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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Guest Blog: From the Life and Times of Cam by Yan Z. '12

Tonight’s blog entry is brought to you by Cam, a resident of CAMbridge, the owner of a CAMera, and an early action acceptee to the MIT Class of 2013. A few months ago, Cam asked me if he could do a guest blog, to which I responded with some hesitation (to be exact, a few months of hesitation). However, it turned out that Cam’s story had more to do with MIT than basically everything I’ve ever posted on this page, so I begrudgingly agreed to usher his blog entry into the multicolored web portal of MIT admissions. Also, on a personal note, I’ve unwittingly entrenched myself in a mudslide of classwork and undergrad research this January, so blog entries from myself will sparsely surface to the light of your computer screen in the coming weeks.

For the record, it’s virtually unheard of for MIT prefrosh to write guest blogs before CPW. Cam’s situation is somewhat unusual, however, so I’ll let him explain the rest.

Guest Blog, by Cam

(Note added December 31st, 2008:) Hi, internet. This is my story. Not the story of my life, but part of the story of
the intersection of my life and MIT – which is surprisingly large for a high school senior. I wrote it for personal reflection (I enjoy writing) and posted it on a personal blog, but also for the admissions blogs in the hopes that it could be helpful. When I found out that I got into MIT, among other things (including a visit to campus to celebrate with some friends) I found myself immediately faced with the question of: Should I enroll? I’m sure many other EA admits are facing the same question, and many RD applicants will be too. I hope that my story can be helpful to you. This is what MIT has meant to me over the last two years (well, 725 days). These are the kinds of opportunities MIT offers – and these only to a local high school student! This is the kind of place MIT is. There is naturally much more to MIT, but this is one small part and I hope that it’s a part you’ll enjoy reading about. That being said, MIT is obviously not for everyone, but if you’re on the fence about it then hopefully my experience will help you to make your decision (in favor of MIT). Also, I’ve added some new pictures from last night to the end of this entry, so I hope you’ll enjoy those too.

Onto the entry (originally authored November 15th, 2008):

This has been a long time coming.

One year, ten months, and ten days, at the time of this writing, I believe. (November 15th, 2008)

See, that was when I first came to MIT. But to start this story, we have to step a bit farther back than that. This story begins with a young boy, a goofy grin that lives on till this day, and an Amiga 1000 (which likewise lives on, in similar good health.)


This story begins with a seven year old boy, a little bit older than the one in the picture, sitting on his dad’s lap learning to use lisp to generate silly sentences. This story begins with a fourth grade boy, realizing he can customize KDE. This story begins with a high school sophomore wondering why the lecture hall has ethernet jacks on the floor.

See, for the first half of my life, I wanted to go to MIT. I didn’t know why. It’s how I was raised; before I knew what MIT was, I knew that I was supposed to get a scholarship, go there, and then make my family proud. I didn’t even know what a scholarship really was — I thought they were things that the smartest people in the world got and you could go to college for free, no room, board, meals, or tuition. When $5 was a big purchase for me, the idea of college for free sounded pretty cool. But that wasn’t why I tried hard in school, because in all fairness, I didn’t really try hard.

I did well because I liked it, as much as I would often hate to admit it. And I wanted to go to MIT not through any connection with academics, but because I liked what I could do with the computers that pervaded our house. Computer science majors all go to MIT, right? That’s how it worked. From my “silly sentences” lisp program at age seven, to my sixth grade blackjack games and “hello world” programs in a double digit number of languages — I never got farther than that in most of them –, to my Mandelbrot set renders on TI calculators, I came to love computer science and computers. Programming was awesome; it gave me this power, not to control the world around me, but to simply direct it in ways beautiful and occasionally useful.

