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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

We Started the Fire by Jess K. '10

It wasn't always burning since the world's been turning.

Happy International Left-Handers Day yesterday! I’ve never had to deal with righty desks before, so if you see me beating a chair to splinters in 10-250 next year, you know the reason.

Back when I was in high school (which is a phrase that makes me sound like I’m 64 and recounting my cavorting days as a young’n, and not like how I half think I’ll be back in high school this fall), I was one of the AP kids, as I’m sure a lot of you were. But there’s so much I don’t agree with about the AP system. Mostly, it’s that it’s entirely centered around getting that 5. Maybe that wasn’t true at your high school, but in all ten classes I took there was a cramming fervor around spring (that may or may not have included living in the library, seeing your AP US teacher in uncomfortably short shorts, and existing solely on Wintergreen Lifesavers because your freshman biology teacher once mentioned they stimulate your brain), then coasting post-exams until school ended (that may or may not have included watching The Breakfast Club, Indiana Jones, and the Food Network). Nothing about that says “We’re doing this to really learn!” to me. Everything was scheduled around that test. About half of my classes also had finals before the AP exam, to 1) prepare us for the exams even more, and 2) allow us to party even harder after the test was over.

Getting that perfect score became so much the purpose of the exams that when I got into college, I was actually surprised to find that I could get credit for them. They had just become more requisite SAT IIs, except longer and with less expensive prep classes. The supposed reward of credit was long forgotten behind integration rules and all the New Deal programs. Theoretically, though, the real reward is supposed to be incurring a love for the subject matter. And while my sense of humor has certainly gained from being one of Those Kids, recognizing the output of a recursive method under a time limit has never made me leap out of my chair and dance for joy of Java. (Plus, I haven’t retained most of it – another one of my gripes about the system. Nodes? Just a funny word to me.)(Haha. Nodes.)

Enough of the ranting, though. The point is that last night, a group of us helped our friend Nish take his scribbled-in prep books and scantrons to the beach (one that allows bonfires, so I promise this is all perfectly legal), and said our (thoroughly non-tearful) goodbyes to the days of merely skimming the surface and learning for the sake of a grade instead of for the sake of ourselves. This is the dawning of a new age. The Age of Real Education. The Age of Aquarius. I mean, what?

(I really just included those two pictures because they’re probably among the best I’ve ever taken. Check out that air!)

I began this summer exhausted. Chasing down 5s is hard work, especially when it becomes your sole purpose. And after my final exams high school slowed to a pace that I could walk beside (meaning, watching four hours of movies a day, and sleeping through the other half). To say it made me uncomfortable is an understatement – it gave me a chance to look at the one-track mind I’d developed and wonder if it’d be enough to keep me afloat out there. So I made no major plans; I simply resolved to take it one day at a time.

And I know it’s silly, but watching those books crumble into embers with Sufjan Stevens on repeat in the background was enough to clear my head. I do know nothing can really prepare you for the firehose of an MIT education. But I think if there’s any one thing that at least makes you a little braver, it’s throwing out your baggage.

Try this one at home, kids.

22 responses to “We Started the Fire”

  1. Jon says:

    oh how I wish I burned my AP US History stuff….but no, being the semi-psychotic packrat that I am, I’m too afraid I’ll use something in the future, so I’ll store every book, review packet, pages of notes, and practice DBQs under my bed until a)they rot or b)I one day suddenly get the urge to delete all knowledge of everything from Columbus to Clinton.

    Am I still surprised I got a 5?….oh ya…..on about 5 hours of sleep the night before the exam…maybe that’s the key! (and no, i wasn’t cramming…it was tech week for our high school musical)

  2. Allison says:

    I wish I could have had the satisfaction of burning books. Unfortunately I used hand-me-downs from upperclassmen and paid it forward by giving the useless books to unsuspecting rising seniors.

    Anywho, because I have too much time on my hands this summer at my useless job, I saw that you’re living at next house! YAY! Welcome to the family! I’m on 2E and I’ll be there for orientation so I’ll probably get to meet you then =)

  3. Amy P. says:

    I’m glad that you drew attention to the International Left-Handers Day, Jess. There are 4 left handed folks working in the Admissions Office, so this is an important topic to us!

