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Anthony R. '09

Aug 7, 2014

I Remember…

Posted in: Miscellaneous

It is difficult for me to accept that the MIT Blogs are turning 10 this year.  It means that 10 whole years have passed since I, myself, sent in my own MIT application.  I remember the day I brought it to the post office, and I even more vividly remember the day -- December 14, 2004 -- when my acceptance packet arrived in the mail.  I remember driving downtown to pick up the envelope, and the rush of feelings that went along with it.  Heck, I still have the envelope!  And I remember the friends I made online as a prefrosh even before CPW, thanks to the new admissions site that Ben Jones created, where we could all check in and get to know each other.

At the time, Facebook was pretty basic and wasn't even open for high school students to join -- we had to wait until May to get our MIT email addresses, and even then, you could only see the profiles of other MIT students on the site.  There was no MIT prefrosh group on Facebook, and there was really no other way to find each other, either, unless you happened to know your fellow admitted students in your city or state.  Most prefrosh didn't have smartphones (which were quite limited at the time -- this is before there was such a thing as the App Store).  Basically, the MIT Blogs were our lifeline, even after we had accepted and didn't need to be "sold" on MIT any longer.  Compared to the penetration of social media among today's prefrosh, I guess you could say we were pioneers!

I remember that a few enterprising prefrosh, while counting down the months to the start of freshman year, posted some blog comments inviting everyone to join an AIM chat room called "MIT09."  For many of us, it immediately became our go-to hangout spot all year.  It was the smartest and most engaging group of peers I'd ever met -- all with their own interests, personalities, and opinions, of course -- but damn, they were smart!  There were things we'd talk about until the wee hours of the night ... yes, even on a school night ... that, I think, completely reassured all of us that we were making the right decision in choosing MIT.  This was a peer group that was unlike any that we knew from our high schools or local communities, especially to people like me who grew up in rural America.  We all met in person at CPW, and many of us ended up staying in touch throughout our time at MIT (and beyond).  But it was the blogs that first brought us together.

I had the unique privilege of creating my own MIT Blog in my freshman year, and enjoyed the opportunity to represent the very community that I found so compelling as a prefrosh.  Like many of my fellow freshmen, I had a hard time adjusting to MIT's rigorous academic environment, and I was fortunate to have a platform where I could candidly share those ups and downs as I found my way (which, I'm happy to say, I did!).  I got to know some really awesome prefrosh who were a year or two behind me, and wouldn't you know it, I still keep in touch with a few of them.  And I would frequently get these personal messages from parents and alums who felt a strong connection to their own experiences, or those of their children, through my blogs.  It was immensely rewarding, kept me grounded, and reminded me that there was a big world outside of MIT.

I did my best to stay connected to that outside world, even as I got more and more involved with my major, classes, and research.  Instead of buying new gadgets, I would save up my money for travel and then stay at hostels with friends.  I made it a point to spend time with hallmates who were older than me and had a lot of MIT experiences to share -- people who made the same mistakes I had, or different ones, and then saw their way out of them.  And I got involved in UROPs and started sitting in on grad classes as soon as I could.  I even moved into a house off campus with some older friends from my dorm who were graduating and staying in the area.

I've now been away from MIT for a little over four years, having stayed an extra year to also complete a master's degree.  Let me tell you -- time flies.  For me, the MIT experience was all about getting to know exceptional people (students, staff, and faculty), getting involved in exceptional research, and just learning and growing in more ways than I can even recognize today.  I suspect that, each in their own way, this is the story of every MIT student.  Regardless of what you major in, or how many degrees you leave with, or what path you ultimately take, MIT gives you the toolbox to move forward and actually succeed in the environment of your choosing.

MIT taught me how to think, act, behave, analyze, listen, contribute, compose myself, be confident, work on a team, and basically all of those things that make you a functional adult -- but at the MIT level.  MIT taught me what I'm really good at (and conversely, what I'm NOT so good at), so I've been able to capitalize on that knowledge and focus my time and energy chasing after goals that align with my true abilities.  This is what made MIT so completely worth it, and what I believe has directly led to my success in my professional endeavors to date.  You come in as a freshman with a ton of pure, unbridled passion, and you leave with a plan for how to channel that passion in a positive and productive way that benefits you and everyone you touch.  It is not always an easy process, but you will be better for it in the end!

I want to close this post with special gratitude for two former MIT administrators (and Bloggers) who profoundly shaped and enabled my MIT experience when it mattered the most: Ben Jones and Daniel Barkowitz.  I will never forget how far above and beyond they went to offer support and counsel when I and many others needed it, coaching us when we were down and cheering us when we finally found our way.  To Ben and Daniel, MIT was much more than just a job, and it showed.  I think I speak for many students when I say that I count them as a fundamental part of my time at MIT.

You, too, will meet some very special and dedicated people at MIT who support you no matter what, give generously of their time and of themselves, and even take you on as a personal project when you need their guidance.  They might be fellow students, or professors, or administrators.  Cherish them, and never say no.

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