This is what I felt for the first half of my life. I use the word “half” not for a sense of chronology but simply as an indicator of the most important turning point thus far in my life. Back then, I knew what I wanted, and the path was clear. I would get all As in school, continue learning programming — not from classes or because I was forced to, but because it was fun and I liked to teach myself — and I’d go to college on a scholarship, study it, then go out into the world. Even though I stopped getting all As rather quickly — my first A minus came in the eighth grade, and I was more disappointed with myself than my parents were with me — that didn’t occur to me that it’d influence my views. School was still easy, I still liked programming, and I was obviously going to MIT because I liked computer science. Wait, what was MIT?

My attempt at a very tourist-y picture… but it’s a fun one to take anyway.

It’s funny the way the world comes full circle sometimes. Makes you wonder why it does. (I realize after writing this that only those of you who know me, and maybe not even most of you, will get how that applies.) When I was really young, I had a great friend named Max. I actually thought Max was from another town. We played Star Fox 64 together while eating s’mores in his living room, and he had a really cool gold-colored dumbbell in his room that I couldn’t lift. His family’s car’s seats reminded me of waffles, for some reason. Max and I hadn’t really seen each other since elementary school, though, even though I later found out he did live in the same town when we all then went to the same middle/high school. (Our town has three elementary schools). In fact, I don’t think I’d talked to him in a few years — when somebody isn’t in any of your classes, it’s easy to forget they exist. Little did I expect that a phone call from Max to my friend Costas would change my life.

So my friend Costas calls me up on what I believe was a Friday night. My phone’s call log doesn’t go back that far (ok, I don’t even have the phone anymore, you caught me). Regardless, it was pretty short notice. “Hey Cam, Max, Mike, and I have been going to this robotics thing at MIT for a few months now and there’s a meeting tomorrow if you want to carpool with us.” Gee, thanks for inviting me initially, it’s great to be more than an afterthought. Well, my Saturday morning wasn’t an otherwise occupied block of time, so off I went. Little did I know I could never turn back.

I definitely didn’t know it that morning, but that — my first introduction to MIT — had opened my eyes. We sat in a lecture hall (3-302, I believe?) for a good five hours with students we’d never seen before from other schools and watched astronauts bumble around in what I presume must’ve been space. We had pizza. And then, we watched a man wearing too much denim talk to hear the sound of his own voice for a lil’ while. This guy with a cool name came on, talked some more about this whole “robotics” thing, and then we waited for Ed and Shane to get back from New Hampshire with our robot parts.

If you’re not familiar with it yet, that January 5th constituted my introduction to FIRST robotics. Every night for six weeks after that, we drove to the Alewife MBTA station or directly into Cambridge, depending on traffic, to sit in the basement of a Sloan building. (Sloan is MIT’s business / management / whatever that junk’s for school). Building E60.

(Shane, Matt, and I in E60)

I spent more hours in E60 than I spent doing homework those months. To begin getting to my point, I shall summarize a little. The three aforementioned friends and I worked on MIT’s Team 97 that 2007 FIRST season. I came in knowing how to write “hello world” in at least ten languages, and came out knowing not much more. I gained some experience, though — I had very few contributions to the robot, but I learned how to use some tools and slowly caught on. I came out, though, with my eyes open — opened to a world I’d only seen in LEGOs, opened wide to something I’d never even thought of before. Opened to engineering, opened to new friendships, and opened to MIT.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so pretend I wrote a thousand words about what actually happened that season.

(I’m not in this one)

After working on Team 97 that year, we left MIT. We wanted to bring FIRST to our school, so that other Wayland students could see what we’d seen that rainy January morning and what we’d slowly been taking in throughout the FIRST season. However, as is often the case when MIT’s grabbed hold of a human soul, MIT did not let go.

