[To be honest, I’ve had a little bit of writer’s block lately, under the circumstances. I spent the last two weeks studying for finals, taking my last possible final at the very last possible time for Harvard, which is even later than MIT – Friday, 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM – and so while most everyone else had packed their suitcases and stored their boxes and was running around screaming like chickens with their heads cut off I was trying to spoon-feed myself solid food again. Now that I’ve moved out of the dorm and into a fraternity for the summer and have gone comatose on a San Diego beach with some friends, I’m revisiting this entry. I started writing this on the plane home for spring break and never got around to finishing it, so naturally the best time to start working on it again was right smack dab in the middle of finals week. Sometimes I like to take a step back and look at my choices and think, “well planned, you”, and this is one of those times. WELL PLANNED, YOU.]
Change – it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. Big change, political change, we need change. On a more personal level, it’s something that I’ve been itching to write about over the past two years, and have never really found a way to coherently put those thoughts to paper. But on this flight home, after two ridiculously trying weeks and after my left leg has almost completely fallen asleep, I’m going to give it a shot (and hopefully succeed at the coherent part before the bottom half of my body gives way entirely to deep vein thrombosis).
If I were to write to a letter to my past self, myself just before entering college, I probably would have said something like “Things are about to change. Also, pack more socks.” I already knew this in the past anyway – not the socks part, the other thing – so why would I reiterate that? I know I remember that anxious anticipation vividly. I could feel it coming like Tony from West Side Story, bounding gracefully around a rooftop singing about some dream he had. (I did not do this.) In fact, to me, change was the point– I actually never seriously considered attending any schools on the West Coast, because I wanted to get away from eighteen years of the expected. And so I moved, 3,000 miles away from a little town and a lot of who I used to be.
In retrospect, it is the best advice I can give to someone trying to choose between colleges – go far.
When I think about myself in high school, the way I perceived myself and the way others perceived me, the difference is almost comical. I had never played Guitar Hero, never learned from one of the world’s leading experts on polyketide synthase, never baked a ransom cake for a fake kidnapped cat. I rarely stayed up all night talking about the future until maybe the summer after my senior year, and I definitely didn’t have a blog that was read by more people than the guys I ate lunch with, and maybe one random dude in Moscow.
(Of course, some things never change. I still eat peanut butter and jelly out of the jar from a spoon. I still watch “You’ve Got Mail” when I’m sick, and I still like staying up late for no reason even though I’m a morning person. I also, obviously, still plan things out really well.)
Nelson Mandela once said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered,” and I’m pretty sure when he said that, he wasn’t thinking of me. I don’t think he meant to talk about migrant college kids, kids who love their school and have never experienced many of the situations and emotions that come along with it, but still left their heart in San Francisco 3,000 miles away. Nelson Mandela had his own problems (the understatement of the year!). So it’s just a coincidence, then, that his words fit our story so perfectly. I come back here and my friends and I will naturally marvel about how our hair’s lengthened or shortened, how Avni finally figured out how to use eyeliner and how Mike suddenly became the life of the party even though we barely knew him to speak before – in the backdrop of the same diner we inhabited for most of high school.
But personal change aside, there’s also the fact that college, no matter where you end up, is a rapidly changing environment by definition. Like its component parts, the students that are constantly developing themselves, college is a highly permeable membrane with things and ideas and people passing in and out of it. You fall in love unexpectedly with a senior two months before he leaves for grad school on the opposite side of the country. Your roommate moves away out of the because she can’t stand the rowdy Hungarians that occupy the suite next door. You find yourself failing physics when you’ve never had trouble mastering E&M before, but all of a sudden all the Biot-Savart equation just falls out of your head like it was never even there.
What other option do you have but to adapt?
Maybe that won’t be you. Maybe you’ll come to college and your bearings will come to you instantly, imported, installed, and ready to go, and you’ll find a group of rock-solid people who will be supporting you always. But if you’re not from The Matrix, you’ll have to figure it out on your own.
The good news is, most of the people here have encountered the same situations you’re about to jump into, especially in your freshman year at MIT. We’ve done REX and we’ve discovered time and time again that Anna’s burritos are really all kinds of terrible for you, but we still keep going back for more; we’ve overslept 20 minutes of one of our last big exams of the semester and burst frantically into the exam hall with greasy hair and drool on our chins. The only constant thing about change is that it never stops, especially now, and we know that too. Maybe it’s something I’ll never fully come to terms with, but I’m working on it.
One summer is all that separates me from junior year and the complete rollercoaster of being a sophomore, that year when you’re hypothetically just starting to know what’s up but still change your major at least once or thrice, and I’m just sort of starting to get comfortable. And still, even though I’ve written that change is constant, I have to remind myself I can’t depend on things to be the same. It’s a lesson I’m still learning the hard way, as I’m pretty sure now that there isn’t any other way to get it in your head. So as you begin to make the leap into the first year of the rest of your life, know that the people around you are changing just as you are, but don’t worry too much about taking my words to heart – I promise you’ll be reminded of them sooner than you think.
Packing more socks, though – I’m serious about that one.