First Days in Cambridge
Notes from a Balcony
In this series, I’ll be writing down some of my current thoughts, things on my mind, and general ideas I’ve been pondering. It’s nothing formal like an ordinary blog post, but more of a mind dump for me to contemplate some of the happenings in my life.
It’s only been a few days, but I’ve already been blown away by the sheer energy that exists on campus. It’s not just the overwhelming intelligence or the virtuosity of engineering that takes place literally outside my room (where a 130' roller coaster was built in just over a week, Van de Graaff generators are synced to music, and an enormous musical fortress stands), but it’s also the conversations I never imagined having and the people who keep inspiring me and forcing me to reconsider my goals.
For a quick rundown of what happened the last few days:
- Learned to properly grill on a BBQ
- Rappelled from a five story building
- Successfully produced a bird call with my hands
- Joined the Edelman and Media Lab as a researcher
- Became a qualified D1 athlete
- Witnessed a total solar eclipse
- Climbed/hiked/walked over 10 miles of mountainous terrain in a day
- Pet a goat, chicken, rabbit, chick, sheep, and goose
- Learned to use a lighter + power tools
- Bleached and dyed hair (successfully?)
- Learned to mine Bitcoins
- Skipped rocks on Lake Solitude
- Passed interviews with Codeacademy, Khan Academy, Twitter, and Google
- Joined a campus learning community
- Met multiple Forbes 30 Under 30/Nobel Laureates/I_O medalists
- Renewed my musical interests and joined a musical ensemble
- Ran along the Charles River
- Witnessed noodle wrestling
- Created star trails and practiced astrophotography
- Light painted in the Rockies
This isn’t to mention that I still have over a week before classes officially start, and there’s still so much left to do.
I spent the last week or so hiking in Yellowstone with a pre-orientation program funded by the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences program (EAPS). To be honest, I didn’t intend on studying geology (I had a brief love affair with botany in middle school), but turning away a chance to travel to Yellowstone was not an option.
During the hikes, as we talked about rock formations, minerals, landforms, and ancient calderas, I became hyper aware of the briefness of our lives. Ever since I learned about effective altruism and impact, I’ve been convinced that it was my life’s mission to make a difference. Looking back, event as lofty a goal as that seems trivial in the face of the millennia of natural disasters and geothermal activity that has preceded every living creature on our planet.
It also made me wonder about whether it’s necessary to do things because we need to, or if true value can come from simply doing things because it makes us feel alive. I know it’s idealistic to even think that most people have the opportunity to consider this an option, but I every time I thought about research for its own sake, I’ve always been reminded of the practical side of vocations and careers, not the pleasure that discovery and curiosity can bring.
It’s exciting and frightening to be starting at a place so foreign and yet so familiar. I can’t help but be reminded of the summer after eighth grade, when my life changed at a small-town college in Lancaster, PA. I didn’t know anyone there, but I could tell that there was an instant connection between every awkward prepubescent tween at CTY, whether it was our throats going sore from singing American Pie, our tongues shriveling from too much cream soda and fudge, our hair matted from running around the Quad and screaming out the lyrics to every canon song.
Cue to CPW, one of my favorite memories of the past year was the second-to-last day of the campus preview event. Senior Haus was hosting a concert, and though I barely knew the group I was with, we all decided to check out the event.
Under the moonlight, the soft blue glow of string lights, and the swaying bodies undulating as the notes from guitar strings and drums filled the evening, it was electric. I didn’t know much about the dorm cultures at the time, but it was enough to be able to bask in the warmth of the lyrics, the low-hanging branches and forts line up in the courtyard, and the eyes glowing in the night. There’s a quote from Red (The Shawshank Redemption) that I love that goes:
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.
Some of us darted across to Stata (we weren’t aware of the geography of the campus quite yet) to witness the second half of the fire poi show, their glowing orbs spiking the night air as the surreality of the night fell on us.
I ended up visiting the dorm twice, hanging around some of the students I’d met there whose stories left me wanting to hear more. It’s so rare to come across such a plethora of individuals who allow you to feel as though you’re not stuck in someone else’s perception of you. One of the things I was unsure about heading to college was whether I’d end up purposefully changing who I had been. For so much of my life, I’ve been defined by the people and environment around me that I’ve grown used to making sure I was a kind of person I ought to be. For the first time — both at CTY and even now — I was able to break free.
The last time I remember feeling as inspired was the last week I was in Cambridge. Each time I come back, I feel as though I’m a different person, but every day stretches on for a lifetime and by the end I’m certain that even though I might have changed by the smallest degree, I don’t have any regrets.
Note: Raw, unedited photos ahead…