Us four from Wayland stayed around, working that summer with a few other FIRST students to create the DIY Segway. I didn’t build much of it, but when I stayed up till three in the morning on AIM, talking to Shane as we scribbled away on skrbl, I knew something. As Shane sketched out for me the sensors and balancing system and we wrote the code to balance the DIY Segway, I saw something I’d never seen before. I saw code manifest in the physical world, a beautiful fusion. Sure, the result the next morning when I came in to test was not so beautiful. The segway lurched back and forth until a table was kind enough to stop it. But that didn’t matter — hours of frustratingly fun debugging later, we hopped on and wobbled in place. It worked.

What I saw there removed all final doubt. I don’t want to be a computer science major. That was my dad’s dream (he’s a computer science major). He didn’t ever force it on me, but I had taken it for myself with passion. Now, though, now that I had seen what real engineering was, I couldn’t go back. I won’t say my mind’s closed to other options, but at the moment I know that I am going to major in mechanical engineering. MIT, especially so through Shane (the then-undergraduate, now-graduate student who’s worked with us on FIRST and all subsequent projects, and who’s also a pretty cool dude), had pushed me away from the very thing which originally enamored me of MIT.

The Segway put a temporary halt to MIT involvement for the rest of the Wayland four, as we buckled down to focus on nurturing FIRST in our hometown. I don’t know what drew me back, but it didn’t stop me.

The most amazing thing is that MIT has never stopped blowing me away. That feeling I got when I watched the FIRST kickoff in 2007; the feeling I got when the segway lurched forwards and we tried to catch it; that feeling has never gone away. MIT continues to show me the world in an entirely different light.

MIT has given me great opportunity. MIT has given me great friendships. MIT has even given me a great amount of money (yeah, you think I could afford to pay for that robot above with the money I made working at the town library? Not a chance).

MIT’s given me a lot. This summer, I was hired by the Edgerton Center as a “TA” for a grades 9-12 robotics course, modeled after 2.007 / “270” / whatever you will (A competition course taken by mechanical engineering sophomores). This summer, I was finally able to start giving back.

The coolest thing about a place like MIT is that my experience is not a unique one. I’ve certainly been spoiled by MIT, but this summer I saw MIT bring to a new group of students what it brought to Max, Mike, Costas and I back in 2007. MIT continues to open the world’s eyes to engineering, and not just a few high school students at a time — but that’s not something I can easily show you.

The point is, I’ve come a long way, and I wouldn’t be where I am without MIT. Wherever I end up going to college next fall — be it MIT, Olin, or some other wonderful school — I go now with a new sense of purpose and excitement, and for perhaps the first time in my life a true passion. Do I know what the rest of my life will look like? Of course not. However, I know that were it not for MIT, it would be — and this is where my rhetoric fails me — lame.

To the younger readers (haha, readers? good one.), I offer this simply to show you what a wonderful place like MIT can do for you. To the older readers, who are mostly MIT readers, I offer this simply as inspirational, although it’s lacking in that department. To my friends who read this — a subset which overlaps a bit with the last category — I offer this simply as a story I’ve wanted to tell and a feeling that I’ve felt the need to express for a long time, and something that I did not express adequately here and thus will probably end up expressing again.

My mom wanted me to thank my friends in my senior blurb, but I wanted to avoid all clich√©s there because it would not have sounded quite like me. However, there is something I’d like to say now. To MIT, thank you. More importantly, to my friends, especially the ones who’ve been with me through this, perhaps since that January day back in 2007, thank you. I still don’t know nearly anything about the rest of my life, but I’m starting to know a lot more about the last two years or so of it, and I couldn’t be who I am were it not for all of you.

I’m running out of words, so I’ll leave you simply with some gorgeous pictures of MIT.

My recent hobby of film photography yields pictures such as this. Taken when I was staying over in EC (not an admissions visit, just visiting a friend) a while back.

Boston Skyline #1

Oh, also, I fell in love with the Boston skyline long ago / have a (healthy) skyline picture fetish. This was taken after work one day this summer — I tried to stich multiple exposures of this into an HDR image but failed.

Sunset over MIT

I do not have Yan Z.’s apocalyptic-sunset-capturing abilities, but I like this nonetheless.

