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MIT student blogger Anthony R. '09

High Stakes by Anthony R. '09

Because it’s you who makes you.

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. :)

20 responses to “High Stakes”

  1. Crystal says:

    I’ll have to say I think this is the first MIT blog like this that I’ve read (if any other blogger writes so deep about their classes). Saturday is fast approaching!!

  2. AJ says:

    Wow. Thanks for that entry. When I look at the statistics of the people who have been admitted into MIT, I usually find that I fall just on or slightly behind what most people have scored. Seeing this blog really gives hope, even if I don’t get admitted into MIT. Thanks.

  3. Anonymous says:

    That was very thoughtful! I just hope prospective students really take the time to read it. Thanks for sending such a good message to them that it’s not the college but the effort put forth by the student that makes them who they are!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Don’t treat the results on Saturday as a 50/50 chance! The odds of acceptance are fairly higher than that. You can either get in, be denied, or be put off to the regular action pool. You may even be stuck on the dreaded wait list. If you plan on going to MIT as a school that has been your life long dream to attend, Saturday is not D-Day. Good luck! : ]

  5. Brandy says:

    Hello Anthony. That was a really nice post.

    I hope you enjoy your internship.

  6. KevinR says:

    Thanks a lot, Anthony. Sitting here at 3 AM, finishing a Calculus Project, I’m not sure if it’s the lack of sleep or the fact that music theory seems to be actually working (I’m a drummer, so woohoo!), but right now this post was right where I needed it. Thanks for making me happy to have checked the blogs just now.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for the post- though it only makes me want to go to MIT more! And here I am, reading the blogs AGAIN!!!!!! when I;m supposed to be working on other college apps that I will simply throw away if Saturday’s news is the most awesome thing that could ever happen. Cross your fingers!

  8. Andrew says:

    Acceptance would be pretty good. It would make my college search a lot easier.

    One thing to note though, is that most likely, anyone who has a shot at MIT will succeed in life no matter where they go to school.

    There is no perfect school, and besides, my backup schools are places I would love to attend.

    As long as you have this outlook, I think everyone will be okay. It’s not worth stressing yourself out and getting sick over it. Sure it is a big deal, and it is MIT, but if you get deferred it is not the end of the world.

  9. Pranthik says:

    Hey Anthony. That was an awesome post. I’m glad you took the time to make it.

  10. Matt says:

    Merci pour ce commentaire reflechi et different. Je suis content de voir que MIT n’est pas une institution seulement pour les magiciens de calculus. Ta facon de penser et ton apparente attitude de tous les jours representent la sorte de diversite qui est un des raisons pour laquelle j’aimerais aller a MIT.
    Depuis que j’ai commence le processus de..”apply” a MIT je me suis pose pas mal de questions sur mes vraies motivations, mes projets, mais surtout, comment je veux vivre ma vie d’adulte. Ca fait du bien de voir (enfin lire le commentaire de) quelqu’un qui s’est apparemment pose les meme questions.
    Encore une fois, merci beaucoup.

    Bonne chance pour l’expose de francais!

  11. Ted says:

    Wow, thank you! I have an attitude very similar to yours with regards to not letting work rule my life – yet as some things slipped recently I became afraid that perhaps being a caffeine tanking workaholic was the only way to get into MIT (or any good school for that matter).


  12. theresa says:

    that was an awesome post!!! what a great and comforting perspective to take. and andrew: I totally have the same sentiments as you… as long as applicants have other schools to consider — other schools that they like and get a “this is right for me” – type feeling from it, then getting a disappointing decision from your top choice (esp. if it is uber-competitive) is not a bad thing… a great way to cope is to just remember that it isn’t the end of the world (because that only happens when pigs fly, silly, raspberry), and that everything will work out for the best in the end —
    generally, with college apps, it’s best to take that optimistic view (and by optimistic, I don’t mean conceited, thinking “oh, I’ll definitely get in here”) —
    just don’t stress and be confident that wherever you go, it’ll work out for the best anyway…
    (sorry for a long reply, but … yeah… smile )

  13. Christina says:

    I concur! Great post, Anthony. smile

  14. jas says:

    this is a really cool post. thanks

  15. AWB says:

    That was great– thank you very much!

    Latin-basedness should totally be a word. I’ve probably even used the term before.

    Also, because this seems a good place to post it, I’d like some help with our senior hack. I’m from a small, private high school in California. We were thinking of doing something with our laptops, since we all have iBooks or MacBooks, but we’re not sure what. Or maybe we could just stick something on the roof and get random substitutes for all the classes? Do you guys have any ideas?

    The best prank I know of was two years ago, when three actors pretended to be from a show on MTV called Made. They privately filmed everyone who wanted to audition for the show (about 1/4 of the school), and then they showed parts of the audition videos the next day during all-school assembly!

  16. Melissa H says:


    I’ve taken Spanish for three years (currently in my fourth), and I actually understood the majority of Matt’s FRENCH.


    (I am aware Latin-basedness is not a word.)

  17. Anonymous says:

    nothing wrong with being a caffeine tanking workaholic as long as you enjoy it

  18. Grant A says:

    It’s reassuring to know that these are real, living, breathing people at MIT, not too different from the ones I encounter in my daily life. Personally, I’ve tended to have more of a hyperactive work ethic (I prefer that friendly euphemism to “workaholic”), but hearing you describe the transition from pre-MIT to the university helps me imagine myself doing the same. Who knows, with any luck I’ll find out in the next 12 hours whether or not I’ll get the privilige to join you. Good luck to all the other EA applicants!

  19. Catherine says:

    You may have told me before, but have you gotten my holiday greeting card? I’m going to have to find a way of funneling only your entries from this RSS feed. I feel terribly, terribly behind on all your writings. ;_;