There’s always this hum on campus, some whisper of a noise either from the drone of some electrical wire or the whir of a machine or the clings and clangs of construction (because Boston-Cambridge is always under construction, somewhere). Above this noise, you’ll hear chatter from students idly talking about their day or intensely debating about some mathematical concept that goes way above any of our heads.
But if you listen close enough, cutting through the chit-chat and the murmurs of the machines, you’ll hear it. Feel it, even. A tiny, rhythmic pulse that permeates the air, almost electric in nature.
It was one of the first things I noticed about MIT–that underlying, unshakable thumpthumpthump that echoed in my bones. As I looked around, I saw others marching along, consciously or otherwise, to it. That rhythm was their driver and catalyst, filling them with a determination and vigor I’ve never quite seen before. Each step they took was purposeful, calculated, as they walked and walked to wherever they had to go.
Tentatively, I took a step. And another. And another. There were times where I felt the thrum of it all was too difficult to follow, too hard to keep in time with. Erratic. Flighty. I stumbled as I walked, tripping over my feet a couple of times. In a panic, I looked around. Had anyone noticed? Had anyone seen my misstep?
But there they went; they paid no attention to my faults in rhythm or my mistimed pace. Like clockwork or wound up toy soldiers, they continued their stride, exuding a confidence and sureness that my 17-year-old self, let alone any 17 year old, didn’t quite possess yet.
Three years later, I find myself once again back on the MIT grounds. I’m unsure of when the phrase “I’m going back to MIT” slipped into “I’m going back home”, but as I walked on Mass Ave, waves of familiarity and warmth washed over me. These were pathways I’ve walked thousands of times. Halls I could walk blindfolded. Buildings I could call mine.
As I continued, the once foreign electric thump of the ground was now a welcome hum under my feet. Before, it was something incomprehensible, something I had to chase. Now, it’s omnipresent; I no longer stumble or lose my way, or doubt the path I walk. My feet walk for me, as if the schoolgrounds themselves were showing me the way. I look around and see wide-eyed students take in the sights and smells for the first time. Shock paints their face because I know they can feel it. The hum. The drum. The beat.
Campus is alive. It shakes and groans under the buildings, breathes passion and life into everyone and everything it touches, imbues us with an electricity and vibrancy that only MIT can bring.
I’ve gone searching for this hum everywhere I go. In my friends, in my workplace, in my hometown. When I finally feel close, like it’s finally in my grasp, like I finally understand what makes me tick, the feeling leaves almost as quickly as it arrived.
Is it possible to miss something before it’s even gone? To mourn something before it’s even passed?
The calendar and clock on my wall mock me, constant reminders of the inevitable passage of time. There will come the day when I’m no longer at MIT and the ground underneath my feet is quiet, and that day fast approaches.
But in the meantime, I walk onward, keeping the pulse of the campus, able to note each peculiarity: how it quickens down dorm row, how it slows in Hayden, how it skips and stutters in EC.
Each step isn’t purposeful, or calculated–I’m simply just walking. The rhythm doesn’t drive me, isn’t forceful by nature, but just acts a suggestion, a guide. I continue on, not in any particular direction or any destination, just wherever I feel like. And I walk on, with as much confidence and sureness the average 20-year-old can muster. Steadily, I continue, determined. About what? I’m not quite sure yet, but it’s there and I follow it.
thumpthumpthump. Campus is alive.