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Doing the Groundhog Shuffle: MIT Students Scurry Around Looking for Their Shadows and Their Classes



Jennifer Lane

Groundhogs must be perplexed by human behavior on February 2. We're not usually that nice to the critters. Kids in particular are fond of loading groundhog holes with explosives, whapping groundhogs with spades, shooting at em with BB guns, or forcing the groundhogs to have fatal indigestion after sampling some well-placed bubblegum. This is all in hopes of having a dead garden pest to claim as a prize. But, on Feb. 2, we all wait to see the groundhog, alive, pop out of his hole. Will he see his shadow?

Whether or not many students realize it, the Institute has its own Groundhog Day rituals. It's called Registration Day.

We all fit the groundhog bill pretty well. The Reg Day shuffle is well ingrained into each and every student. If there are any questions about what to do or where to go on Reg Day, they are easily answered by peacefully accepting the herd mentality.

You wake up, go outside and look around, a little depressed by the end of IAP, senses perhaps still a little dimmed from the hearty goodbye you said to January the night before. A constant stream of students is flowing around you, so you join the crowd heading towards 77 Massachusetts Avenue.

Once you reach the main buildings, you see students start to branch off of the bustling main artery, and a dreadful thing happens - you must leave the comfortable crowd - off to see your adviser. Painful memories of previous adviser meetings gone bad run willy-nilly through your brain, but you press on. After all, you need that sacred triplicate form. After a few contrived facial expressions and well-articulated phrases, you convince your adviser that your course plan is clearly superior to whatever he or she has suggested. Either that, or you've found a new adviser. With that, you receive the all-important triplicate signature.

Clutching the white paper to your chest, you head back out towards the throbbing artery of students. Glancing around for direction, you notice a distinct stream of folks grasping similar white papers. They must know where they're going. With any luck, you've joined the stream heading to the correct athletic facility, DuPont. There's always a tributary that winds up in Johnson, but they'll get it straightened out soon enough.

You then have your form dutifully stamped by an Alpha Phi Omega volunteer, grab your Lecture Series Committee calender (probably incurring a Reg Day papercut), and are tossed aside with your yellow copy as the only testament to the day's adventure.

Following the other yellow-form-adorned students, you find yourself and your wallet reluctantly being drawn towards the Coop.

The first time I performed the shuffle, Iwas disgusted. It seemed that an institution such as MIT should have long ago figured out how students could perform this whole process from the comfort of their Institute-issued network connection. Maybe this is the way things are headed, but Ino longer think it would be a good thing.

It is amazing what members of the community come out of their holes on Reg Day. Students living off campus enter the shuffle just like dormitory residents. Undergraduates have a chance to run into M. Eng. students who have been exiled to a graduate dormitory for the fifth year of their academic career. Graduate students even march out of their labs and get in on some of the excitement. Throughout the shuffle students from these often disparate areas of the community can be seen chatting and catching up on the events of the previous semester.

Faculty and students even share some of the same space during the shuffle. Specifically, professors leaving their Rebecca's lunch are thrown into the throngs of the Coop-bound flow of students. Some of them even recognize students and stop to offer a word or two of encouragement. And, of course, every student has that requisite face-to-face encounter with at least one faculty member, their adviser.

And everyone is almost happy, or at least full of hope. There's no classwork to feel guilty about punting yet, and new classes have a new-car-like thrill about them as people anticipate the next four months. Will this semester be better than last?

For those non-students watching the groundhog on Feb. 2, the activities of the next six weeks hang in the balance. Do you keep the sled out where you can use it, or do you hide it away and whip out the bathing suit?

Well, here at MIT, adrift in a sea of groundhog-less concrete, Ihad to get my groundhog news from media broadcasts, reports from home, and the web. Iwasn't about to sit around and watch if the rats along Memorial Drive saw their shadows. Somehow they just don't have the same authority.

This year, Phil the groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania - long a strong groundhog personality - did indeed see his shadow, and the residents of Pennsylvania have bundled up for another six weeks of winter.

I checked the faculty phone directory for the position of groundhog, and it seems that re-engineering has not yet formulated a vermin task force. No one has even snarfed up the address of groundhog@mit.edu. So it seems there's no authority on whether or not MIT will have winter for the next six weeks - or a sustained sense of community, for that matter.

Unfortunately, MIT students out for Reg Day always seem to see the looming shadow of finals and grades, and we beat a hasty retreat to our holes.