Looking forward

Dear Fellow Members of the MIT Class of 2016,
Wow — can you believe we’re this far? We’re so far that a batch of 2020s are soon coming to campus, and the graduation ticket hunt is real.

do they really want to sit through the 5-hour long ceremony?

And — man — is the last semester going to pass by quickly.

it’s going to be such a turmoil of emotions

I want to encourage you to reflect on the past three and a half years. Remember how you felt when you came to MIT—what dreams did you have then? What did you hope MIT would be like? Then think about what you want this last last semester to be like.

Do you remember the Freshman Survey?

The results (link here) surprised me: I did not remember what it was like coming here and did not know how our class felt as a whole. Three elements stood out to me.

1. We came in as a highly motivated class full of intellectual curiosity.

After reading Mindset by Carol Dweck, I’ve thought a lot about the importance of growth and learning.

When we entered, 98% of respondents thought the statement “I prefer courses that arouse my curiosity, even if they are difficult” described them “well” or “very well.”

Naturally, there’s a bias towards positive responses partly due to the way the questions are phrased. Nevertheless, I think it is indicative of our values—and that response makes me proud.

I know that sometimes I’ve picked the easier course because hey, easy-A-or-what-not, but this is not the mindset I want to have. What I’ve valued the most these three and a half years are the classes and activities that challenged me and helped me grow. I’m going to keep that in mind as we enter our final semester.

2. We wanted to change the world and believed in our capacity to do so

As freshmen, many of us felt that we could make an impact. In fact, 87% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “In my future professional life, I will make a difference in my …”.

Regardless of what the goal is, let’s remember the confidence in our ability and desire for impact we had when we came to MIT.

I’ve gone from “let-me-invent-Michio-Kaku’s-Physics of the Future-through-electrical-engineering” via “I’m-going-to-build-hardcore-software-tools-for-other-engineers” to caring far more about policy and social innovation. Now my goal is to improve educational outcomes in the developing world, and I’m excited to pursue that interest this semester and beyond.

3. You are a wonderful, diverse group of people who I’ll forever be grateful to know

The people I have met have taught me more than any class could. I came to MIT not really knowing myself or my values, but my friends have helped me understand that I value growth and integrity, and that people-before-psets is a no-brainer.

My friends turned the ‘oh my what is my sexual identity’ into #pride. They helped me transform from hiding when I cried after the Boston marathon, to openly expressing my emotions after the suicides last year.

Up through middle school, all my classmates were white Norwegians (in high school my friend group extended to South Americans). Now, my friends come from all over. As we are entering our last semester, I am grateful to all the people I have come to know. There are also many more of you that I am looking forward to getting to know this semester.

I encourage you to reflect. What has been most important to you over these past three and a half years? (Share your thoughts here). How does that affect how you want to spend senior spring?

After freshman year, I wrote a note to myself reflecting about the year that had passed. One of the questions I addressed was ‘What scares me?’, and this is what it said:

“I am afraid [of] not challening [challenging*] myself enough, of giving myself an easy time. At the same time, I am afraid of trying too hard and exhausting myself. I am afraid of forgetting what’s important. I am afraid of never figuring out what the right priorities are.” — 6/1–2013

I feel like I’ve grown a lot since then, and have a better sense of what my own priorities are. Yet, parts of these fears still resonate with me. For example, I really want to remember what’s important to me as we enter our final semester. There are things that I wish I had done at MIT that I haven’t yet. MIT has so much to offer, and now I am thinking about how I can take advantage of that in our final semester.

Remember how excited you were when you came. The Freshman Survey Highlights document (link here) includes quotes of what we were looking forward to, including:

  • “Just about everything! I can’t wait to experience the MIT culture, meet new people, take some amazing classes (and maybe pull off a good hack or two…)”
  • “Being in an environment where I can discover myself as a student, a scientist, and a person.”

As the semester soon kicks offs, graduation still seems a far way ahead. But then the semester gets rolling, and the familiar end-of-semester feeling is going to hit: How did the semester pass so quickly?

When I am on the flight to Norway to see my family at the end of every semester, I journal about what I remember. The memories that stand out are often the slightly-out-of-the-ordinary-things-with-people-I-like. Like when we got our brass rats. Now I’m wearing it obsessively, so when we turn it around on graduation it matters. Or the time when I watched the sunrise from the top of the little dome, feeling flustered and awkward crushing on the person I was with. Other memories are more ordinary in shape, but still important. Like last semester, when I reconnected with a special friend from freshman year and couldn’t help wondering—Why don’t I see this person more?

Try this: Write down a few concrete activities you want to do more of this semester, and set aside regular time in your schedule to do them. Check in with yourself every Sunday — are you meeting your commitment?

join me?

Let’s make the last one count.

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