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The End of an Era by Krystal L. '17

A no-longer-freshman's reflections on life, the universe, and MIT-specific details

The other day I was watching a video about typography and the speaker was explaining why, because the human eye is innately attracted to bright objects, awkward s pa ci ng between words and letters is visually displeasing. The whiteness screams out, “Look at me, I exist!” And we reply, “Go away, you’re making our eyeballs uncomfortable.”

Most people don’t give a second thought to the spaces between letters. We don’t think about the inky blackness of words on a page because honestly, when we have 198 pages of lecture notes to get through, the last thing we want to concern ourselves with is the existential crisis of some whiteness. But when something is missing, we notice. Somehow, the emptiness is jarringly loud.

I finished my last final Thursday after two not-so-fun back to back 18.03 and 18.02 exams. Sitting in front of my desk at 4:57pm, I realized that something felt profoundly different. Was it hunger? The delicious piece of garlic bread that had recently been introduced to my stomach said no. Apprehension? Perhaps a little, but that was a recognizable knot of dread curled up in the bottom of my gut, not this strange sensation that was disconcerting in its unfamiliarity. Upon closer introspection, I concluded, with some alarm, that what I was feeling was emptiness.

No more finals. No more psets. No more classes. No more late nights cramming for midterms. Suddenly, everything that had once filled my waking hours ceased to exist and I didn’t know how to feel about it.

I think I never truly realized how stressful a semester of classes really was. Being submerged in work and day to day obligations became the new norm. A shift of reference frame had taken place at some point in the semester without my noticing and what once would have been considered hectic and unbearable became normal. It wasn’t until it all dissipated with the last flourish of my pencil that I could take a step back and notice the difference. I didn’t appreciate how much effort we had been putting in until we didn’t have to anymore.

The sudden absence of pressure, anxiety, and responsibility had imparted a sense of weightlessness, probably similar to what a balloon feels when the child holding it prisoner accidentally sets it free and it drifts off into the sunset. I’m not actually a balloon though, so I wouldn’t know. You should ask one. I hear they’re very friendly.

The truth is, a semester at MIT can be stressful, difficult, confusing, frustrating, ulcer-inducing, and downright discouraging at times. But that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come to MIT. I wanted to challenge myself, and I think that’s something we all consider when choosing this fine institution. For every time that we inevitably fall, there are the times when we feel so happy our faces hurt from smiling too much. Maybe it was the first time we truly understood eigenvalues, or the time we made it to the third round of NCAAs with the best team ever, or the time we got to eat free burritos during finals week and it was seriously the best thing that had happened all day. Sometimes it’s the monumental moments of achievement and accomplishment that make it all worthwhile. Other times, it’s the little things that bring a smile to your face, even amidst all the bad. Here at MIT, we take them all in stride and call it a day.

Friday was the first full day of summer vacation and I spent the morning baking brownie-cookie-oreo deliciousness and spending a leisurely afternoon in the humanities library. As I was leaving, I heard the faint whisper of piano music drifting out of Killian Hall, a small performance room I had never entered before. On a whim, I grabbed a program and sat in the corner. As the music enveloped me, I closed my eyes and drifted in a sea of Rachmaninoff and Debussy for an hour and a half, meditating on the nature of nothingness and absolute freedom. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so at peace with myself.

My first year here has come and gone and soon, I’ll be an old sophomore waving my cane at freshmen who pass by my front porch, reflecting with fondness upon pass/no record shenanigans and the first round of finals that actually mattered.

Before the fall semester arrives in all its glory, I’ll be staying in Boston over the summer and UROPing on campus. I’ll take the peace and quiet while it lasts, but I’m excited for another year here at MIT and all that it entails!

P.S. For those of you who enjoy the simple pleasures of exterminating unwanted white space, here’s a kerning game that I stumbled upon today while perusing the internet: