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When You Gotta Go

By Tiffany Kosolcharoen

associate features editor

In a public restroom, the cleanest toilet is the first one*.

Oddly, when faced with a line of toilet stalls during nature’s desperate call, we will walk the extra steps to be cozy -- in the middle. We will even go as far as the last handicap stall... willingly accepting anything but first.

It feels comfy being second. Blending in with the crowd is a no-guts way to live. It’s fun to wallow through a Saturday like everyone else in the dorm: in PJs and flip-flops.

Even at our very visible college at the forefront of technology, we settle for less. During lectures, the second row is elbow-to-elbow cramped while the front row seems to have invisible signs saying, “Reserved for the Smart Kid.”

How many times have you known the answers to questions, but decided not to raise your hand? My recitation instructor would ask us to name a probability theorem and we would all sit like mannequins for New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. After five long silent seconds, one person awakes us all by saying something. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s when everyone starts raising their hands.

Still, we all have endeavors to be first. In fact, we want a life filled with #1’s. The #1 grad school, the #1 place to live, the #1 lover, the #1 job, the #1 family, the #1 life...

We are all sufferers of autophobia -- the fear of being alone. There is only one person who can be the first to speak up. There is only one at the front of the line. It gets lonely being at the top of the world; the only place to go from the top of Mt. Everest is down.

Yet, something is always missing at the numerous MIT talks given by people at the top of their game. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Margaret Cho of stand-up comedy, Darrell Hammond and Colin Quinn of Saturday Night Live... The list goes on. Not once was there a standing ovation.

Yes, that’s right. The speaker was still the only one standing at the beginning and the end. After the famous speaker stood on their tired legs for one whole hour, nobody, including myself, could stand up out of our seats to lead the standing ovation. Everyone was waiting for everyone else to do it. The air permeated with the urge to stand up, but we were seeking a leader.

Next time, I vow to be the one to stand up. I hope that you, too, will lead the way. Not only do we need to extend our courtesies to the distinguished guests of MIT, but we also need the courage to take charge and lead.

Nobody has aspirations of mediocrity, to be one of 290 million Americans who only make an impact on our population census. It is more than the middle toilet stall, the second row, the last in line. When a time of urgency comes, you can choose to lead alone or follow the pack. It’s up to you to live your #1 life.

* Source: Dr. Charles P. Gerba, microbiologist at the University of Arizona, for the Atlantic magazine. Gerba found that in public restrooms, the first stall is statistically the least used and had the lowest bacteria count.