The other day, I encountered a tour passing the Student Center. The tour group, as near as I could tell, consisted largely of wide-eyed parents and nonplussed teenagers apparently unimpressed with the Infinite Corridor (I guess they’d never seen anything infinite before and were still recovering from the shock). At any rate, the parents seemed enthused about exploring campus, and, after passing a group of sorority members, the more hormonal of the male high school prospects seemed to perk up as well.
I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty vindicated by the knowledge that, no matter how long it takes me to get the hang of MIT, there are those who are awed by our little world and regard it as would a starving Dickens character, pressing their noses against the windows of the Institute. I’m astounded to know that people are actually interested in the place I call home. Some are traveling for hours and hours and sometimes millions of Smoots just to take a tour of my neighborhood. That the motivation for travel lies in the neighborhood and not in my presence here is, as far as my ego is concerned, a minor detail.
Reasons to envy MIT students abound. We have a lovable mascot that is both descriptive of MIT spirit and ripe for innuendo. We lead an existence so beyond even our own comprehension that our best metaphor for it involves tapping into municipal firefighting utilities and inserting our faces into a high-powered torrent of water. It’s no wonder we seem strange. The especially intriguing part is that the collective level of strangeness has some bizarre hypnotic power over those unfamiliar with it, a power not unlike that possessed by a group of Sigma Kappas strolling past a tour group containing no small proportion of teenage boys.
Not long after my encounter with said tour group, as I walked back to my dormitory, I overheard what sounded like a pair of alumnae revisiting their alma mater. Passing by, I heard one say to the other, “I haven’t seen that new dorm yet, the one that’s supposed to be all funny-looking.” This conversation took place only 10 feet away from where my destination, Simmons Hall, would loom around the athletic center in all its square-riddled glory. Well, fancy that. I feel sort of special knowing that the building where I hang my slide rule is foreign even to MIT graduates.
The lesson, of course, is that like numerous polynomial functions, MIT never stays constant for long. MIT has traditions aplenty, but the influx of new brains with new hack inspirations, new ideas, and plenty of optimism to sap tends to keep life fresh. As one of the newbies on campus, it would be both ludicrous and a lie to say that I planned to come here and not change a thing during my stay.
At the end of the day as I sit in my funny-looking, many-windowed room in an arcane sanctuary of a college, I realize that, as strange as MIT can feel at first glance, that small degree of familiarity is huge compared to the sheer weirdness of visiting MIT as an outsider. It’s not exactly the gleaming, Jetson-esque world that I expected when I first saw the place, but, by my reckoning, it’s still its own odd brand of futuristic. Nobody can really predict what the continued existence of the Institute will entail. Even if they could, I’m not sure they’d want to.