Late November, fall hangs over the Charles, obscuring the river’s sparkle with a curtain of grey. The life of the Frosh shifts.
Dulled is the thrill of the first impossible PSet. On sleepy breakfast runs, the Dome is just another roof to pass. The Frosh counts the days until departure from MIT, unsure whether the prospect of returning home for the holidays terrifies or exhilarates.
The fascinating experiences, the gruelling routine, and the occasional surprises of the semester seem alien and odd. For the first time in her life (since perhaps one rebellious quarter in elementary school), the Frosh can say, “I’m not going to finish this homework,” and not feel bad about it. Success for her is temporarily measured on a Pass/No Record basis, and she is allowed to slip.
But the lengthy vacation will soon come to an end for the Frosh. Whispers ripple through the crowds of 2018s: “We’ll start getting grades next semester. What will happen then? Can we make it?” The Frosh imagines all those late night conversations that will inevitably cease when “barely passing” no longer remains an acceptable option. “Why must our academic future be determined by a series of numbers?” she wonders, but knows no alternative. So the Frosh must persevere because graduate school is still part of her grand life plan.
Speaking of that, the Frosh’s Scheme of Life has been crumbling and expanding astoundingly over the college months. In August, the Frosh could have sworn that Course 18 Option 3 (Theoretical Mathematics) was “The One.” Now, so much else fuels her curiosity, and theoretical math in fact terrifies her after painful September experiences. The Frosh can’t imagine not spending hours on Physics problem solving, rewriting algebraic expressions and shifting +/- signs until a convoluted formula yields a green checkmark on the screen. This process may take minutes or hours.
Often the Frosh knocks on her Best Friend’s door for help. Together, they work with heightened efficiency. The friends’ perspectives differ and thus enhance learning. There’s a lesson the Frosh will carry on from this: “It’s way better to work as a team.”
Sometimes, the Frosh despairs at the overwhelming routine. Life in college is not how she imagined it. The Frosh had many dreams for her first magical semester, but somehow settled to live from deadline to deadline instead.
Perhaps that is not always true, however. Yesterday, for example, the Frosh and her friends splashed together through puddles to see the river at sunrise. At 6:55 am, six minutes later than predicted, the star peeked from beneath the clouds, and colored the Charles a tender pink.
Before the weekend, the Frosh went to see Legally Blonde the Musical with Friend B, and afterwards she vowed to be as cool as Elle Woods. The musical inspired because it was that good. MIT had a way better production than Hollywood, for sure.
A fortnight ago, the Frosh went to an MIT Wellness Fair and gathered a backpack full of free swag. Last Friday, the Frosh participated in a human-robot interaction study, where she was asked to pummel an innocent robot with a hammer. In return, the Frosh got a tiny robot of her own (which she will not hurt).
Whoever said she would “have time” was sorely mistaken. And if the Frosh had time, she would splurge it all on sleep.
Sometimes that thought scares the Frosh. She knows her priorities, but then, maybe not. Friends, grades, choices, sleep, experiences are all squeezing into her days. A mere common cold could shatter the current balance. Honestly, even Laundry Day could.
But inevitably, the sun comes out again. On campus, exciting events occur. Outside campus, ridiculous adventures await the Frosh and her Best Friend as well.
Now, the holiday spirit brightens the hall. Next week the final Problem Sets are due. And sure, afterwards comes the chilling terror of exams, but right now the Frosh worries more about how the “Bra” (brownie + bar) dessert she made almost on her own turned out.
Vacations can’t last forever. Deadlines, however, remain. The Frosh will get used to those eventually. And sometimes, all nighters must happen. But when the Frosh and her Friend come out into the light of day to finally turn in that one impossible PSet, the river will appear pink. Snow will glisten on the path. The air will smell of a wintery freshness.
The Frosh and her Best Friend will smile in anticipation of a restful afternoon.