Narnia @MIT

This one deserves a blog post of its own, for the story behind it is, in short: Nothing to do on a Wednesday night? Call Shane, go out to dinner with some HS friends + MIT friends + an MIT instructor in Lexington, get free steaks and free-2-of-16 recently purchased cameras, then go take pictures in the rain. So maybe I’ll write that up later.

Edit: Pictures below added for MIT admissions blog because I like them even more than the ones in the original entry. Yay new camera!


More Boats

Three Planes


Addendum Jan. 2nd, 2009:
So, to sum up a bit: MIT’s offered me what I think to be some pretty darn cool opportunities. It hasn’t stopped there. We joined FIRST in 2007 and had the experience of a lifetime at the national competition in Atlanta. We built a sweet segway. We came back again to build an even sweeter go-kart (shameless attempt to drive more traffic to the site). The paper for that go-kart just got accepted to the EVER Monaco 2009 conference, which means MIT might be sending us to Monaco (and maybe northern France, too) this March… and I’m sure that for all of us from Wayland who got pulled in two years ago, this is only the beginning.

MIT’s taken us some pretty amazing places both literally and figuratively. And I can’t think of any other school where my story would have been even remotely possible.

Can you?

Hope to see you there next fall!

37 responses to “Guest Blog: From the Life and Times of Cam”

  1. Cam says:

    I have decided to deal with people posting “FIRST!” by claiming the FIRST post for my own. Unless they’re making puns about FIRST robotics, haha. I guess the blogpost is already a FIRST post then.

    (Also, shameless promotion #2: Check out my flickr photostream because it involves photos of MIT and commenting on photos is cool: )

    Thanks, Yan, for publishing this!


  2. Anonymous says:


    Call me a stalker, but I just visited your blog. You did Nanowrimo???? I have so much respect for you, dude. (Also, anime? Awesome.

    I applied for MITES and was rejected. D: But I got to go on the MIT Junior Fly-In. I’m really thankful for that, because without it, I’m not sure I would have ever have applied. How was MITES? It sounds like uber fun. ;_;

  3. Ngozi '13 says:

    And the above stalker would be me. OTL

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wow, Cam. Awesome and wonderful post! To some posters above me, I had applied to MIT MITES, but I was rejected…but instead, I had a wonderful opportuntiy to work with a MIT professor on a research project over the summer (not RSI or any program).

    So yes, I guess that my time in Boston and poking around MIT had..well…made me really like MIT a lot more than I would have normally shown to any colleges. So, I agree with you, Cam, MIT does somehow suck and hold us in! lol.

  5. Cam is the man. ’nuff said?

    I’ve been around MIT a while, as you can tell by my single-digit-ness, but it’s nice to be reminded of how special a place it really is.

  6. No, no, no. HERE’s how you deal with first posters:

    Also, FIRST robotics is made of pure awesome.

  7. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous:

    The kind of people who actually go to MIT aren’t necessarily the ones who’ve been gunning for it all their lives. For instance, I didn’t want to go here until the start of my Junior year, and my former roommate (if I remember correctly) had been set on going to a state school in Colorado.

  8. Tommy '13 says:

    A well-crafted post indeed! Twas another reminder as to why I fell in love with MIT. I might just have to try that DIY Segway as a summer project with some of my friends if I don’t make the Bio Olympiad US team; seems like great fun to be had.

  9. deng says:

    wow, that second to last picture looks like diamond city

  10. Narce says:

    I did wish somewhat that I lived in Cambridge just to be nearer to MIT….

    Hahahah, my dad went there, but I didn’t even consider going until I looked it up in 7th grade, saw that it was the greatest technology-based university in the history of Earth, and made it my dream and goal since then. I’m as excited as you to be accepted early.

