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No Ceilings by Paige B. '24

next steps

Part 1: (literal) There are no ceilings.

For some reason, in a lot of buildings around campus, MIT would rather have pipes and wires and such along our ceilings than actual ceiling tiles and what not:

Insert obligatory meme response:

a screenshot from the prince of bel-air of will smith saying "if we're so rich, why can't we afford no ceiling?"

Part 2:  (metaphorical) There are no ceilings.

When I was in high school, I knew (in some vague sense) that my undergraduate education was going to open many doors for me, regardless of where I ended up. In hindsight this was true, and I’ll circle back to this idea later. But when I got here, it didn’t feel like doors were opening.

Instead, it just felt like I was taking one step at a time. When I started my freshman year, I simply looked up classes I was interested in/ones that fulfilled requirements, I signed up for them, and off I went. Because I had attended a community college in high school, it didn’t really feel all that different; there is a goal in mind as a student (graduation, for one), and you just start working on that goal.

You just, take the next step.

And sure, you might have dreams and goals of what’s going to happen 100 or 1000 steps from now. From graduate school to being a professor, or from medical school to being a doctor, or becoming any 1 of millions of things you could possible be. But you can’t get to the 1000th step without taking the first. Or the second. Or the 999th.

When I started college, I used to think these steps would be huge:

  • Go to college.
  • Go to graduate school.
  • ???
  • Be a professor.

But in reality, each step can be incredibly, and somewhat unintuitively, small. Before I really got into blogging, I used to post my “steps” to Facebook, and they were simple, but meaningful. They still are.

I am now in my final semester at MIT. I am preparing for graduate school, which used to feel 100 steps away (when in fact it was almost 1,000,000), but now it’s here. Everything I’ve done up to this point has felt, at the time, like the right next step. And because it felt like the right thing to do at the time, in some sense it was the right thing to do at the time. But I look back on my time here, and I can’t help but feel like it was mostly luck.

I was lucky that I got to take the classes that I did in the semesters that I did them. I was lucky to have gotten research opportunities that made me a better mathematician (also don’t worry, the math research blogpost is coming out soonish I just wanted to write this post first). I was lucky to get the opportunity to be here.

And while luck may have played a role in some of these things, it isn’t the whole story.

I worked hard to take the classes that I did in the semesters that I did them. I cold-emailed multiple professors for my first research opportunity, and worked hard when I had one. I put in the work in high school, and took a leap of faith and applied to MIT.

I took the first steps, and I kept working hard.

Getting into MIT was one small step on my journey that got me to where I am today. But had that not happened, I would’ve kept walking. I would be somewhere different, and I almost certainly would’ve been a very different person (at least in the ways that were shaped by MIT). But I would’ve taken the next step.

I am now in my final semester at MIT. I am preparing for graduate school, and am realizing now that all of my goals feel 1,000,000 steps away. But as I reflect on my time here, looking down on all the stairs that I climbed to get to where I am today, I am left understanding for the first time that there are no ceilings. And I could go on a long rant about how that feels specifically true at MIT– the place with literally no ceilings, and with pipes and wires and such instead. But that doesn’t feel true.

There are no ceilings because I kept walking and will continue to do so. There are no ceilings because dammit I’m gonna keep pushing hard to get to follow my dreams. There are no ceilings because you can always take the next step. This isn’t Zeno’s paradox. You’ll keep moving forward.

In two days from now, MIT is going to release undergraduate admissions results. And though I don’t have any clue what’s going to happen next, I am certain you all are going to keep going along your individual staircases. And I, for one, can’t wait for you to take those next steps.

I, again, leave you with one of my favorite quotes.

“Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.”
“Don’t you mean do well?”
“No… I mean, do good.

Boy Meets World.

You’re going to do great things.

(special thanks to allison for getting me thinking about this topic)