I remember falling asleep that first night after moving into my room. Music blasted somewhere in the distance, cars zoomed by across the river, and voices shouted and laughed outside as people walked by MacGregor House. It was a sharp contrast to what I was used to. Having grown up in Uxbridge, MA, a small town of 13,000, I was accustomed to far more natural sounds: the rustling of leaves as the wind swept through them. The chirping of crickets amid the buzzing of other insects. The gentle pattering of rain on the roof.
But I remember looking out my window at the one familiar thing: the clear night sky, and thinking how lucky I was to be at MIT and to have the opportunity of a lifetime in my hands. I was determined to take advantage of it — to make the most of the next four years I had at this place. In my mind, it was all very pearly white and idealistic. I knew it would be challenging, but I was ready to work. I knew that for the first time, everyone around me was as smart as or smarter than me, but that was just another opportunity to take advantage of. I was pumped to be taking all math and science classes, with the exception of one HASS (Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences) class per semester. The night sky was beautiful, the atmosphere was one of eager anticipation and excitement, and I was ready to get started.
A few months later, that same night sky stopped looking so pretty as I watched it slowly turn into dawn, heralding the end of yet another night spent doing a problem set. I had realized slightly too late just how challenging the classes were, managing to only scrape by in most of my classes first semester. I had also realized that being surrounded by super-smart people meant that when professors curved exams, you needed to do as well or better than them to succeed; rarely an easy task. And all the math and science classes were certainly interesting, but the workload was enormous; I came to view my HASS class as a much-needed break from the rigor of the rest of my schedule. For the first time for myself and my peers, we were being intensely challenged academically. The coolest part was that I seemed to be enjoying the onslaught.
After grades came out at the end of first semester, it’s sufficient to say I was very thankful that MIT’s first semester Pass/No Record system doesn’t impact students’ GPAs. While it’s tempting to look in from the outside and think Pass/No Record is unnecessary or “babies” freshmen too much, I contend that for some students, myself included, it is a crucial period of transition. It allows students to acclimate to MIT’s intensity. Most importantly, it works; when I returned in the spring, I knew what to expect and, this time, felt prepared for it. My second semester went far more smoothly than my first.
Having completed my first year, I must say that I am very glad I chose to come to MIT over any other school. The experience I have had here, in only my first year, has been something I would not trade away. I understand why people say an MIT education is like drinking from a firehouse; it is exhilarating. At first, I felt overwhelmed, but I soon realized that I was capable of handling the torrent of information and work being thrown at me. MIT has allowed me a peek into what I am capable of at my best. But I’ve yet to find the boundaries of those limits, which gives rise to perhaps the greatest part about my first year.
Besides the people that I have met, the best thing about my freshman year has been that MIT throws hugely staggering obstacles in your face and says: “Deal with it,” and you find a way to pull it off. Finishing a year at this place instilled in me a sense that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and are willing to work hard to get it done. I haven’t found the boundaries to what I can do because there aren’t any. That is the most important lesson I’ve learned as a freshman, and I’m sure that these next three years will be equally rewarding.