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Words of Advice

Sandra M. Chung

Dear Freshmen,

You might not be quite certain that you’re in the right place. I wasn’t too psyched about living in a sea of nerds either, but after my first year at MIT I was certain that I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

One thing that might help convince you is a walk in Killian Court. It is the place where you officially began your MIT career, and the place where you will ceremoniously end it. For my classmates it was where we first heard the cry of “Let the Rush begin!” and began our MIT education with a one week crash course in the “play hard” element of the MIT undergraduate mantra. For all of us, it is a rare oasis of peace and greenery on this patchwork campus, one of the few parts of the ’Tute pretty enough to put on postcards and show in movies.

Killian Court is one of the few parts of MIT that hasn’t changed drastically in the three short years since I first arrived here. Many of my classmates find it hard to believe that this is the same Institute that welcomed us with the magnificence of Rush and a promise to nurture our individuality while satiating our ravenous hunger for knowledge. Upperclassmen and recent graduates have been saddened and angered by the recent loss of some of the most treasured elements of undergraduate life. We might not be able to restore things to the way they were, but we want you to treasure your undergraduate life the way we treasure ours.

For the next three to n years, you will live with an intensity most people will never know. You will learn to work harder and more efficiently than you ever thought you could. You will discover the cruelness of the phrase “intuitively obvious” and the profound beauty of “regular sleep.” You will leave with a coveted degree that earns instant respect for a very good reason. You might be satisfied with this place for these reasons, but you won’t love it for them.

You will know you love this place when you begin to harbor an irrational hatred toward any and all things associated with Harvard, and when you feel an impulse to cheer at the brief sighting of Killian Court in “Good Will Hunting.” You will learn about the complex subculture of MIT undergraduates, complete with knowledge of dorm and FSILG stereotypes and people who defy them. You will likely take advantage of the unique opportunity to party harder and more brilliantly than any mere Ivy League student. You will brazenly assert your MIT uniqueness and hardcoreness the way even the most cynical of us do.

A good freshman year is one of the keys to happiness here. Freshman year is the best year to try new things, meet new people, and make leaps and bounds in independence and maturity. You can’t do that when you’re buried in books all the time. I wasn’t on grades my freshman year, and you are; I had more lenient course requirements than you; and I had the opportunity to live off campus. It’s going to be harder for you to take time for things nonacademic, but that’s why it’s all the more important for you to make an effort to do so.

Don’t buy all the negative press; the Institute is only a pressure cooker if you make it one. Never forget that, even when your problem sets are due in three hours and you haven’t slept in 48. You always have choices; learn about your personal priorities and capabilities so you can weigh them in making the best choices possible.

Get to know the people here. You will never again live so close to such a huge variety of talented people. Not only will they help you pass your classes, but they will help you eat good food, buy cheap books, and live life to its fullest.

Try new things. The Boston area is home to some of the best restaurants in the country, as well as many major artistic venues and a whole lot of people your age who aren’t from MIT.

Get away from MIT every now and then. Leaving the bubble of MIT helps you appreciate life inside of it.

Be proud of this place, and be critical of it. Don’t accept policies and practices without questioning why they exist and whether they’re the best they can be. That goes for the rest of the world as well as MIT

Make MIT better. We, the undergraduates, are the soul of this place. It’s our responsibility to leave a mark on it and to do our best to inspire future classes to leave theirs.

You are in the right place. You might not know it now, but I’m certain you will.

Sandra M. Chung is a member of the class of 2004.