    All in all, it was a wonderful blog post. If we could vote on who became the next bloggers from our class, I’d vote for ya XP

    One last note… if you weren’t going to include pictures of food in your blog… you could’ve tried asking someone else to post it!

  11. First is awesome =] iam in it and I love it . Also that whole posting “first” thing is just wrong because I believe it’s rude to the blogger who spent time writing these great blogs taking time from their busy lives. Aside from that happy new year everyone =]

  12. deng says:

    @gerardo Enriquez ’13?
    but isn’t it the same person?

  13. Reena '13 says:

    Hi Cam! (and Tommy… and Sheila, who I’m guessing posted anonymously up there ;p)
    That was awesome. And I share a lot of the same sentiments, though about different subjects (physics and EAPS… I’m kind of terrible at compsci and robotics, haha).
    One of the things I was thinking about before decisions came out was how MIT had already changed me, and regardless of the outcome I’d always have that.
    If you do choose MIT – I’ll look forward to going to school with you (and the rest of our sure to be AMAZING class) next year. :-D

  14. Anonymous says:

    When us kids who only found out about MIT in our junior year of high school have the same aspirations as people who have been surrounded by MIT-ness all their lives, it makes me wonder what kind of chances we have.

    All the same, congratulations, and you were one adorable kid :D

  15. Reena '13 says:

    @ Anonymous

    Even though I’d been around MIT since age 3, for a really long time my top choice college was Florida State University in Tallahassee. It didn’t even occur to me that MIT was a college that I could apply to until last year — as a kid it was just a cool place with a courtyard where you could make leaf piles, you know?
    And junior year is when the MIT-ness got hold of me the most. (Actually, what started it wasn’t MIT – it was an unrelated science program where I met a ton of other kids who loved science like I did – and then I realized, hey, there’s a place where people like this go. It’s MIT.)
    It still has a chance of getting hold of you for 4 years raspberry Until then… you try to create MIT-ness all around you, which might mean something different for everybody. For me,
    “MIT-ness” means loving science and loving that science is something collaborative and social, and spreading the joy. I used to be the only person I knew with that mentality, except for the people I saw in NASA videos who clapped and cheered together at a successful launch or land, knowing that it couldn’t have been done without each and every one of them. (To this day, that’s why I want to work for NASA – though in atmospheric physics, rather than aero/astro eng.)
    And it was so, so awesome when I found out that these people exist all around the world. I just love the hell out of the scientific community.

    On a final note, wow, that was shamelessly cheesy… oh well.

  16. Ahana says:

    I’d resolved not to spam the blogs, but I do seriously hope,Cam, that you become an admissions blogger this year.

  17. Second!

  18. Jacob '13 says:

    I’m not going to cheapen myself by yelling “Third!” tongue laugh

    Well done, Cam. You really caught what I felt when I went to MIT for MITES. “Minds and Hands” isn’t just the motto of MIT (Yes, I know the real one’s in Latin), it’s the way MIT works. My passion’s Biochemistry and Genetics, not Engineering, but it happened the exact same way with me, reading DNA and looking for SNPs.

  19. Hiral says:

    Can I has the right 2 say, good guest post???

  20. Ngozi '13 says:

    Cam, you sound like a cool kid and an awesome writer–where’s your blog? (Please tell me you have a Livejournal–does anyone at MIT have a Livejournal??)

    college next fall — be it MIT, Olin, or some other wonderful school —

    Creepy! Olin and MIT are like “my dreams schools”. Olin sounds so kooky; I love it.

  21. Laura W. says:

    haha, Cam, what a cute picture! The goofy grin hasn’t changed much. =)

    Great story, lovely pictures. And everyone’s been joking that if you didn’t end up going to MIT, you’d lose like half your wardrobe….

  22. Reena says:

    @ Jacob
    I live here in Mass, actually. I was thinking about FSU solely for the meteorology program, which happens to be really strong.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Reading this blog as really reinforced my efforts to get a FIRST team started in my area.
    Having been a member of robotics, and then moving from the area to the school I attend now where there is no team was really quite disappointing, alongside the fact I’d have to re-do my whole high school career.

