Hello 2024s. I’m about to go on another blogging hiatus, but I wanted to tell you some things before I go:
Exactly two years ago, I was approximately where you are now. A summer of waiting to start at MIT had finally come to a close and I was trying out my shiny new label of “MIT student.” I had just finished my FPOP, started making new friends, and decided my fall schedule.
Of course, for me, all of this was happening in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You are all so bravely navigating this transition remotely. I’ve heard your sadness, disappointment, and anxieties about this upcoming semester. I can’t imagine my first week, month, or year at MIT being anything like this. I encourage you to keep sharing your feelings and experiences with the rest of us upperclassmen. We value you as members of our community and want to help make your transition as positive as it can possibly be. We recognize your unique place in our collective transition to operating as a remote community.
Even though your first semester at MIT will be very different from mine, I think one feeling you and I might have in common is a feeling of disappointment. So many voices – peers, upperclassmen, teachers, parents, movies – had convinced me that my freshman fall would be an amazing experience. In some ways, the fall was was amazing, but many parts were actually quite difficult and painful. I’m not sure why I expected the process of finding my place in a completely foreign community to be a smooth journey. The process is inherently one that requires growth to navigate and survive.
Two years later, I can see the importance of those difficult and painful experiences in catalyzing personal growth that has made me the version of myself I am proud to be today. However, as a freshman, the growth was scary, especially because it was so unexpected. So many things were hard when I had assumed they’d be straightforward, like making close friends and getting good grades. I found myself wondering if I had made a mistake by choosing MIT – my friends at other schools seemed to be having a great time, so why was I struggling so much to feel like I belonged at MIT?
My freshman fall made me change in some important ways: I had to redefine my self worth to be less focused on academics, because for the first time in my life I wasn’t a top student. I had to interrogate my value systems and learn how to simultaneously redefine my values and stand up firmly for what I believe in. I had to learn how to handle fucking up in a more real-world sense than I ever could have in high school. I had to learn to spot and avoid succumbing to peer pressure. I had to critique and change the metrics on which I based my happiness.
Time passed. Week by week, I felt more connected to MIT. Today, I feel like I’ve definitely found my place. Have patience with yourself as you try to find your place at MIT. It’s normal for it to take a while. If you find it hard to make close friends, just know that I’ve been there too. Freshman fall can feel like a series of acquaintances, but you will find your best friends eventually (and perhaps unexpectedly). If you find it hard to find a support network at MIT, just know that I’ve been there too. You’ll find your people as you gradually discover the pockets of campus that make you happy. If you feel like MIT is too hard to handle, just know that I’ve been there too. PNR exists to handle this exact transition. Don’t get discouraged by the many challenges you’ll face this fall.
Of course, growth doesn’t stop after freshman year. I’ve found that the most important thing in overcoming each challenge is having a clear value system. When I entered college, I had a vague notion of what my values were, but actually being put in tough situations was eye-opening. I found myself unprepared to make the right decisions, especially when peer pressure was at play.
I’m much more certain now about what my values are and much more ready to stand by them. I made mistakes, but I also made sure to learn from them. You’ll probably make mistakes too – recognize that this doesn’t make you an intrinsically flawed person, but that you’ll need to make real effort to ensure that you actually learn from your mistake. Be ready to put in the work, even though it will often be hard. Mistakes are an opportunity to reflect on and redefine your values. In this process, be ready to have empathy and compassion. Be ready to listen to others’ voices and reflect on how their experiences can help fill in areas where you might have blind spots. Be ready to use your own voice, too. You are as much a member of this community as anyone else and your perspectives are important.
If you feel lost this fall, don’t worry. I’ve been there. Most of us MIT students have been there. I’m wishing you the best in your transition, but I’m also wishing you the most – I hope that your transition challenges you in a multitude of ways. I hope that you find ways to grow, even though you might be in the same physical space you were in high school. The future you will thank you later.