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Happy Suicide Day

Katharine E. Silberstein

MIT is famous for its monthly gratuitous three-day weekends. A non-MITer might ask, “Why should all MIT students get all these free breaks?” Upperclassmen are likely to chime in, “We’re doing hard work. We deserve it. But freshmen, they aren’t taking any classes that are hard enough to merit a catch-up day. They have no reason to complain yet. What gives?” True, the class of 2010 is still only learning how to sip from the fire hose. Some are still getting enough sleep. A lucky few are even getting A’s on tests. However, MIT is unlike any learning environment in the world, and it takes a lot of getting used to. An occasional day off does much to ease the painful reality of MIT’s workload and the overall stress associated with college.

The saying goes, “At MIT, you can have enough sleep, good grades, or a social life. Pick two.” It is certainly a challenge to balance the myriad of obligations – academic, social, physical, and mental. Is this really what college is supposed to be like? Before classes began, we were told that recitations should supplement lecture material, not replace it. However, it is now apparent that problem sets cover topics untouched in lecture, and sometimes even in recitation. The sheer volume of work assigned in each class is enough to push even the most diligent student over the edge. To classes, add on attending meetings for various clubs and organizations, adjusting to a new living situation, finding something to eat that won’t contribute to the freshman fifteen, and making a tiny bit of personal time; it’s no wonder we feel stressed.

I’m certainly not the only freshman who feels this way, either. In the days leading up to student holiday three-day weekends, we’re all just barely hanging on to sanity, constantly thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” It seems as though the work at MIT is dependent on Boyle’s Law: With a workweek of smaller volume, the pressure on students increases. The limit of work approaches infinity as time until the due date approaches zero. We aimlessly scribble p-set after p-set, pondering what real purpose our completion of a problem serves besides being able to move on to more problems.

It does seem, however, that this could be a true-to-scale (or perhaps even larger-than-life) way to prepare us for real life. Thus far, kids like us have coasted through our academic training for the most part. Of those admitted to this year’s freshman class, over 50% ranked in the top 5% of their high school class. We have not been living in the real world; average is a foreign feeling. So, MIT throws us painfully back down to earth in the hopes that in four years, we will have healed and perhaps developed a tougher skin in order to deal with the world’s problem sets. That makes sense, even if it doesn’t relieve the suffering caused by this newfound mediocrity.

MIT really does think of everything. They know that they are asking us to deal with more than our little lives have ever required of us, and they are empathetic (and rightfully so). Therefore, all students (yes, even freshmen) observe a holy day of obligation to our sanity each month, affectionately known as Suicide Prevention Day, or even more affectionately, Suicide Day. We gather together in solemn prayer that such an extended weekend might allow us to finish p-sets on time, to get caught up on sleep, and maybe even to purge some of the stress from our overtaxed minds and bodies. Even if some waste a long weekend procrastinating like they do all other weekends, we all gratefully acknowledge that the institute is trying to take care of us. Amen.

Katharine E. Silberstein is a member of the class of 2010.