Campus Life to thine own mit-self be true

Understanding the perfection of imperfection

How ballet taught me to embrace challenge

A survey once asked me to describe my perfect day. I had more than one perfect day in my mind, as many people probably do, but it made me wonder — what makes something “perfect” in the first place?

March 14, 2012, also known as Pi Day, is etched in my memory forever as the day I was admitted into the Institute.

That day started out as less than ideal. It was a Wednesday, which meant that I was suffering from mid-week exhaustion as always. I faced a regular day at school and a regular day at ballet training with standard NYC commuting in between. The day passed uneventfully as I anxiously tried to keep MIT out of my mind. When one of my dance classes was cancelled, I didn’t know whether it was a good omen or not — if I went home earlier, I could finish my homework earlier and sleep for an extra hour or two, but that also meant that I would look anxiously at the clock, maybe not finishing my homework as I waited for 6:28 p.m. that night, the time admissions decisions would be released. On the train ride home, I made a resolution: I would not look at my email or MyMIT account or anything MIT-related until I had finished enough homework to get through the next day at school. I arrived home with that resolution firmly planted in my mind and tackled the remaining few hours of my day. At last, around 10 p.m. I finally worked up the courage to see my admission decision.

Despite the late hour, the pile of homework I had just finished, the dull banality of the day, that day is perfect in my mind. All because of one small letter from MIT. That was all it took to make my day perfect. It showed how my hard work had paid off, in every possible way. An ordinary day turned perfect.

I am no stranger to the challenges leading to perfection. Before coming to MIT, I faced several imperfections for ten years while I trained as a pre-professional ballet dancer, where perfection and hard work were my constant companions. Ballet technique is very black and white, always right or wrong. My feet weren’t strong enough for quick little jumps, I couldn’t hold my turnout, my lines weren’t cleanly straight. I had the necessary flexibility, but not the required strength. Dancers strive for perfection, but in the same way that the days leading up to my MIT acceptance were hardly great, the hours and rehearsals in the ballet studio are never wonderful either. However, after months of rehearsal comes the reward — a performance. No performance is ever perfect, despite many wishes, but after running off the stage for the last time and bowing before a clapping audience, it feels perfect and makes all those imperfect hours worth my time.

To me, perfection is not, and cannot be, as simple as a perfect arabesque or a perfect score on the SAT. Perfection is a combination of several aspects of my life: my family, my friends, my hobbies, academics, and ballet. A perfect day could be the day my dreams come true, or the stormy day I spent peacefully reading a good book or laughing with my family and friends.

Now that I’m finally on campus after a summer of changes — graduating from high school, moving from New York City to Indiana where my dad teaches economics, not dancing for a few months, preparing for college life — I’m ready for the next four years of my life to begin.

At first I wanted these MIT years to be perfect, even though I knew that nothing and nobody is perfect. However, after taking a step backwards to think, there is something perfect about imperfection. After experiencing the uplifting result, I wouldn’t trade the post-performance exhilaration for perfectly smooth rehearsals, and I wouldn’t trade my MIT acceptance for an easy college application season. Maybe it’s a paradox, but perfection comes from imperfections. It’s not just about executing the perfect arabesque or grand jété, or even scoring all A’s and 100 percent on every test, every paper, every class. Life is not about perfection. The fullness matters most. Take full advantage of the many opportunities MIT and life throw my way. Stumble a little, fall on my face, grit my teeth, and come back stronger than ever. Embrace the challenges. And don’t stew and stress over the imperfect scores (or arabesques). It’s all part of the road to the perfect experience as a person. When I graduate, I want to be able to look back at all the imperfections, all the failures, and see how they made my whole undergraduate experience at MIT perfect in the end.

Fellow freshmen, I hope you’ll take the same leap of faith and live with the imperfections in all their glory. MIT, we’re ready to tackle all you throw at us (we hope). No one said the road was perfect, but the end can be.