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FWACC! by Alan Z. '23

and some small thoughts about kindness

This Friday, at 8:05 PM01 hopefully, if we're running on schedule. in Kresge Auditorium, the lights will dim over a crowded audience. Then, moments later, for the first time in three years, dozens of students representing MIT’s nine acapella groups will burst onto the stage to welcome everyone to the Family Weekend A Cappella Concert02 lovingly known as FWACC, pronounced fff-whack. in the only way they know how: a group song.

The last time FWACC happened, I was still a freshman, desperately trying to get on my feet. In September, I had auditioned for seven or eight acapella03 this seems to be the standard spelling at MIT, although I can't really figure out why. groups, only to receive a callback from just one—the Asymptones. At the time, the experience really disrupted my self-confidence. My overwhelming feeling was that I was not good enough, and, at a school where I already felt like I was at an academic disadvantage due to my background, the realization that I was also “not good at singing” was a hard hit.

FWACC was my first concert. I auditioned for a solo in the group song04 "Sucker", by the Jonas Brothers, which was all the rage in 2019. and didn’t get it. I auditioned for a solo in one of the Asymptones songs, and ended up being assigned the lower harmony part. At the time, I took it as a small victory—I would have a solo at my first concert!—but a little corner of my heart was still disappointed. Maybe I just wasn’t good enough.

At the soundcheck before the concert, we ran our songs, making sure that everything sounded good in the large, cavernous space. I walked to the front of the stage when it was my time to start singing and did my best to produce the notes. It went reasonably well, and we were moving on to the next song when one of the music directors of the group running the show05 the acapella groups rotate the responsibility of running FWACC + CPWACC; my freshman year, <a href="http://ohms.mit.edu">the Ohms</a> were in charge. called out to me from the audience. She said it sounded great, but that I looked dead, nervous, unengaged, or some combination of those attributes. Then, she said something which has stuck with me for a long time.

“You’ve got the notes, just relax.”

I don’t know if I was really more relaxed during my performance during FWACC—the whole experience was this surreal blur of singing and adrenaline—but I remember that moment, crystal clear. It was someone taking extra time to give advice to someone not in their group, but who they knew needed it. I’ve kept that thought close to my heart ever since, and although I’m still not perfectly confident taking up space on stage, I’ve gotten better and better as time has gone by. Sometimes, you just have to perform.

As I make my way through my senior year, I have been thinking a lot about all of these small kindnesses which have shaped my experience here at MIT. I think about the senior who taught me how to prepare a turkey and run a kitchen for Thanksgiving as a terrified first-year. I think about the juniors who spotted my exhaustion the moment I walked into main lounge on one particularly difficult day in freshman IAP, and who immediately asked me if I was okay and if I needed anything. I think about the friends who have lent me their couch when I needed another place to stay; about the professors who have taken chances on me, between acceptances to choirs and support in writing workshops; the support staff who have given me help when I most needed it.

There have been ups and downs—there always are—but, when I think about what has most changed me during my time at MIT, it is these moments. These are the moments which have allowed me to develop my voice, both literally and figuratively. Without these speckled pieces of advice and support, I might never have wandered into student government, or learned to sing loudly in a choir or on a stage. Without them, I might not have believed that there was a way to live where I could be kind to myself,06 I've dropped two full classes this semester and am now in fewer units than I've <em>ever</em> been at MIT! in addition to being kind to others. In each of these moments, people believed that I was worth their time and worth their effort, even when I was not sure of that myself. In turn, with that experience, I slowly became more confident and more competent, more able and willing to put myself out there and sing, or speak, or write.

This year, three long and tumultuous years after my first baby steps into acapella, I have a solo in the FWACC group song. I’m excited. I’m nervous. Most importantly, though, I’m happy to see how far I’ve come. I’m happy to see other people in my acapella group and around my dorm take their own first steps toward taking up space and developing their own voice. I’m happy to feel like, despite everything, I am doing my best to practice kindness, hoping to pay it forward as I go.

  1. hopefully, if we're running on schedule. back to text
  2. lovingly known as FWACC, pronounced fff-whack. back to text
  3. this seems to be the standard spelling at MIT, although I can't really figure out why. back to text
  4. "Sucker", by the Jonas Brothers, which was all the rage in 2019. back to text
  5. the acapella groups rotate the responsibility of running FWACC + CPWACC; my freshman year, the Ohms were in charge. back to text
  6. I've dropped two full classes this semester and am now in fewer units than I've ever been at MIT! back to text