What makes me an MIT student? by Anthony R. '09
Some thoughts about blogging and a special question for returning readers.
I had lunch with the ever-dashing Ben Jones today. I hadn’t seen him in more than a month, and the time had come to catch up on MIT happenings and other life events. Of course, our conversation arrived at the topic of blogging. I want to reflect on a couple of points — this commentary is perhaps more relevant to those readers who have followed on the longer term than, say, to the first-time visitor. Bearing that in mind…
The MIT admissions blogs are, as a whole, supposed to convey a diverse representation of student life, providing prospective students and applicants with a reasonably complete picture of what it’s like to be here. We have a mixture of the prolific and the poignant, catering to all tastes and personalities, from the bubbly and social to the more introspective. That’s fairly representative, right? Sure, nothing new there.
Some folks prefer to put their lives up in pictures, detailing the events they attend, the reality shows and situation comedies they follow, the activities of their friends and the birthday cakes they bake. Some also view blogging primarily as a “job” — yes, a fun one at that, but a job nonetheless. And others don’t. Maybe they don’t watch “Lost” or “24” (seriously, are those TV shows?), and maybe they aren’t first or even last in line at the free finals breakfast or Student Center study break. That’s me. I don’t even own any MIT apparel! Honestly, if I went into Boston (or anywhere off campus, really) proudly wearing a MIT shirt, I’d feel like I was being immodest or something. Not everyone can get into this school, and besides, it’s not the first thing I identify with when I think about who I am and how I want to be portrayed. “MIT student?” But Anthony is so much more than that. So how do I pick which advertisement shirt to wear? I don’t — I just wear something tasteful and solid. I don’t want the world knowing where I go to school when I’m on the subway or at the market.
What gives me pause, you see, is the thought that I, personally, am representative of anything at MIT. There are two ’09 bloggers (so far), and I’m one of them, so one would think I’d have to be a true ambassador of my classmates. And indeed, when I first came to the Institute last fall, I thought I’d finally found my place. For the first time ever, I told myself, I’d have a true peer group: one I could relate to, share experiences with, and ultimately consider to be my friends. I thought I’d fit right into the environment, finally establishing a comfort zone of my own design. And to be true, most people do find this balance and get comfortable. But I guess you can’t fight destiny.
Much of my first year was unconventional because I didn’t make school my reason for living. I came in with an existing, established life and set of priorities, and school was just yet another thing on my plate. Even in high school (which sort of seems like ancient history now! 1999-2003), I never really called myself a student, particularly toward the end. I got my fill of what the state required from 7:30 to whenever, performed some practical joking and enjoyed some camaraderie, and then I left and conducted business as usual. That “business” was often both figurative and literal at the same time, as my personal interests and practical obligations always tended to cross paths. And yes, now MIT is in a different ballpark, and my philosophy has had to shift a bit in order to satisfy this demanding academic setting, but I can’t change who I am.
I feel sort of guilty with specific reference to the blog, because I’ve held back large segments of my life that have nothing to do with MIT. Really, much of my life has nothing to do with MIT, as most of the things in which I’m involved are very external to the school. (This is changing, but the external activities always receive precedence. Why? Because they’re more important in the bigger picture.) Freshman year was painful in that I had to finally confront the split, because nothing I was doing in the classroom had any direct relevance to what I feel is my singular path, yet it was taking a lot of my time that I wasn’t giving willingly. (This might not be so glamorous, but people, if you know exactly what you want to do with your life, get ready for the Great Injustices, er…, the General Institute Requirements, to dine on your soul for a little while.) If MIT is going to work for me, I’ll have to sew together the pieces of a student’s life and my life to create some sort of streamlined amalgam. So what am I to do if I can’t change who I am?
I decided to keep things unconventional, with a few adjustments.
I picked a major whose department has a total of less than twenty undergrads, and I’m selecting a course focus (transportation) that isn’t even really established yet. When I say Course 11, I’m often asked “what’s that one again?” But I love what I’m doing, it fits into the rest of my life very cleanly, and strong career prospects aren’t a problem — so it doesn’t matter, and I make no apologies. I leave campus at every possible opportunity (though I enjoy living on campus), maintain copious contact with fine conversationalists on the outside, and generally do everything possible to avoid getting sucked into the cocoon of thinking that MIT is the entire world, the veritable vacuum that keeps some alumni coming back to their former undergraduate dormitories on a daily basis. We live on a planet of innumerable experiences and many hundreds of countries, and as long as I have the resources and power to do so, I refuse to become complacent, letting any intermediate stop overtake the journey.
Knowing I can’t evade the GIRs, I’m structuring them a bit differently into my overall schedule than most would. There is nothing wrong with this (-cough cough-, just like there’s nothing wrong with not taking your swim test when the orientation planners demand), and in doing so I can preserve a more interesting mix of classes at any given time. After the first semester, I realized that I never again wanted to take a majority of courses in a term that I didn’t elect. Choosing a major with few requirements certainly helped — I doubt I could pull that off in some departments with a laundry list of “mandatory” classes. Happiness is really important… what’s wrong with being at MIT and not being dominated on a daily basis by your problem sets? Too unconventional?
Basically, at every opportunity, I’m making MIT fit my mold, instead of the all-too-common opposite. But let’s get back to the blog. I said that I’ve withheld large segments of my daily goings-on because I didn’t feel they were worthy of space on an admissions site. You all are trying to get a sense for what MIT is like — perhaps just what college in general is like — and my random trips here and there, my business meetings, my love affair with rail travel (not with trains themselves — please don’t be confused), my philosophies and feelings and activities that aren’t directly Institute-related… these things all form a package so uniquely mine that I have assumed it to be more helpful to the masses if I stay on the topic of MIT life and admissions. But you know what?
All of that stuff is part of my college experience too. I’ve been to DC three times in the past week, all by train (for free — have to love working for the railroad), I’ve had some great meals in interesting places both around Boston and elsewhere, I’ve gotten some great advice from a host of individuals both internal and external to MIT, I’ve worked on some pretty fascinating (to me) projects, I was the primary developer on a project that just won a large grant, and I will say that I am truly enjoying the ride, for better or for worse. Whether or not it has anything specifically to do with SAT scores, dorm room towel racks or midterm examinations, it’s still one person’s MIT experience, and that’s what I’m here to provide.
So now I pose the question to the long-term readers, the ones who I see in the visitor logs every day, the ones who may or may not have me RSSed and who may or may not ever leave comments or any other traces of their attention. Yes, I’m looking for the invisible folks to come out of the woodwork, because I’m genuinely curious. What do you appreciate about, specifically, my approach to the blog — what do you enjoy (or dislike) and what keeps you coming back? What are you looking for? Do you want primarily admissions/MIT-centric commentary (with the mix of weighing in on the more personal things that I’ve done throughout the year), do you want the entire college experience, or is there a more desirable middle ground? (Keep in mind that I lack the capacity and interest to provide details ad nauseam about every little thing that happens between dawn and dusk, a common tactic on personal blogs of people everywhere. I wouldn’t want my life under such a microscope to begin with.) Basically, what I’m asking is, what do you find interesting — what is worth recording in this chronicle, and what is best left to my own amusement? What’s the right path for the upcoming year of blogging?
Come out from the woodwork, if you please — you don’t have to leave your name, even though you have mine. :-) It might be helpful if you mention whether you’re a student or a parent, though, to put things in perspective.