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Moments Of MIT

Douglas E. Heimburger

Today is my last day as a student of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I agonized for months over what I would write in this space. After all, how does one condense the experience that is MIT into a concise and meaningful work? I’ve been thinking about what I would write here for months, and I never came up with something truly exciting, truly inspirational.

But perhaps it is this failure that defines the MIT experience. Although the admissions office and the news office may try valiantly, there is no single set of words that can be described as MIT. I’m not even going to try here. Instead, I’m going to share some ramblings that I’ve had over the past few weeks.

The last four years have been perhaps the best four years and the worst four years to be an MIT student. We are the last graduating class that was here in the days of the “old MIT” -- the days before liability and responsibility were the first two words in any conversation. For the last three years, the Institute has been in a period of seismic change; these changes have offered challenges and opportunities to students that have been unparalleled in recent memory. Yet, at the same time, we have had to deal with the painful experience of being under the media spotlight, and seeing our friends ostracized by the Boston Globe every time a mistake happened.

There have been other critical times in MIT history -- those attending the Institute during World War II were thrown out of the dormitories on a week’s notice when the military decided it needed the space for barracks. But there are few times in Institute history when so much has changed culturally -- for better or for worse -- than the past three years.

This fall, the Class of 2004 will enter MIT and will likely be able to say the same thing in four years. They’re going to experience seismic changes that are perhaps even larger than what we, the Class of 2000, have experienced. After all, they’ll be the class uniquely positioned to see residence selection under the time-tested method used for the past 30 years and the new all-freshmen-on-campus system.

But it isn’t the major changes that make up the MIT experience. What I will remember the most of these years are the spontaneous conversations, the day-to-day experiences that define the life of an MIT student. I will also remember the one-time special events, like the Millennium Ball, the I-Campus Kickoff, the Infinite Buffet, and the speech of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, that show how special it is to be an MIT student. Yes, classes were important, but they are far from the top of the list of things that I remember from the past four years.

I remember one particular moment vividly. It was June 1997, and I was at Logan, heading home to visit my parents. Juggling an overnight bag, reading material, and lunch (as usual, I was running to catch my flight), I was a humorous sight. The person in front of me turned and said “You must be an MIT student. Only MIT students would be able to juggle so much without dropping something.” Turns out that he was an MIT alum from the 1960s.

Thank you, MIT, for teaching me to juggle so much -- classes, research, work, activities, and life in general. As much as the past four years have been trying, challenging, and at times frustrating, I wouldn’t give up the experience of being here for almost anything. I will wear my Brass Rat with pride, and will never feel embarrassed when someone asks where I went to school.

Perhaps one of my friends put it best last week when he reminded me how much pride we can take just in being here at MIT. “After all,” he said, “we are living someone else’s dream.” Just look at how many people apply each year to the Institute, and one can see that many would give up almost anything to be here. I am one of those people; I am eminently thankful that I had the chance to have the best four years of my life here. Goodbye, MIT, and thanks for all the memories.

Doug Heimburger served as Editor in Chief of The Tech in 1998. He graduates today with a bachelor’s degree in Management Science, and starts work at Amazon.com in Seattle next month.