I have been absent from the blogs for the better part of eight years. My absence is easy to explain, though, having left the Institute to work more closely with students as a college counselor in a high school setting. There is a great deal that I enjoyed about engaging in one-on-one conversations with students about their dreams and aspirations, and I hope that I provided sound counsel to my young charges along the way.
There are a number of lessons and takeaways from my time on “the other side of the desk,” and I suspect that I will share some of them in due time. However, as I reflect on the transition back to MIT from a place where I have lived and worked for the last several years, I have a much better appreciation for what MIT means to me. The short version is that it is the place in my professional life where I have felt most appreciated, and perhaps more importantly, the place where I have been most clearly seen. While that may not be true for everyone, it certainly has defined my relationship with the Institute.
Some might consider this sentiment an indictment on the assorted educational communities where I worked previously (which it isn’t), while others might simply chalk it up to MIT being awesome (which it is), but they would be missing the point. Being valued and appreciated for who you are as well as what you do is not a one-way street. In order to really be seen, you have to allow it. You have to invite people in, and it probably helps a great deal if you are in the right place to begin with.
As both an admission officer and as a college counselor, I have spoken extensively about fit: the notion that we may be especially well-suited to some particular place, and potentially ill-suited elsewhere. Maximizing that fit does not guarantee success or happiness, but it does maximize one’s chances of thriving. There are settings in which I did really excellent work, (if I do say so myself) but never really “felt the love.” It is easy to say that some people and/or places just don’t get me, but harder to acknowledge my part in that dynamic. Being intentional about the communities in which we choose to live, learn, and work, while embracing the opportunities for genuine connection, is something to aspire to whether searching for your dream school as a high school student or your dream job later in life.
I have made many decisions in my lifetime allowing me to experience a wide range of academic communities, but I am glad that this particular decision has brought me back to a place where I can truly be seen.
On a more somber note, I am also acutely aware that through no fault of their own, the journey through life for far too many (including myself) may carry the additional unnecessary burden of having to fight to be seen, recognized, appreciated, and valued in society, where the consequence of not being seen can far too often be fatal. While I am very intentional about the circles that I travel in and the communities in which I reside, ultimately, I have no control over when and where someone takes issue with my presence or personhood, and how their issue manifests itself. I have lived in American society for far too long to harbor any belief that systemic, institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression will be eradicated in my lifetime, but I am hopeful, despite all evidence to the contrary, that humankind will eventually live up to its name. Until then, keep working to be seen, and try a little harder to really see everyone else.