  4. Timur Sahin says:

    I am fully in support of setting things on fire.

  5. Christina says:

    What a grand idea. We should to this, too, but I already promised all of my prep books (that I truly did not ever read) to other poor rising seniors at my high school.

    I used to hate all of those crazy BEST COLLEGES EVER books, but I have to admit that life is kind of sweet now that we’re going to …well um, the best college ever. SAKKEEEEE. 6 days.

  6. thekeri says:

    All of the desks at Stranahell were this strange form of right-handed, where the metal bars from hell tried to kill me any time I turned to write on the desk. I survived. You will, too. It’s all a matter of finesse.

    Lefties are sexy. But you knew that, right?

  7. thekeri says:

    Oh, and burning my books seemed like a great idea until people at my school started buying them from me.

  8. Christine says:

    This looks curiously just like a certain post-physics AP burning party. Mmm, fire. *twiddle*

  9. Anon says:

    My friends and I did this the weekend after the AP tests. It was fantastic!

    And definitely did not get out of hand wink

  10. Christie says:

    My mom JUST started trying to sell mine on ebay.

  11. Mollie says:

    I’ve noticed that the lecture halls at MIT have very few left-handed desks, and they’re usually in the most inconvenient places possible.

    I vote for bringing a clipboard… then you don’t have to sit in their stupid left-handed desks.

  12. cemilyd says:

    Not the coloring book!

    (for some reason, my parents had that book sitting around the house when I was little. So when I was about 5 I started coloring random pictures in it. I think I thought that hands with bits of bone sticking out of them were more interesting than bambi wandering through a field of flowers with his skunk friend (flower?))

  13. Colin says:


  14. JKim says:

    A correction, as mandated by my mother – I didn’t actually burn my books. I did actually sell/give mine away as many of you did; we burned my friend Nish’s books. Which makes the whole thing all the more less dramatic, but it’s true. It was still just as cathartic, though!

  15. l0ngL says:

    At my school we didn’t care much about getting 5’s, but more like which AP teacher will waive the final. The last six weeks of school were sweet.

    Oh, in Asia, or at least in Vietnam, students are compelled to write with their right hands. By “compelled,” I meant, “Let me see your left hand!” and down the ruler goes. Hahah Yeah, that’s from personal experience.

    What really makes someone left-handed or right-handed? Can you really change that? hmm

  16. JKim says:

    Actually, they did that to my dad when he was little. And worse. He’s ambidextrous now. And yeah, you can; my sister was born left-handed but my parents trained her right-handed.

  17. Aziz '10 says:

    LoooL when’s right hand day? ;p I feel left out ;p Why is it that the minorities always get the celebrations? ;p Yeah I did the same thing about promising to give my books to rising seniors/juniors…The good thing about our school is that if you take an AP Exam, the final is automatically waived for that subject…teachers just make you suffer by doing a project for the rest of the year…Heaven forbid we actually REST during the school year…we definitely did NOT deserve it for sitting on our butts all year ;p

  18. c21 says:

    I would PAY to be able to burn the prep books I’ve invested my poor dollars in this year now. Since I can’t do that NOW, I’ll just wait until the end of the year and decide whether I’ve scribbled enough in them to warrant burning action (not probable) or whether I’ve left them in pristine, unread condition and will be able to sell them or hand them down to the little sibling (ha! little does he know…). As far as future predictions, I’m putting my bets on the latter rather than the former. I’ll save my vengeance and burning sprees for my notebooks and handouts.

  19. JKim says:

    Your face is offensive.

  20. Drew says:

    My mom’s giving all of my old AP books and stuff to goodwill, and I think that’s just horribly sadistic.

  21. shaima says:

    hey, you used my washington post link, yayyyy lefties! we rule the world.

    your blog is pretty cool jkim. and so is your brand new macbook! it looks awesome, i’m sure you’re having fun with it. in fact, i’m using my ibook to write this comment! YAY APPLES! you will LOVE yours, i don’t even miss the right-click. MIT soon! are you excited?? i’m sure you are. :]

    anyway, remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away! lame, i know, but i just had to say it. ♥

  22. Andrew says:

    TreeNodes or ListNodes?