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Change Is In the Apple Trees

Laura McGrath Moulton

I first set foot on the MIT campus as a prospective student in the fall of 1996. My girlfriend and I took the T over from her dorm at Boston University to attend an information session on a Sunday afternoon. After navigating our way from the Kendall Square/MIT T stop (which, of course, deposits you nowhere near the center of either Kendall Square or MIT), I realized I had left the room number for the information session at home.

We had a half hour to figure it out and no one to ask: the Infinite Corridor was deserted. So we made our way to the Johnson barbecue pits and sat under the apple trees. We even ate one of the apples that had fallen to the ground. (It wasn’t half bad, I swear.) Sitting there restored my courage and I decided to search for the room.

Reasoning that the session would be held at the center of campus and pulling the number 2 from the recesses of my memory, I walked as if led by magic to ... 10-250. It was the right room, and as we settled in, I thought, maybe I am smart enough to get into MIT. Trees that drop fresh fruit into your lap, rooms you can find your own way to: this is the place for me.

And now, as they say, for the rest of the story. That quality of finding your own way at MIT turned out to be a mixed blessing. I loved (and still love) the idea of choosing where you want to live -- the fact that the uncool, the different, the loners can create their own safe havens -- but found I was utterly unprepared to take advantage of that choice as a first-semester freshman. I cherished my new independence, not to mention the sheer intellectual thrill of the place, but grappled with loneliness in this big, modern campus that offered precious few cozy spaces for bewildered new students.

And then, of course, there was the specter of death. The first event that the entire class of 2001 collectively remembers (aside from being soaked to the skin during what had to be the rainiest R/O ever) was the death of Scott Krueger. Other deaths followed at terribly regular intervals: some in our class, some in others; deaths by accident, by illness, and by suicide. I’ve heard it said that statistically there are no more deaths at MIT than elsewhere, but deep down I don’t believe that, and on some level I think we’re all grateful just to be making it out alive, literally and figuratively.

These issues aren’t news to anyone. They didn’t stop me from spending four wonderful years here. And of course the administration and the students are talking constantly these days about fixing MIT’s problems. We hear all the time about building community, about student facilities, about improved support systems and a better rush. I respect these efforts and consider them important to MIT’s growth as an institution.

But as someone of the last class to have seen the old MIT, for good and for bad, let me point out: the apple trees are gone now, chopped down to make way for the new athletics center. MIT wants to spare its students the brutal isolation and confusion of the past, but it must also be careful to still let them find their own ways to the special moments that make being here worthwhile. A hard blow to the head hurts -- and if it’s too hard it can kill -- but where would we be without the apple that hit good old Isaac Newton’s head?