Campus Life

Freshman year reflections

Looking back on a lot of cookie dough

Every Friday I walk this campus backwards. Not because I’m crazy or want a good workout, but because I’m a tour guide. At the beginning of every tour, we introduce ourselves. It wasn’t until recently that I found myself saying I’m a rising sophomore. Which still sounds really weird, especially looking back at the whirlwind that was freshman year.

I was admitted into MIT on Early Action. I never really gave it a second thought and committed instantly. I fell in love with this place during CPW. I started my freshman year with a supportive community at MacGregor, great friends, and an advisor I really liked. I was excited for a new adventure.

I had it all planned out: I was going to relax first semester and learn how to MIT. I’d go to Boston every weekend and hang out with my friends. I’d get a UROP during IAP, have a great second term, and probably either UROP or try to get an internship for the summer.

If there’s one thing that MIT has taught me, it’s to not plan too much.

I failed the first 8.01 exam. I got a solid 24 out of 100. I got a concussion the third week of the semester, the night before my 18.02A exam. My neighbor, a sophomore I barely knew, rode in the ambulance with me and we got back at 5 a.m. We’re close friends now and took 6.004 together last semester.

I felt defeated in a lot of ways. No matter how many hours I poured into psets and studying, I could barely pass my classes. I felt the embarrassment of No Recording a class and scraping by with a lot of C’s when so many of my friends sailed through, seemingly unscathed. MacGregor’s shelves had only succeeded in accumulating dust and giving me a head injury. And, of course, I had the typical struggles and crises that leave you sitting in the hallway at an unreasonable hour, eating Cookie Butter out of a jar with your neighbor.

Second semester was difficult, too. I had a lot going on in terms of my own health and things erupting at home. Sometimes it’s hard to be in two places at once. I felt stretched thin, like a rubber band used as a temporary fix.

I soon found myself touching base regularly with MIT Mental Health and my dean at S^3. I learned to cut myself a break. Lots of breaks.

When you come to MIT, upperclassmen tell you this place is hard. What they don’t tell you is that it isn’t hard for everyone at the same time or in the same ways.

Freshman year is an unpredictable hurricane of new. It’s a big change, made harder by challenging classes in areas you may not care for. It’s drinking from a firehose, and when you can finally squint past the water, you realize everyone else cleverly engineered wells and filters and you’re the idiot who wore a white T-shirt.

Despite all this, I didn’t hate my freshman year. And I can’t hate MIT. I never could. This place means a lot to me. I love it here. Just not for the reasons that my nice plan would have had me believe.

In November, I got a UROP at the MIT Media Lab. I love the Media Lab; it’s my favorite place on campus, and that was the first brick in the new foundation of my MIT experience.

I had an amazing supervisor, and I found everyone in the group so interesting. It was the place I looked forward to going to every week and contributing to. My group was nice enough to include me in Members’ Week, where I got to present some of the things I had worked on, help run the demos, and eat fancy food.

I took photos and wrote some articles for The Tech. I learned how to walk backwards and share my love of MIT (and bad jokes about Harvard) to the general public.

I made amazing friends. I’ve never been surrounded by so many supportive people in my life. I have at least five people I can call 24/7, and they will drop what they’re doing and actually help get me through whatever I need to do.

Upperclassmen got me through crisis after crisis: whether it was those first psets or deciding majors or helping me to believe that someday I would be able to do this.

The only reason anyone makes it through MIT is because of the people here.

People who will lead you on adventures at 2 a.m. and show you the crazy projects they’ve created, whether it be the headphones they made from scratch or the hammock in their room. People who will order late night froyo with you after you fail an exam. People who will help you on a pset that’s due the next day, even though it’s 10 p.m. and you’ve just started. We’re not just brains, we’re heart.

I was reminded of this in April when, after the thrill of Members’ Week — while I was debating majors, having a crisis over the fact that I failed almost every exam in the past year, and thinking I probably couldn’t withstand a technical major here — I ended up in Professor Bove’s office.

Bove assured me that I wasn’t crazy and told me that people major in all types of things at MIT. Some people major in research. Some people major in sports. Some people major in startups. Other people major in The Tech. What goes on your certificate doesn’t really define your education.

The realization that MIT is a create your own adventure and (provided that you eventually pass everything and don’t do anything illegal) that there is no right or wrong way to do it was a big deal for me.

There’s no real way for me to say exactly what freshman year taught me. It’s a hodgepodge of moments and lessons. So many that I want to freeze them and put them in glass bottles on my shelves, because I found myself the happiest I’ve ever been during my time here.

I can honestly say that I am a very different person from the me that entered MIT, and I’m different from who I thought I would be. And I can honestly say that I’m thankful for so much that happened over the course of this year.

There’s still a lot I don’t know. But I do know that I have truly found paradise. And that’s enough for me.