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Enjoying an Irreverent Tour of the Institute

Conclude Journey Through MIT with Something a Little Unpredictable

Anna K. Benefiel

I love giving tours of MIT.

For those ninety minutes, I get to be the embodiment of the MIT spirit -- a responsibility which I enjoy not taking too seriously. I get to tell the most bizarre and captivating stories I can remember from the last four years, stories of our undergraduate experiences at MIT, to a more or less attentive audience.

Aside from the normal Smoots-across-the-bridge/R2D2-and-Campus-Police cruiser-on-the-dome/freshman-year-pass-no-record/eighty-percent-of-Baker-House-rooms-have-a-view-of-Boston/one-to-thirteen-faculty-student-ratio/LSC-shows-movies-in-26-100-on-weekends-for-$2.50/340-recognized-student-groups-at-MIT, the “regular” spiel, I talk about our class ring and the letters radiating from the tiny sun on it, about the last round of the 2.007 contest this year, about nerd kits in lab classes, about Tarky being published in Science, and about singing “Pomp and Circumstance” with the Chorallaries on kazoos for Charm School’s commencement during IAP.

I mention the surprise two-foot snowfall on April Fool’s Day, 1996, and the slip and slide in the hallways of East Campus. I mention that multiple choice 18.03 test where negative ten points was considered passing. I mention couches suspended from the ceiling and the musical staircase at TEP, and the incredible creativity and vibrancy of student culture here in our FSILG and dormitory system -- a system currently characterized by freshman choice.

When I run into people around campus during the course of the tour, I ask them if they have any pensive reflections to share. The most creative answer ever? Probably, “Look at me now. I’m a graduating senior. I was much taller and cuter when I got here freshman year. Don’t major in computer science, this is what happens to you.”

When I pause intermittently during the rapid-fire-tour-speech for questions, I am invariably asked why I chose MIT over schools of similar caliber. I suppose the short answer is: both of my parents went to Stanford and wanted me to go there, so I came here instead. Of course, I’m mostly joking. Sometimes I explain that I came to MIT to be intensely traumatized by four years of no sleep, little nutritional sustenance, and an infinite series of problem sets, lab reports, and essay assignments: a workload that no earthling could reasonably be expected to complete in the forty-five minutes of weekly free time enjoyed by the average MIT undergraduate.

In reality, I came to MIT because it is an irreverent, quirky place with a character that defies precise description. MIT is a meritocracy. We give out no honorary degrees, we have no athletic scholarships, there is no valedictorian. We are a school of thinkers, but also of doers: people who build fish tanks and rewire the lighting in the hallway to turn off when someone picks up the lounge phone. MIT is a school for the curious, interesting, and passionate person. You won’t truly enjoy MIT without these qualities, but you can’t make it through without at least some ingenuity and courage. I think, though, that it makes us all better people to have survived (however narrowly) the harshness of the educational experience at the ’Tute.

Today as we graduate, you should do something unusual, something a little unpredictable, on your walk up the red carpet to get your degree. You know, mix it up a bit for the video cameras and photographers. In five years, we’ll all look back on this day and wish we could have again the freedom of these moments -- the freedom of the young, energetic, and ambitious.

In closing, aside from the incessant shaking (too much caffeine) and the addiction to Athena and Zephyr (sadly, incurable), I think I’ve emerged from MIT mostly unscarred. When I board my flight, one week from today, and leave Boston far, far behind, I’ll miss the Institute and walking around it with my fellow travelers. It’s been a wonderful four-year tour, my friends. I hope we get to do it again sometime.