Rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
Two years ago, before I had been accepted to MIT, before I was sure I was even applying, I attended a summer camp on campus where each student was assigned a research project for the six weeks we were there. Mine was with a professor in the Center for Ocean Engineering, and I worked in an office on the third floor of Lobby 7, with windows overlooking the pedestrians crossing Massachusetts Avenue.
Each day, to get to and from that room, I would take the elevator in Lobby 7, which is hidden in an alcove in the far corner. In the morning, I’d bring my breakfast up to the office; in the afternoon, I’d meet a friend there and head to dinner before whatever evening activities the camp was holding that day. I remember one particular day, early on in the program, when I overheard a conversation in the elevator—someone mentioned that the elevator was historic, and therefore had to be protected during renovations. I remember the feeling of awe that washed over me; somehow, by a set of events of circumstances, I was lucky enough to be there, to be working at an institution with a history that stretched long past myself.
It’s September of my freshman year—I’ve been on MIT campus for just over a month now, and I’m already overwhelmed by everything around me. It’s a Friday, and I’ve just been through one of the most stressful experiences of my life: texting a suicidal friend on the other side of the planet, who lives in an area where I have limited knowledge of the resources available for help. On top of that, it’s just generally been a busy day—a chemistry exam, the weekly lunch seminar for my learning community, and a highly interesting but jam-packed discussion between Jonny Sun and Bo Burnham.
After the talk, a friend and I head to get free boba in the Student Center. As I walk with him through Lobby 7 back towards East Campus, we stop in the alcove with the elevator. There’s a nice, wooden bench in the corner, and we sit there and sort of just chat for a while. The conversation goes something like this:
“I like you.”
“I like you too.”
“No, I like like you.”
Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudles,
Door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles,
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
It’s one of the first few weeks of second semester, and a few of my friends and I head into McCormick Hall for dinner. MIT requires freshmen in dining hall dorms to buy a ridiculously large meal plan, so me and one of my other friends, a freshman from Maseeh, have devoted ourselves to swiping in as many people as we can throughout the semester. To that end, we’ve recruited two friends to eat with us almost every other day, and the dining hall we have chosen is McCormick.
The McCormick dining hall is one of the smaller dining halls on campus. Unfortunately, it is also the closest dining hall which is not Maseeh, meaning that it is a common destination for students in search of acceptable food and therefore often overcrowded. I’ve already cultivated a habit of going there in first semester, since trekking to Next just to get food and then returning to campus for evening activities quickly became untenable. My entrée of choice is the stirfry—a choose-your-own-adventure with different choices for vegetables, meats, sauces, and starches. I quickly settle into a pattern—a wide assortment of vegetables, beef, teriyaki, and lo mein. [These are the optimal choices. Fight me.]
The McCormick stirfry is also not an efficient process. Each batch of three or four people takes probably around 10 minutes, meaning that one can easily spend over half an hour waiting in the line, which often wraps its way around the corner with the vegetable options and out into the main dining area. I eat there almost every day, or at least every other day. Part of it is that the stirfry is remarkably consistent in its quality, which cannot be said for a lot of other dining hall food. Part of it is the time in line provides with a sort of built-in time to decompress from the day, and, if I am with friends, to strike up a conversation—comparing the bowls of vegetables we’ve chosen to give to the chef, discussing the choices of the people in line ahead of us, or, more commonly, just talking about our days, our plans, and whatever other topic that comes our way.
We eventually make our way out of the line, and head to a table where we’ve already claimed our spots. In the busy dining hall, we carve a block out of our overfull schedules to eat together, and to share in the joy of our mutual company.
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes,
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,
Silver white winters that melt into springs
It’s the night before the first day of classes, and I am restless. A notification pops up on my phone; someone texting the MIT 2023 group chat asking if anyone wants to walk around campus with them. I’m doing laundry for the first time since arriving at MIT, and, having nothing to do while my clothes are in the dryer, I decide to join them. The three of us meet up in Next House and head out up Dorm Row.
After a convoluted journey around campus, we end up in the basement of Building 66, heading out through the tunnels towards MIT Medical. The tunnels descend here to dip below Ames Street, and we follow the ramp down. At the base of the ramp, we head to the right, and are confronted with an explosion of color. The Borderline murals line the wall to our left, and as we ascend back up towards ground level they guide our path. It’s the first mural that really catches my eye though, declaring, in no uncertain terms, that “you are human.” The reminder is one that is both grounding and reassuring. You are human—no more, and no less.
During IAP, I retrace these steps almost every day on my way back from my externship. Walking from Kendall Square in the January cold, I take a left into an alley, tap into a door near the junction of E25 and E18, and quickly descend into the tunnels. Another turn takes me to the other end of the murals, and as I descend I take in the art anew each time. As I reach the end, the text reminds me once more: “You are human.”
When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
It’s the afternoon of March 10th, 2020. News has been circulating that the Institute is about to send all students home since early in the morning, but no official email has confirmed it. I’m still waiting for some events I have on campus, so I don’t have the time or the energy to walk all the way back to Next House. The only good part of the week so far has been the weather, which is unseasonably warm for early March. I head out onto Killian Court to get a breath of fresh air. Students are gathered all over the lawn, and I move to one of the windows on the side, behind some bushes. Funnily enough, I look into the music classroom behind me and spy one of my friends, before turning my attention back to the lawn.
A few of the two-hundred-dollar automatic Purell dispenser stands that have proliferated around our school over the course of the past few weeks sit haphazardly on the grass, with small clusters of students gathered around them, most likely talking about the crisis which is looming over everybody’s heads. I pull out my laptop and just sort of sit there, trying to contemplate what is happening around me. Comprehension quickly proves to be futile, so instead I look out towards the Charles. It’s a somewhat cloudy day, but the skyline I’ve seen so many times hits me just the same as it always does. This is a real place—tall buildings, sailboats on the river, four-lane divided roads with cars racing past on both sides of the river.
Sitting there, the Dome to my right, Boston to my left, a sense of slight ease sneaks in. At the center of it all, I feel sort of at home. I’ve crossed this lawn so many times to get to and from class, sat on the stairs at night and looked out at the city while talking and singing with friends, laid out on the lawn to read in the sun. I’ll miss it, but the happy memories calm me in the moment, at least a little, before I pack up, and head out to my next activity.
When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I’m driving a portion of the MIT Quiz Bowl team back from Yale after a full day of competition. Although I’ve really enjoyed the trip, the drive back on a dark night in particularly rainy conditions is not at all enjoyable, and I am on edge the whole way back. I am already exhausted from having woken up at around 5 AM, and as I drop people off and return the car, I am ready to collapse in my dorm room as soon as possible.
The distance from the car rental place to my dorm is a little over a mile. I am accompanied by my friend for the first segment, but as we reach main campus, we go our separate ways. The rest of my journey to Next House, the dorm all the way at the end of the sidewalk, is mostly silent. It is a Saturday night during IAP—campus is barely alive, and there is almost nobody in sight. Around ten minutes later, I tap into Next and walk all the way to the elevators. The elevator takes me to the 4th floor, right outside my room.
I drop my stuff off, but I don’t stay there. Instead, I head straight to the main lounge, where I know there will be people, working on projects or just hanging out. As I enter the lounge, one of the other residents of our wing spots how tired I am almost immediately, and asks me if I need anything to eat or drink. Another resident, similarly concerned, asks me what happened. Lying down on the beanbag in the center of the lounge, I am reminded that I have found a community where I live—the psetting, the MarioKart, the surprise birthday parties, the friendships, all centered around the west side of the fourth floor of Next House and the people who live there.