MIT Is Disney Land When Parents Are HereColumn by Bill Jackson
God, this place is beautiful.
I was walking around campus looking at the freshly mowed lawns and the meticulously manicured flowerbeds and I was thinking that MIT is just a lovely place to walk around and enjoy.
I went outside yesterday, and there were people enjoying the outdoors, throwing frisbees, juggling, and generally having fun. Few people had books open, and those that did were reading light fare: the latest from Stephen King or Dean R. Koontz, perhaps.
I began to whistle, and small cartoon birds fluttered around me and sang along. Then a band appeared out of nowhere, like in an old Elvis movie, and we broke out into a song-and-dance number.
You think this is sickening? I agree. But think about how wonderful this place can seem at times, especially to outsiders, even though the students all know it isn't so. The problem is that the place is made to seem pleasant whenever parents are around.
Think about it. During Parents Weekend (replaced of late with the friendlier generic monicker Family Weekend) MIT turns into Disney World. Instead of a castle, we have a dome. Instead of EPCOT Center, we have the Center for Space Research. Instead of the the creepy old Haunted Mansion, we have creepy old Random Hall. Instead of Mickey Mouse, we have Chuck Vest. The comparisons go on and on.
Consequently, our parents can't see why we hate this place. Dad says something like, "This is great -- a record store and a grocery store right in your student center" and Mom says something like, "Look at how pleasant people are around here" and you can't explain to them what MIT is really like.
My parents still don't understand why I don't have the deep love for my alma mater that they do. Not so long ago they mentioned the contribution my Mom made to her school and I was asked if I would ever donate money to MIT. When the operator-deafening laughter had subsided, they seemed shocked. I calmly told them I hated this f'n place. They had thought it was just a phase I had gone through as a freshman, but I'm still going through the phase. The only difference is I'm no longer angry at the place, just resigned to it.
I propose a new version of Family Weekend for next year, to give relatives a taste of the real MIT. Here's the plan.
First, the Institute should tell the parents, but not the students, when Family Weekend will take place. Then, to ensure that students will be around, every class should assign either a test, a long problem set, or a 10-page paper, due on a Friday in early December. The campus will be frosty and gray, and the combination of all the work done over the course of the term and the impending work to be done for finals will be just right.
The parents should show up at a pre-designated time (May I suggest 2 a.m. Friday morning?) and barge in on the student. Here's a sample conversation between a student, "Ann," and her Mom and Dad upon such an arrival.
Ann: Who is it? What do you want from me?
(She opens the door).
Ann: Who are you people?
Mom: We're your parents, dear.
Dad: We're the ones who shell out $25,000 a year so you can enjoy the best four years of your life. You remember us, right?
Ann: Vaguely. Do either of you know the Rydberg Constant?
Mom: No, dear. We're here to visit you. Why don't you take some time off and show us around campus?
Ann: What is "time off?"
Dad: Are all these cans of soda yours, honey? I've never heard of "Jolt" before. Must be tasty stuff if you drink this much of it.
When poor Ann recovers from her overworked stupor, however, she can show them around the real MIT. Gas masks in hand, they can enter an Athena cluster, but they must remember that it is late in the term, so if a Nerd raises its arms to stretch, they must put on the masks immediately.
Then Ann can take her parents to meet some of her professors. Not the ones MIT showcases during the current Family Weekend, mind you, but the ones MIT tries to hide, who peer over their horn-rimmed glasses and say "You say you're an undergraduate? Yes, I remember them. Little short people, as I recall. Of course, it's been a while since I've seen one up close, so give me a minute."
Unfortunately, I suspect that MIT will never allow this. So parents, try to understand the mixed feelings your offspring have about MIT. And graduates, remember, as you leave this place it may start to have a Disney World quality to it. Resist these feelings at all costs! Before you know it you'll be a contributing alumnus and you'll only return for the "happy, shiny" days, and you'll think to yourself ...
God, this place is beautiful.
Tech opinion editor Bill Jackson '93 hopes to ride all the rides before he graduates next year.