    Long Story short: Homeschooled 4 years, went to enroll in the public school for senior year, school said I had no credits, had to start over as a freshman in what should have been my senior year in the ’06-’07 school year.

    So now I’m currently a junior and have yet to accomplish much, but between watching kickoff and being an avid reader of the blogs, and by reading this particular blog has really reinforced my efforts to at least attempt to get a team started.


  24. @Reena
    I did a summer program at FSU when I was in high school (I’m originally from Florida, so FSU was reasonably well known to me), and I believe NOAA is actually centered there. There are certainly a lot of NOAA buildings around campus. One of my friends got to do research with them, though, shortly after the whole hurricane Wilma coming and ransacking South Florida. I believe the research my friend worked on involved trying to settle the great debate of the year–whether Wilma was category 1 or category 5 O.O

  25. Jacob '13 says:

    @ Ngozi:
    Well, since you asked, I guess I’ll go ahead and write a post about MITES. It was amazing. Anime = Awesomeness, yes. Also, because NaNoWriMo is the one thing I brag about, I’ve tried and won NaNoWriMo four times. Check my blog for the post about MITES though, it’s a bit long to post on here.

    @ Reena:
    Do you live in Florida? If not, what made you think of FSU for college? I live in Central Florida (I’m away at the moment), and the thought of any Florida school makes me cringe. (No offense to anyone going to a Florida school)

  26. AK says:

    I am in the 1st year of my college and thus I choose to apply as a transfer student.But my 1st term results won’t be available till late March 2009 and the application requires my 1st term grades.What should I do?

  27. Cam says:

    @Ngozi: My blog = mostly nonexistent. When I write, it rarely gets published.

    @Shane: Haha, I made you comment on the MIT admissions site. You won’t live that one down.

    @Anonymous (“Us kids who only found out about MIT in our junior year” etc etc etc): I only really found out anything about MIT my sophomore year (and even then, went through a period of time where I really didn’t want to go). The “chance you have” is determined by who you are, not how long you’ve cared the least bit about MIT. Although I don’t speak representing admissions in any way but rather representing my moderately cynical self. So, take anything I say with several moles of salt.

    @Laura: Sigh, you and Alex stumbling upon this.

    @Tree / anybody else who gave me a compliment: Thanks!

    @MITES kids: I worked across the hall from some MITES people this summer. Maybe I ran into you O.o . MITES seemed pretty cool, but I in no way qualified for it.


  28. Tree says:

    I second what Ahana said.

    Your pictures are awesome.

  29. Catherine says:

    You already know what I had to say about this… :D
    Congrats on being published!

  30. Suril says:

    I second Tree, third Ahana.

    And, I should be the last on the bandwagon – the bug bit me only the beginning of my senior year!

  31. Narce says:

    *shudder* I didn’t expect to actually see spam comment like those on the MIT blogs.

    Do you have to delete those often, Yan??

  32. Yan says:

    Me or the spam filter or some benevolent soul in the admissions staff usually get to the comments before they appear. Sorry about that.

  33. John Galt says:

    Why do people get so maudlin when they talk about MIT, almost as if it there is nothing more to aspire to in life than to attend MIT and then talk about how tough it is…

  34. Cam says:

    @John Galt: Your choice of a commenter name seems to conflict with part of your comment. You should aim to attend MIT if you have put thought into the philosophical choice of using that name. Although the second part of your comment makes a little more sense.

    Then again, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. It’s 5:46 in the morning. I should re-examine my commenting logic in a few hours and see if what I say here makes any sense.

    Note to self: Shorter blogpost probably = more comments, because people can actually read it. Shall have to think of that, next time (if there is a next time).

  35. Enlargement says:

    I am amazed with it. It is a good thing for my research. Thanks