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It May Not Be Right, But is it Even Wrong?

A Compliment

By Dan Scolnic

Features Columnist

Things were better when we were younger. Sweet-smelling stickers told us “Excellent” or “Nice try.” Report cards said, “Chris is a wonderful student; he could do even better if he just wouldn’t talk so much” or “Justine is living up to her potential; I knew she could do it!” We tried to be blasÉ but we secretly liked it when our parents came home from parent/teacher conferences and we’d simultaneously get compliments from the three most important people in the world. But we don’t get compliments like that anymore.

In fact, we hardly get any compliments. We go to an extremely tough school, we get demoralized very quickly and we could use some encouragement. It’s that simple. I’m not fishing for compliments; I’m hunting for them.

When we came for CPW, we sat with all the other prefrosh and people stood before us and told us that we’re great. And we felt great. It didn’t matter that we probably weren’t the best looking class like Marilee Jones said. It didn’t matter that we probably weren’t the smartest class either. We believed every word.

For a moment, we felt like we had reached a real goal. We were proud of ourselves and of those around us and we were able to soak things in. We got the compliment we worked so hard to receive.

But that moment has passed and even though we’re still sitting with those same kids, we’re just not that proud of ourselves anymore. We don’t stop to soak things in (or maybe we just don’t get the chance to) and we forget about that kid not too long ago who was so thrilled to be a part of this place. We call ourselves “down to earth” when comparing ourselves to others, but its more than that. We changed.

This whole change happens in little steps. You get a sixty-five on your first test and no matter what “average” is you’re disappointed. You grew up using an absolute magnitude scale for your tests where As were high nineties. But then it happens again so you make yourself believe in the whole idea of average. And you start focusing on it so much that you start thinking of yourself as average. You forget about where you are and what you’re doing and you just want to be in the mean.

And it’s stupid. We think we’re average but it’s average at one of the most extreme schools in the world. We just forget that. Even when we hear news reports about grade inflation at great universities, we think those students are cowards. We think they are taking the easy way out but we forget about what the hard way is doing to us. People often comment that MIT is a fine-tuned ego-ruining machine. And we accept that. We don’t want to make some Matrix style man versus the machine war to keep our ego; we just want to get by. So we need some help.

Someday I’d like to be in class and to hear a teacher begin by saying, “I think you guys are awesome. I mean, really, unbelievable. A 62 average on that last test? That’s amazing. I was even scared of taking that test. You all made me proud of being a teacher. So, if you’d let me, I’d like to share my passion with all of you passionate kids.” If a teacher said that, even if he were talking about the Dewey Decimal System, I would listen to every word.

But in the meantime, I’ll give you a compliment myself. You guys are ridiculously amazing. If you scored below average on that last test, well then, let me shake your hand. If you scored around average, well then, let me have your autograph. And if you scored above a standard mean of deviation, well then, let’s get married and have lots of babies.

So this is your report card. You’re extreme. Send it home to your parents if you want. And also, tell them we’re getting married.