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Late Night Philosophy for MIT

Veena Thomas

It’s another late night at this place we call home. But then again, there aren’t any early nights. My backpack holds numerous problem sets due in the much-too-near future. My calendar fills up with the dates of tests I must take. I use light days to catch up on all the reading I haven’t done.

I’m no different than anyone else; most of us are in the same situation. We struggle through classes in search of an A, or perhaps just to pass. Do we realize the reality of the situation? MIT has this uncanny way of beating down its students. We work harder than students at virtually any university in the country. If we are among the best and brightest, it would appear that we could handle any work thrown our way; since we can’t, it serves to show precisely how challenging the classes here are. We can study for tests for weeks and still fail; and indeed, we do.

I’m working harder than I ever thought was possible, far harder than I worked back in high school. But at what cost? I’ve gone for almost a week without seeing my really close friends, to the point that I scarcely recognize them when I do see them. E-mail from my hometown friends piles up in my mailbox unanswered. I can no longer count the number of “Are you alive?” e-mails that I’ve received. With each passing day the e-mails I compose in my head to my friends grow longer. Unfortunately, I scarcely have time to type them. It’s a vicious cycle; the longer I put off e-mail, the longer it will take to catch up, leaving me reluctant to even attempt.

I feel so old this year. Last year I was a carefree freshman, and a freshman to the core. My friends and I had one rule: no studying on Friday and Saturday nights. So why have I found myself ignoring that rule so frequently this year? Of course, I worked hard freshman year, but underneath it all was a spirit, a fresh outlook that I find fast slipping away. I read over my columns from last year and I scarcely recognize myself. I sounded so young and excited to be at college. This year all I find myself doing is writing one column after another complaining about some aspect of MIT. One of my columns from last year, “Don’t Let Stress Hit You,” spoke of the need to live life to the fullest and not to worry about studies so much, to make sure academics isn’t the only focus in life. The words seem strangely foreign now. I know in my heart that I shouldn’t worry so much, that in the grand scheme it’s not so important, but when you’re in classes with Westinghouse semifinalists and International Mathematics Olympiad winners, it’s hard not to want to compete. Suddenly your best just isn’t good enough.

Does one year of college really make such a lifetime of difference? At home I lived a completely different life. It’s interesting to look back upon things I did and felt back then. Everything is different now. I used to collect quotations obsessively in high school. I still do occasionally now, but not nearly to the same degree, probably due to time constraints. One of my favorites became my senior quote for the yearbook: “See the happy moron, He doesn’t give a damn! I wish I were a moron, My God! Perhaps I am!” Have you ever wondered what it would be like to just not care?

By virtue of the fact that we were admitted to MIT, we obviously value academics and are certainly bright. Don’t get me wrong; I treasure the fact that I am able to attend school here. But at the same time, sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a moron. Actually, not even a moron; just average. Sometimes I would give anything to go to some run-of-the-mill school and be able to punt everything and still get As. I’d like to have all the free time that my friends at other schools boast of having. They speak of “finishing off their work” a few days in advance. When is the last time anyone here finished off their work, not to mention in advance? I’d like to be able to spend time with my friends without following the old MIT joke: “Work, friends, sleep: choose two.”

I’ve heard stories about chemistry classes at other colleges where the professor asks the class, “Is orange juice an acid or a base?” and the class stares at him dumbly. Doubtless the 5.12 class sometimes wishes for a class like that.

To be or not to be a moron? We’re probably all better off the way we are, though at times it certainly doesn’t seem that way. I can only hope that the balance becomes apparent. We’re all too young to burn ourselves out. We should all try to regain part of who we used to be before entering college, part of ourselves that we miss. I’ll try to enlarge my quote collection.

Until we learn the delicate juggling act between academics and life, however, there will be many more late nights. As the Counting Crows sang, “Round here we stay up very very late.”