Years from now, I will still remember the moment when I first stepped into MIT. It was a cloudy Sunday, and the nearly-empty campus looked like a blank slate. Though I had traveled alone, my mom still wanted to accompany me on those first minutes in college, albeit symbolically, and the digital echo of her voice was the only sound that pierced the silence.
“I’m so glad you arrived safely!” she cried out; my blow-by-blow account of the short walk between Kendall and East Campus had roused up as much awe in her as the birth of a child. “It’s a good sign! You’re going to have a wonderful time!”
Fast forward a few days, and I was in MIT Medical, strapped to an IV. An ear piercing that I had gotten to celebrate my departure had developed a nasty infection, so my veins had to be blasted twice a day with vancomycin, the anti-bacterial equivalent of rat poison. “That’s a pretty inauspicious way to begin the school year,” a nurse told me, looking at me with a mix of pity and amusement.
“Let’s hope the next four years aren’t quite as horrible.” I just laughed nervously and sank into my pillow.
For the next week, I led a double life. Every day, I’d wake up at dawn, run to MIT Medical in my pajamas, get the IV, shower, change clothes, run to Orientation events, stuff myself with free food, introduce myself to fellow frosh, dash back to Medical, get the IV, eat, call home, go to more Orientation events, collapse on the bed, and brace myself for the harsh blare of my alarm clock.
I couldn’t fit melancholy into such a physically and emotionally intense schedule. The hours of fun that I sandwiched in the middle of the day were sacred; there was no infection, there was no looming appointment at Medical. I lost myself in a colorful procession of finger painting, dance parties, introductions and, yes, enough free food to feed a small country.
At the end of the day, I’d check into Medical both excited and pleasantly tired, and as soon as the IV was in place I’d pop open my computer to video chat with the people back home. The images that they received were bleak: the hulking mass of the IV, the sterile hospital walls, the mask of exhaustion on my face — everything that could have ruined my Orientation, summed up in pixels. “How are you feeling?” They’d ask, their voices heavy with concern. My response?
“I’m happy. This place is awesome!”
In a way, my first lesson here was the meaning of IHTFP and, in typical MIT fashion, it was truly a hands-on course. Life at MIT, or at least what little I’ve seen of it, is strongly dualistic; here, happiness and pain are intense, engrossing, and often simultaneous.
As we tumble out of the comforting brace of Orientation and into the brambles of real college life, those sensations will only get stronger, until they mix and clash and start whittling down everyone’s sleep schedule. Get ready, class of 2014, and enjoy every minute of it.