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In The Limelight

Guest Column Mitali Dhar

As classes begin, a wave of feelings seems to overcome each of us - joy to see all of our friends again, grief at missing all our friends from summer, fear at thinking of all those new classes and professors, and indifference, since what could possibly be worse than having no life and failing two classes like last term?

Whatever the feelings, we are here to face MIT again - the place we come back to every term, sometimes, it seems, just because they say that an education here will take you places. And who are "they"? Your parents, your professors, your neighbors, your friends who didn't get in here, strangers you meet outside the confines of the Institute?

Have you ever wondered what all those people out there - the ones who don't have the so-called privilege of belonging to this school - ever think about us, the supposedly privileged ones who study here? Contact with an MIT student seems to bring about different reactions in different people. Every summer, we all meet various people who look at us and talk to us differently just because we are from MIT. They come in a number of varieties.

Mr. I-Kiss-The-Ground-You-Walk-On. This person thinks that you are the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars to the educated population of the world. You are the local genius who managed to get into this great school, which must mean that you have an IQ of at least 200. You supposedly know everything and, therefore, every word that comes out of your mouth is taken as the truth and the law. If this person comes in the form of a parent, he runs to you for advice on how to get his child into MIT. Every kid looks at you in wonder and talks in hushed tones about you.

Mr. You-Had-Better-Know-Everything. This person assumes that you know all there is to know about technology in the world, and God forbid that you display the slightest bit of ignorance. Since you're an MIT student, you had better show him that you can do calculus in your head, can program in your sleep, and derive any physics equation in a flash - irrespective of your major, of course. He expects you to prove your MIT caliber with answers to problems that even your worst professor never dreamt of asking you.

Mr. Where-Did-You-Say-You-Went-To-School? This is the person who brings our soaring egos crashing to the ground. This person has absolutely no clue about anything in the world - or at least that's what snotty little I would assume if he hadn't heard of MIT. He doesn't care if you go to MIT or are still in junior high school. MIT could stand for Men in Trenches or Martian Intelligence Training for all he cares.

Mr. I-Am-Better-Than-You-Can-Ever-Hope-To-Be. Yeah, I'm talking about that person who most probably goes to that school up the river or some similar place. This person is paranoid about the possibility of you outshining him, so to him, anything you've learned at MIT is looked down upon as the total rubbish you'd expect from a technological school. In this person's opinion, you must be able to talk about Socrates and Emerson and Milton and Rembrandt all in the same breath for him to even consider having a conversation with you. Should you even dare to bring up the names of Einstein or Newton or Pythagoras, he will, with a condescending sneer, turn his back on you, and that will be the end of your acquaintance.

Mr. Glad-To-See-You-Again-Hope-You-Haven't-Changed. Your high school buddies are in this category. They don't care where or what you study, just as long as you act normal with them. You could be the perfect straight-A student at MIT, the person who messes up the curve for everyone else in the class, or you could be the kid who wonders every day how he ever got in to MIT. But as long as you are cool with your friends, they accept you as you are. These are the people you look forward to hanging out with in the summer. They don't try to test your mental abilities, and they don't try to outshine you or even expect you shine.

The next time you feel like an exhibit shining under the MIT spotlight, just think of the people who treat you like a normal person, and realize that there will always be someone out there who won't give two hoots about what college you attend. And remember that the day you decided to come to MIT, you gave a small part of yourself up to public scrutiny and criticism at the MIT exhibition. The latter is, unfortunately, just something you have to deal with.

Mitali Dhar is a member of the Class of 1999.