Death by Zeitgeist
Eulogizing Four Years of the InstituteBy Devdoot Majumdar
Over the last four years, life has been relentless in shoving lessons down my throat. But by a certain age, it must be time to stop learning life’s lessons -- they get hardwired, right? I’m just waiting for that day when my mistakes won’t be mistakes, but instead be the outcome of someone else’s inability to deal.
But regrets are a luxury of speaking in the past tense. The past four years at MIT have taken me from believing that everyone has a story to believing in boring people. I have gone from being dependably genuine to being notoriously insincere. But that’s okay -- I’ve still salvaged a few friends in all this time who manage to find something redeeming in me.
In four years, I’ve had to e-mail countless apologies to people in my life. Someone recently told me that my apology e-mails were more hackneyed than the annual Chuck Vest ghetto party e-mail. But at this terminal stage of my MIT career, there’s no more history to be written, no more hateration to be delivered, no more apologies to be sent, and no more a cappella concerts to be reviewed. It’s all blank slate from here on out.
So, to those of you who occasionally despise my existence, I want to apologize to you. Here’s to you MTG, UA, RingComm, Logs, Dancetroupe, men of the Toons, Thetas, PBE, and all minions thereof. So, when that day comes that I’ll be sitting in your office interviewing for a job, remember this last attempt at sincerity.
I came to Massachusetts for the first time four years ago as an insecure but hopeful 17-year-old. At 21, I’ve turned into the wooden Indian statue from the set of “Cheers,” looking out over the wasteland of newly-delivered hopeful and insecure personalities. I figure anyone could use a good, clean break from another year of Campus Preview Weekend, Fraternity Rush, and wholesale junk food at organized “study breaks.”
And yet, I have to wonder: would life here have been any better if we had “Finals Clubs” or “Dining Clubs” or secret societies? Would I have liked this place any more if there were indeed school spirit and MIT sweatshirts and hats were more popular here than the “CBGB’s” shirt from Urban Outfitters? Would I relish the prospect of Division I teams and an annual MIT vs. Yale game? It seems that, in hoping for a normal college education and normal people, I’ve misled myself.
This month, other graduating seniors will be hearing from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Bill Cosby, Condi and Kofi, Trump and Nader. But there is something oddly appropriate about our choice of the NIH director, an academic. Part of it is that we’re all scientists or engineers. But the other part of it, difficult as it is to admit, is that a saccharine and pithy speech from a Trump or Cosby is just not compatible with our education and our experiences. A big name speaker with a few canned one-liners is just too ostentatious and gaudy to be the official farewell from MIT. It just kind of makes sense that we’re hearing from a lesser-known academic -- we’ve been conditioned to distill the world of its artifice and ostentation.
And frankly, I’ll take vintage MIT insecurity over Ivy League arrogance any day, and I’ll even take frats over secret societies. So, as vitriolic as I sometimes get about this Institute, I’ll miss it.
I’ll miss the handful of professors who made time for me. I’ll miss hearing the solitary echo of the crosswalk chirp late at night. I’ll miss the daily tumult of having friends who pick at my core. I’ll even miss my contrived sense of authority as a senior here. But the fourth lap ended two weeks ago, and frankly, this place makes for better memories than present tense.
So, I’ll take what I’ve learned about biochemistry and fashion and social techniques and cohabitation, and move on with my life. The years of treading recklessly and carrying no stick at all have come to an end, and it’s time to be a little less Ted Kennedy and a little more John McCain. That way, the only ass kickings the future will bring me will be in the figurative sense.
As for life, I hope it treats everyone well and discharges everyone honorably, six or seven decades from today. It’s not “have a good summer” anymore, it’s just “have a good life.” So buckle down everyone, it’s time to make something of yourselves so you can donate soon and get your name on some MIT real estate. Happy salaries to all, and to all a good flight.
This column is dedicated Eric, Anne, Paul, Mimi, Jeremy, Rachana, and Carrie Bradshaw for being the best friends life has afforded me thus far. Devdoot Majumdar is a member of the class of 2004 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.