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A Boy And His Rat

Akshay Patil

When I first came to MIT, I couldn’t understand it. Everyone seemed to be obsessed with their class ring. The “Brass Rat,” they lovingly called it; ask an MIT student one question about their brass rat and you’ve unwittingly sacrificed 30 minutes of your life to hearing about all the hidden messages and special symbols of that year’s brass rat.

I remember last year when all the sophomores got their brass rats. I couldn’t walk down my hall without people sticking their hands in my face, shouting “Oh my god! Look at my brass rat! Isn’t it awesome!?! I love it, I’m wearing it forever.” As a freshman, I just could not grasp their giddiness. It’s a ring, deal with it.

For the longest of times it seemed so petty to me. One of those things that MIT makes bigger than it really is. Do I really need to shell out the money for the ring? Is it worth the hassle and the weight? Would I even bother to wear the damn thing when I got it?

Then, one day, it came to me. After a pit stop at home (California) on my way back from India this winter break, I boarded my plane back to Boston in a exhausted but relieved state. I collapsed into my seat and, on instinct, I skimmed the faces around me to see if I recognized anyone. Seeing no one, I surprised myself by shifting my gaze down to people’s hands. I was looking for a brass rat. I wanted to find someone with a rat on their hand so that I could look at them and know that they understood the mixture of emotions I feel every time I fly into Logan Airport.

It was at that moment I felt inadequate. I don’t have a brass rat. What if at that very moment, there was someone on that plane, doing the same exact thing, who wouldn’t know I was a beaver due to my lack of a brass rat? I covered my hands in shame, not wanting to expose my deficiency to the rest of the world. That’s when the craving came upon me. I wanted my brass rat. I needed my brass rat.

I reached MIT only to discover that my friends had also been struck with the affliction. Second semester became little more than a hellish obstacle between us and the coveted ring. We counted the days, dreaming of when the band of gold would encircle our finger. Ring premiere was a sadistic taste of what would soon be ours, but not soon enough.

During spring break I would try to describe my tingles of anticipation to friends from other universities. They couldn’t understand me. “It’s just a class ring. And why do they give it to you your sophomore year?” And the gap between us grew.

I guess it’s that the brass rat has come to symbolize everything we do at MIT. After an ordeal, one expects some sort of physical gratification to show that they survived. Diplomas are nice and all, but they sit on walls. You need something to carry around with you; proof that you went through the Institvte. A badge of honor, a badge of pain, a badge of endurance.

Wear it on a ring finger and you’re married to the Institute; wear it on your middle finger and show your true love for this place. Wear it on some other finger because it doesn’t quite fit one of the other two and you really don’t feel like going and getting it fixed. Don’t wear it at all since it’s a bulky piece of hardware and you can’t understand the hype but bought one anyway. Whether the rat shits on you or on the rest of the world, it means you’re a beaver -- for better or for worse.

Freshmen, don’t try to understand it. When your sophomore friends can’t stop gabbing about how good it feels to have their brass rat, just smile and nod. Let us have our fun; someday you too will know the feeling. It’s a strange phenomenon that strikes campus every year, and it can’t be explained until it’s experienced. When the craving comes, just sit tight and remind yourself that the cure will come. Stick with it and a brass rat will be yours.