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Lame Duck Chairman Ponders MIT Career, Future

Column by Scott C. Deskin

During this week of Commencement, I've had some time to be introspective - about my past four years at MIT, about my future, about how I'll cope with the loss of access to the Athena clusters. While I feel I've managed to calm the fears about that last point, the other two items are still bugging me. The other evening, however, I saw a television rerun of a film which seemed to help put things in a bit more perspective: Mike Nichols' film The Graduate.

The film tells the story of Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman), a young and emotionally reserved recent graduate. Not having much to do except float around in his parents' pool all day and drink beer, he becomes bored, idly listens to the advice of his parents' friends, and has, despite some hesitation and romantic ineptitude, an affair with Mrs. Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father's law partner.

Aside from the affair with an older woman, I feel as if I may compare Benjamin's state of mind to my own. When his father approaches him in the pool and asks him what he's doing, he replies that he's "drifting." When his father asks him what he plans to do with his degree, or what the four years as an undergraduate meant, he says, "You got me." I don't think these are inherently smart-aleck answers but rather truthful ones; if I were approached with similar questions (as I have been asked in recent job interviews), I would stammer my way around a truthful answer.

I'll admit, my situation is not as dire as that of the fictional Benjamin Braddock. Out of my chemical engineering curriculum, I have definitely learned a few things about thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, and separation processes; but, am I smarter (or "better off," as politicos would say) than I was four years ago? I think not. More than anything else, MIT has been a place where I've suffered and matured in the face of oppression and impersonal attitudes; my nave high-school cynicism has been tempered and molded by this school into a more practical, world-wise realism.

When I came to MIT, I had the vague idea that I was making an investment in my future. Everyone knows nowadays that you're not anybody until you've gone to college, and you won't get hired by anybody unless 1) you know somebody in your field or 2) you're a science or engineering major at a top-notch school. Needless to say, I was disappointed when the job offers didn't come flowing in. I know a certain amount of personal ambition is required in getting a job, but I didn't get much advice from my department regarding a career path. Instead, I had to compete with my fellow classmates outside of the classroom in numerous interviews for companies that seemed bent on hiring personality types rather than diligent workers.

I will gladly accept my diploma today, and I hope others realize how much work went into earning the degree as I do. But there is a touch of disappointment amidst the memories of friends and colleagues I've worked with during my time here. Never again will I be in such a high-IQ environment, and I'll miss most of the intelligent conversations I've had with people during late-night problem sets and in lecture. Most of all, I will miss The Tech - the newspaper, the office, the people. The Tech gave me an extracurricular raison d'tre and gave me an outlet to spew my random thoughts about film, music, and art, no matter how pretentious.

In The Graduate, the pearl of wisdom offered by one of Benjamin's elders is just one word: "Plastics." The real world, and my future, are not so clear-cut. I've served my time at MIT and, still without a good grasp of my ultimate career goals - no five- or 10-year plans for me - I leave the Institute a little older and a little wiser but probably not much smarter than when I first arrived. I'm ready to leap out into the great unknown and, until I land on my feet somewhere, I'll enjoy the trip.

Congratulations to all the graduates. Have a drink. You've earned it.

Scott C. Deskin '96 hopes to dabble in film studies while attending graduate school at UCLA this fall.