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Do the Wave - and Say Goodbye

By Bill Jackson
trapped in a man's body

First things first.

If any seniors should happen to read this before Commencement begins, here's the deal; nobody really wants to listen to Mexican President Salinas blab on, right? So let's make it fun. Every time Salinas says the words "North American Free Trade Agreement," we do the wave. We'll do it in the order they'll seat us to give degrees, which, if I understand this correctly, means that the responsibility for starting the wave falls on the shoulders of the Course IV senior whose name comes first in the alphabet. That's you, Rukiye Devres of Istanbul, Turkey! Remember, Rukiye, on the cue "North American Free Trade Agreement," stand up, throw your hands in the air, and start the wave!

Good, that's out of the way.

Looking back, I consider my education at MIT a total failure. This is because I came here wanting to learn one thing; how to convert all of my Talking Heads tapes to CDs without buying the albums all over again. I still don't know how to do this; if MIT were a late-night TV offer, I could demand my money back.

But there was a redeeming feature that would keep me from making a claim on my money-back guarantee.

For three years, from halfway through my first year at MIT until my graduation last February, I had the singular privilege of writing for The Tech's opinion page. This meant a lot of things.

It meant that opinions of mine -- opinions no more significant than the opinions of anyone else, except people who write for The Thistle -- were printed in glorious type on page 4 or page 5 of The Tech. It meant that telling people my full name often caused them to look at me for a second and ask, with expressions ranging from repulsion to awe, "Are you the Bill Jackson who writes for The Tech?"

And it meant that, for the two years I was opinion editor, I had a unique degree of understanding for the feelings of Tech readers. I read all of the letters received by The Tech, and selected and edited many of them for publication. Those that I didn't were taken care of by my excellent co-editors, Prabhat Mehta and especially Matt Hersch, a fine, funny guy you'll now deservedly find at the top of The Tech's mast (that's the big tall column at the left end of page 4).

Being opinion editor meant editing with as much detachment as possible letters ranging from well-written ones I agreed with to pieces of crap I didn't.

It also gave me a chance to read the crank letters. The best of the cranks was Henry Ratliff, who bombed us with regular contributions about once a week from his home base somewhere in Texas. Early Ratliff was rambling, rather boring prose, but I grew to love late-period Ratliff, when he geared his typewriter up to create poetry the likes of which the world has never seen. Now, despite my one-time admonition that "I'll never $#@%ing print Ratliff," I would like to use some of my final column space to reprint the Ratliff classic "Jesus," which represents some of his finest work.


his church

purifies earth

of hatred



junk food

cancerous coal


sperm swarming

eating trees


ing sprees

I got to read this stuff every week -- for free! -- and there were others where Henry came from. For all the pleasure he's given me, I figure the least I can do is print one of his masterpieces. He stopped writing us late last year. I'll miss ya, Henry.

But besides the fun of reading, editing, and writing, my experience at The Tech gave me a chance to meet some of the nicest people at MIT, a group that works much harder than they should to produce a sadly under-appreciated newspaper at a school where there is no journalism school and only a smattering of humanities majors of any type. I want to thank a few of these people. And after three years it's my right, dammit, so skip the next paragraph of in-jokes if you can't take it.

To Debby, who was quite the chairman, inventing the non-gavel gavel, and Lois, who followed with definite style. To Josh, whose nickname is unprintable in a family paper, and who probably has done more for The Tech than anyone in at least a few decades, maybe more. To Jeremy, one of the few people capable of out-spending Josh and Reuven. To Doug, who lived the nightmare of sharing my brain with Arun, and Marie, who may be the only person I will ever know who responds civilly and positively to the question, "Can you do any tricks with your breasts?" To Joanna, who is lame, and Karen, who is from California, which is pretty much the same thing. To Reuven, who I thought was without question the most amazing editor in chief of all time, until Brian came in and, unbelievably, matched Reuven's achievement for a full year. If only the Yankees had a one-two punch like them on their pitching staff. And finally, to Kathy, because meeting her through the paper allows me, in retrospect, to justify all the time I spent at The Tech. To all of them, thanks and good luck in all you do.

I know I've omitted people, and they have my thanks and apologies. Lack of space and good jokes about some people prevent me from mentioning everyone I've known through the paper.

And to the Tech readership: If you're one of those who has hated everything I've written, thanks. It means a lot to me that anything I could scribble out might provoke both the nasty attacks and thoughtful letters that have been written to The Tech concerning my columns over the past few years.

And if you're one of those who has told me over the past few years that you've liked something I wrote, thanks to you too. I wrote because it was fun and knowing that I made people laugh along the way is pretty great.

Sometimes it seemed that MIT was trying -- in and out of the classroom -- to teach us how to think. And at other times it seemed that MIT was trying to teach us what to think. Maybe this is just a product of being on a college campus in the nineties, with so-called "political correctness" raging. So I'm proud of everything I've written, because I believe I managed to think about issues, both serious and silly, for three years.

Finally, I want to say to all those I've disagreed with that if I believed they were thinking, as opposed to parroting something outlined by political orthodoxy, then I had respect for them. We need more thinking people at MIT, even if they are thinking people I personally disagree with.

That's it. Have a good life, everybody.

Bill Jackson '93 will never write a silly autobiographical blurb like this again. He will not miss it.