My first day of class, I was up before my alarm. I typically take an extra ten minutes to mourn the end of summer. That morning, however, was the exception. That morning was a magical microcosm of perfection, on par with a sunny “getting-ready-for-school” movie montage. I could almost hear faint echoes of peppy ukulele music.
The rest of the day lived up to my morning. Everything was going swell — I was finally a bona fide MIT student, with professors and friends and eight hours of sleep. When the time came to head to my last class, I obtained a free caramel peanut butter cookie from a WILG booth in the infinite, and I ran into a fellow 18.01A frosh with whom I could quest for the right room. I had time, sugar, and companionship. What could go wrong?
Everything fell apart when we found the recitation. Glancing in, I saw two rows of students taking notes. Despite the fact that we were half an hour early, despite the feeling that something was not quite right, I charged into the classroom, clutching my cookie. I stopped a few feet from the entrance to glance uncertainly at the chalkboards, making sure they were filled with 18.01A math and not relativistic quantum mechanics.
“Here for 18.01A?” the TA asked as his eyes crinkled warmly.
I nodded. My fate was sealed. There was no walking back out the door, no time to realize my mistake. “It took me forever to find this place, too,” someone sympathized as I passed. Only then did I understand I was attending the wrong recitation section.
In high school, I thought I was a strong, independent woman who didn’t need any parental assistance. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t just be independent at MIT — I would be an independent adult. Within my first week, I discovered the horrors of college and adulting. Classes are no longer in the same buildings, no longer in rooms numbered sequentially from one stretch of hallway to the next.
Gone are the days when I can blindly tick off the events on my schedule — hello Google Calendar, goodbye crumpled schedule I can memorize in two days. Hello laundry, and cooking every meal, and grocery shopping. Hello existential crises that arise from shelves of detergent: why are there so many different kinds? How do I pick the best detergent for me? What do I want from my detergent; what do I want out of life? Who am I even?
Yes, my struggles feel so very real. Yet, in the scope of my MIT experience as a whole, those issues fall away with every inside joke I form with a new friend, with every hack I spot throughout campus, with every pset I conquer and every amazing conversation I have. When I hear the sound of my footsteps echo off the columns of Lobby 7, I am struck by my good fortune. I am struck by the magnitude of my privilege. I still can’t quite believe I’m here, that I live and breathe the intellectual vibrancy that permeates MIT air.
I love MIT, I love the friends I’ve made, I love my classes and professors, and for now at least, I’m loving this way of life. When I see my fellow freshmen scurrying through the infinite or perusing the shelves at Star Market, I inwardly smile at the knowledge that we’re all figuring out this whole college thing together, that every single one of us is experiencing the same thrill ride that is MIT. We all pile into the same roller coaster car, and our collective screams of joy are a symphony; they’re a battlecry. “We will survive this,” we roar (unless we are riding an East Campus coaster, in which case our survival is more dubious).
MIT is scary because there is no guarantee that I am joining the right clubs for me, or that I’m picking the right detergent; there is no guarantee I will have my life down pat as quickly as I’d hoped. However, that uncertainty is part of the excitement — I have free rein to make mistakes now, along with the class of 2019, so that I may (hopefully) become a certified adult after four years of failures and successes.
Chloe Yang is a member of the Class of 2019.