual.

    Everyone thinks she was real smart…. oh really? that is the poorest defintion of inteligence I can imagine. Withold informtion, have great mathematical skills does not make you inteligent. First and foremost inteligence is the ability to recognize that life is better then death. I mean… it really does not get more simple then that. When I was taking parachuting free fall classes the firt thing my instructor told me: “the sole thing you need to remember after you jump, is to open the parachute”. Inteligence, in the true sense of the word, is something much much larger. Recognize the gift of life, the rare opportunity to see, feel and understand… It’s take care of your body as much as your mind… control your emotions and find the strenght to be compassionate.. not only to others but to yourself.

    One last comment … my life experiences brought me to the realization, long time ago, that parents -by nature- don’t know their kids. I don’t know if it is an evolutionary impossibility, or a society endemic mis-behaviour… but
    … in the vast majority of the cases, this is what happens.
    So you are not alone, and please don’t suffer for that… once you accept reality for what it really is, and you empty your mind from expectations, then you realize that suffering just went away.

  2. GiE says:

    Interesting story……..
    She doesn’t look like the big bookworm type either.

    I got curious and digged out some more news on this…

    He said his daughter’s roommate saw no sign his daughter was depressed and that his daughter did not have any problems with her school work.

    There, depressed = problems with her school work? Hmmm if she really did suicide, I really wonder that’s about academic honestly. But it looks like that’s his dad’s assumption? One doesn’t live on this world just to study…. Maybe it’s the newspaper who tried to make it sound that way, but I doubt it.

    “If you’re thinking about your resume, why would you be thinking about suicide?” Yitong Zhou asked in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.”

    Once again… If she is thinking about resume, it doesn’t mean that other things can’t get into her way and took the thought about resume away… Doesn’t that prove again it might not really be academic related? It looks like he thinks that academic is her whole life… This is kinda ridiculous…

    Zhou also said that his daughter conducted some “unusual” banking transactions before her disappearance, but he did not elaborate on the details.

    Maybe he should elaborate. Maybe he does know why the suicide happened but is just in denial of it. Nothing seems unusual to him so why not dig into these unusal transactions?

    It makes me think that there is some hidden stories behind it.

    I guess I’m really thankful that my parents have always let me decide on what I wanna do academically/career-wise. This father apparently cares nothing about her daughter besides academic, academic and academic. To him, her inner feelings can only be affected academically?? OMG if that’s true… it’s so wrong…..

  3. WC says:

    Well, there are still a lot of unanswered questions:

    1) Why there are posts/comments trying to link “Sebastian Thrun” and “Eric Schmidt” to her death ? What has they got to do with it ?

    2) Why did she choose the most unusual way (in the trunk) to commit suicide ?

    3) Although we only argue from the academic’s and parents’, pressure perspectives it may be related to relationship issues ? Nobody know if she was dating someone who is hidden. Or bad luck, a criminal attempted to do something to her and she fought back but accidentally did the wrong move?

    Sorry if I think too much…

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