As the novelty of summer finally wears off and classes begin, I’m finding myself sitting in big lecture halls with a hundred other students again, just like last year, listening to professors elaborate class logistics and grading scales. But even before the semester is in full swing, I’ve concluded a number of things. Specifically, I’ve noticed that especially at large lectures, there are several different types of students, most of which fall into three general but distinct categories. I’ve even given them three sickeningly cute names for you: the Shining Stars, the Marginally Motivated, and the Student Extras.
The first group of students is definitely in the minority, but they are arguably some of the most loathed students at MIT. Walk into 54-100 a couple of minutes early for your lecture, look around, and the first thing you’ll notice is a group of students perched attentively in the desks at the very front of the room. Armed with mechanical pencils, colored pens, and a notebook opened to a crisp new lined and dated page, the Shining Stars are a force to be reckoned with. They are always ruining your life in some form or another. Shining Stars dutifully pipe up with the right answers when the professor asks a question, correct the 18.02 prof when he misses a sign or even advise your chem professor that your problem sets need more problems. Always on time, always focused, they’re the ones you wish you knew at 3 a.m. when you’re still working on your homework due later that day. Sadly, though, no matter how much you try to work your way into the front row to become a Shining Star, you’ll never be able to displace those shy, smiling apples of the professor’s eyes. The final thing about the Shining Stars is that for some reason, like a recurring nightmare, a handful of the same ones are in all of my classes.
Sure, the Shining Stars are a rough crowd, but it’s important to note that they’re a constructive part of your lecture, even if they do break the curve. Lucky for you, someone counteracts the sugary goodness of your front-row peers. For the sake of political correctness, I’ll call them Marginally Motivated; they’re the people trickling in ten minutes after lecture starts, sometimes leaving ten minutes later. The typical Marginally Motivated student has that unkempt I-just-woke-up look that you’ve seen in fashion magazines, but pulls it off with such amazing reality that you’re in awe and disgusted at the same time. They never talk, either, kind of like that guy who used to be on Conan O’Brien. They show up to class a couple of times for a 50-minute nap, and you never see them again. You think Marginally Motivated students are indeed less motivated than you, until like an act of God one of them finally comes to recitation to pick up an exam, and you oh-so-casually peer over your shoulder at his paper and realize that you’re wrong. Keep trying, kid.
Of course, the Shining Stars and Marginally Motivated are terrible extremes, and if you’re like me, you probably find yourself somewhere between super-mega-overachievement and utter apathy. If this is so, you fall into the category tenderly known as the Student Extras, which consists of the majority of your class. Students in this category are termed such because they function as extras in a movie: besides actually sitting there and taking notes, they’re there to fill space so the professor doesn’t get lonely. The Student Extras rarely operate in individual terms; they chuckle together as the laugh track for all the professor’s bad jokes (as the Shining Stars smile on assuredly and the Marginally Motivated continue their naps), and they even shout out answers in unity with the Shining Stars when the prof asks for a class response. Once in a while one asks a question, but quite rarely, as this provokes the Shining Stars to ask more.
Of course, when it comes down to classes, being a Shining Star, Marginally Motivated, or a Student Extra doesn’t make all that much of a difference. Rest assured, no matter which category you fall into, the next few months will be the same simultaneous jubilation and agony that we’ve grown to love as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Sheeva Azma is a member of the Class of 2005.