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Senior Dinner an Evening to Remember

Stacey E. Blau

Before I went to my senior dinner Thursday night, I had been warned. A friend of mine who was a senior three years ago told me that the dinner was an Alumni Association enterprise geared toward soliciting donations from soon-to-be alumni - or, as she put it, "asking for money before the bodies are even cold."

I was quite smugly content with this advance tip. I certainly didn't want to be one of those oh-so-un-slick seniors going to the dinner who didn't really know what they were in for. As it turned out, I was wrong.

The dinner was quite nice. It was a treat to see the inside of the President's House, a really beautiful, if mind-bogglingly capacious, abode. It was funny to see Senior House from the inside of the President's House and wonder what President and Mrs. Charles M. Vest must be thinking each year during Steer Roast - that is, if the widely-circulated story that they go on vacation that weekend every year isn't true.

There wasn't any alcohol with the hors d'oeuvres or at the dinner itself (I wonder if Vest failed to get a waiver from the senior officer responsible for his area; perhaps his past record is less than spotless, or maybe he just didn't want to risk a Category II offense), which may have been a disappointment to some hopeful seniors.

But no one could complain about the food, and the conversation with friends was enjoyable. Sure, when the alumni - one for each of about 10 tables - stood up to speak after dinner, you could hear the language progress undeniably from talk of "cherishing memories" to "staying connected" and finally to "giving back to MIT." You didn't really need to analyze too much to figure out what they were getting at. But they were nice and quite well-spoken about it, and, above all, they were polite enough to be a little subtle.

Would that the same could be said for the students at the dinner. The other little secret I had learned in advance of the dinner (and this one turned out to be true) was that after dinner, each student had to stand up and recount a brief story of his or her most memorable experience at MIT. God only knows that most people's most memorable experience at MIT is more likely than not unfit for an audience of 80 at a semi-formal affair at the President's House.

This, however, did not appear to faze most students at the dinner. Aside from sentimental stories of memories with friends, the most popular story topic was alcohol, which probably wasn't much of surprise. Several stood up and fondly recalled stories of the times they sat around with their buddies and got drunk; one person recounted how he got busted this past fall along with his fraternity brothers when the cops found them drinking in Walden Pond (I'm sure, though, there was no underage drinking going on).

Other gems, however, included stories about flatulence, fecal matter, hazing, mooning atop the Little Dome, and playing football naked (after knocking back a couple of drinks first, of course). Some students even prefaced their stories with warnings like, "This story is probably kind of crass, but I'll tell it anyhow."

Another recalled how he and some friends stole a sign from a fraternity during rush and were promptly chased across the Harvard Bridge and tackled to the ground by brothers from that fraternity. They had, by that time, tossed the sign in the river. Early the next morning, they found themselves swimming the Charles to fish it out.

All the while, students, alums, President Vest, and Mrs. Vest listened. Many laughed at the stories; others scrunched or turned away their faces in embarrassment or disgust. Every time a particularly appalling story was recounted, I looked over to see President Vest's reactions: They ranged from seeming bemusement in the form of a half-smile to some serious lip-pursing. I began to wonder if he was bothered by the stories and planned to follow up on any of these stories, particularly in light of the new alcohol policy and the way in which MIT recently has come down hard on some students for underage drinking.

When the stories concluded, Vest stood up to deliver some closing remarks. He spoke in high-minded terms, praising us for our accomplishments thus far and charging us as future MIT alumni to go forth and conquer. MIT graduates are the sort of people who can and will really make a difference in this world, he said. Maybe he wasn't so bothered after all.