Classes are saying farewell as it’s finally starting to feel like winter around here. I’m done with yet another MIT Wednesday, consisting of setting my alarm for 9:30, blinking and realizing I slept for another hour, and feeling all right about it because I only had to be somewhere in the mid-afternoon. It’s been a busier than usual couple of weeks though, with two exams last Wednesday, a paper due this past Monday, a French test yesterday morning, and a final assignment for something else due a few hours ago. I found a place to live this January when I’ll be interning elsewhere for a railroad, and made a few other phone calls as well after running to Building 35 for a quiz. I’ve since spent the balance of my evening learning about No Child Left Behind (for a public policy class), preparing for a little French presentation with a classmate in the language lab, meeting with a fellow EC resident and software developer to put the final touches on a fairly large departmental project (job #2), and chatting with my next-door neighbor (a senior) about his second-round job interview and how hopeful he is about landing the spot. Two other neighbors, also seniors, are busily finishing essays that took the back seat to microcontroller labs due over the past couple of days. One of them just stopped to enjoy a birthday cake that his girlfriend made for him in the kitchen (he’s 22 today) while the other helped an army of hallmates soak him with cold water (it’s a hall tradition). And now they’re back working again. The interviewee and I just trekked down Main Street for a proverbial evening trip to 7-11 in the 30-degree weather – we’ve figured out that milk is artificially cheaper there than at any area supermarket (not that I’ve had a glass of milk since 1996 – I mainly go for the walk and perhaps for some midnight ice cream instead).
I have some documents to prepare in the morning for job #1, due technically at the end of the workday but with classes from 10-12:30, a student group meeting from 1-2, recitation from 2-3 and another recitation from 4-5, I probably won’t have another chance. It’s all right, because I love my job. I’ve rediscovered waking up earlier than twenty minutes before class, and it feels pretty good… besides, I’m more productive in the morning when everyone and everything else is fast asleep, out of distraction’s way. I still have to do more assigned reading for public policy that was actually due for Tuesday, but, you know, I still manage to be a part of the discussions just fine.
You see, I’m probably one of the least academically swamped students on campus, and I won’t have it any other way. The energy around here is palpable, and the best part is that I have the time to savor it. I have the time to screw around, the time to stop to think, the time (if I want it) to sleep well, the time to take off for a couple days (either for free or for some artificially-low price), and the time to remember when I, too, was being evaluated by Ben and Matt in selection committee – and oh how much I wanted to come here! – and now I’m here, and it’s been two years since I got in and yes it took a little while but I’d be lying through my teeth if I said things weren’t wonderfully amazing right now. :)
I may not have seen a whole lot of point in making every single freshman (read: me) drag himself through certain classes he may not like (read […shock!]: math and physics!), watching him skin his knees in the process, and then if he trips a couple of times because he’s hurt, kicking him while he’s down. I think I made that clear last year. But it all makes sense now, because to succeed at MIT, you have got to self-advocate, even if that means looking past the obvious places for help. If you don’t, you quickly become the weakest link, no matter how many times you’ve saved lives, circumnavigated the earth, or exhibited general MIT-like awesomeness. This shouldn’t scare you – almost everyone does just fine.
Plenty of people come here and navigate those freshman classes with flying colors. Those subjects are precisely what they studied hard in high school, precisely the things they’ve always been good at, precisely the stuff of their summer vacations, precisely the stuff that made them yearn for MIT in the first place. That’s why self-advocacy isn’t enough: a lot of people don’t even have to try. Me? Heck, I didn’t even have a guidance counselor, I missed over fifty days of school each year since fourth grade, and I graduated in 2003 having only finished tenth-grade geometry. But I worked it all out, filled in the gaps, and hey, now I’m doing just fine. I figured out how to make this place work for me, and you know what? I’m pretty darn proud of that.
Maybe some people just want to be good at everything, but I tend to pick and choose my battles. I value happiness and general well-being far too much to be a workaholic, and I value a connection to terra firma. I am acutely aware of the world on the outside, because college is not my entire life, and I am unwilling to let it be. I think that the world is a beautiful place and I still smile when I bump into friends in the Infinite, when I walk past 3-107 and peer in the window, when I’m watching my neighbors through my doorway being incredibly awesome at three in the morning doing things I couldn’t possibly print here, but most importantly, when I take a few steps back and realize my incredibly good fortune for being here in the first place.
MIT is an exciting and fascinating place to spend your college years and it’s great that you’re applying. But before you base all of your hopes on coming here, don’t forget who you are and where you are headed as an individual. Because it’s you who makes you, not your college. It is you who will make a difference in the world – your college will only help you along the way, giving you the tools you’ll need to forge ahead.
Try to get some rest Friday night. :)