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I Hate The Real World

Guest Column
Wally Holland

There’s a certain terror to the prospect of graduating. I should mention that I won’t be doing it for at least two years, so it’s a somewhat distant terror; but the idea has been looming in my mind of late.

MIT has taught me, you see, to hate the real world.

I recently saw the film Your Friends and Neighbours, which (I should mention) is clever but quite disturbing. The main characters are officemates, working faceless 9-to-5 jobs, meeting at the water cooler, chatting about professional sports, and generally acting like civilized American well-to-do’s. When one of the characters experiences an emotional breakdown near the film’s end, his agonized state is symbolized by five days’ growth of beard (unthinkable, no?).

This world seemed wholly foreign to me, halfway (hopefully) through my undergrad tenure at MIT. I looked at myself in the mirror that night and realized that, on average, I shave every week or so. I bathe somewhat more frequently than that, which marks me as abnormally conscientious among Course VI juniors-to-be. I thought (until recently) that the Hartford Whalers were a maritime conservation club. Once, I worked a 9-to-5 job -- my boss was a Harvard grad, so such things are forgivable.

The citizens of the MIT compound possess a unique fear and loathing for the shimmering mirage on the other side of the Charles River known as “real life”. Inside the Great Dome, our vision is occluded by acronyms like GPA, CAP, IFC, LSC. We live in a dimly-lit geek fantasy, and we take tremendous pride in that. If you’ll allow me to flog a dead horse for a moment, I’ll point out that pulling freshman back to Cambridge is a step farther back into our collective shell; it’s hard to imagine dealing face-to-face with an angry super when you live in a miniature city full of people younger than the cast of “Friends”.

MIT, for its many resounding successes (this is assuredly the best school on earth, for most of us), manages to turn out many students whose view of the world is terrifyingly narrow. And at no time is this more apparent than Commencement -- and this year, unusually so. Someone from the Outside (with a capital O) is coming -- it’s Click and Clack! Much to our collective relief, the world is populated with MIT alums, right? Unfortunately, this is hardly the case -- only a fraction of the world is at all interested in our $110,000 diplomas. We’re all sharing something powerful and special and important -- but chances are we’ll end up working not for Jack Florey, James Tetazoo, or David Honig, but for Gordon Gecko, Alex P. Keaton, or John Harvard.

To any graduate who might be reading this, you have my congratulations. You’ve proven yourself in the most demanding academic environment in America. Tomorrow you’ll be surrounded with the unconcerned, the uninformed, the unwashed, the impatient, and the impertinent. In short, nothing will have changed.

But nothing will be the same, either. Good luck -- I’m sure we’re all ready.

Wally Holland is a member of the Class of 2001.