Being a freshman

Upperclassmen should learn to step back a few years

I’ve wanted to write for The Tech for some time. I’ve wanted to find something to say or something to share. Something about being here, something about the experience of keeping our heads above water. This swim, which for whatever reason we willfully throw ourselves into, sometimes even letting the salty droplets get down into our lungs, because that pain can often be less than the pain of continuing to tread water.

Clearly I’ve found something to say, but please, don’t worry. I’m not going to depress the hell out of you by telling you things are hard. Because 1) you probably know that and 2) they aren’t that hard. Hard isn’t the underlying experience here, even if that’s what we tell others or want it to be. And I’m not going to write a sex-column about how everyone here fornicates night and day, because that’s not the experience either. The experience is something different. It’s the experience of being inside a carefully manufactured and over-engineered glass bubble. One that was created by men long dead and propped up on their corpses. One that is insulated further each year by those inside. It’s a unique thing we’re going through. Unique. Not good, not bad, not happy, not sad, not hard, not easy. All of these fall far short in describing our home. Maybe looking at it will give us a little insight on what it is to be human, and what it is to be MIT. Who knows, maybe by doing this we’ll be able to find a little hope, tucked far away in a corner in the bottom of a single stream recycling can. And maybe this introspection will lead to a little change or even a little regained sureness.

This whole column was initiated because of glassy eyes. They’re everywhere. Sit in the study room or the Athena cluster in the basement of 66 or the strangely placed lounge with green crescent shaped couches and there will be a least a handful of people completely isolated in fog. A completely neutral to slightly negative faced etched in stone sits undisturbed. Each sitting two feet or a chair apart, too insulated and too protected. Look around now, you’ll see some. I can’t help but feeling like we’re all a little like Matilda’s happy ending in Dahl’s famous story. We have such strong powers of creativity and creation that are weighted down and kept under ballast by thoughts preoccupied. But to all of this there is a notable exception, which is particularly evident at this time of year. And that is the phenomenon of the freshman.

To be clear, when I say freshman, I don’t mean first year student. I’m a senior, and every year until this one others have assumed I was one. Not asked me if I was one, they simply assumed I was one. Other freshman would come up to me and talk and upperclassmen would be condescending or overly helpful (maybe the same thing?). I just took it and accepted it. It never bothered me, because I knew why the assumption was made. I was happy and cheerful and made friends in a simple and easy way. This year those mistakes haven’t been made, mostly because I’ve finally been dragged under by weight and responsibility like my peers.

What I propose is a simple game to shake things up. I implore you to endeavor upon the same challenge that I’ve tasked myself with — pick a day and be a freshman. Do something absurd with a group of people you don’t know. Talk to that guy next to you for really no reason. Just say something silly or something plain or something nonsensical and be unembarrassed about it. Let’s shatter some of those stone visages. And don’t do it for their sake, but for yours. Use those fragments of rock as stepping stones to consciousness, and let’s wake up a little. Being a freshman doesn’t mean being fake, although sometimes they go hand in hand. Don’t retreat to those stock conversations you store in your back pocket for whenever you accidentally talk to a stranger. Psets. The weather. Their shoes. Your shoes. Anyone’s damn shoes. Ask them something personal. Ask them for advice. Tell them what’s actually on your mind. They could run away or freeze, but you’d be surprised. People are nicer than you’d expect. I’ve made best friends this way.

I hope I’ve got you on board. If nothing else let’s all take a moment to look around and see what we’re doing. Let’s ask ourselves why we’re here. Let’s find out about each other. Because when we’re old we’ll tell stories of this place to people who don’t want to hear them. Since it’s going to happen to us anyway let’s make some awesome stories. Let’s be aware. Because you too will soon be a senior and you’ll wish you had stopped to take it in or stopped to let it out or just stopped. So take a deep breath. Look around. And for now, be a freshman.

Paul Welle is a senior in Course I.