education, life, reading

I’m Still Learning from MIT

Rigorous and fun, MIT was like a golden ticket in the heap of college information packets I received as a high school junior and senior. Although I asked my AP Physics teacher what people who major in physics go on to do, I knew I couldn’t go to a college that didn’t offer a music degree. Yet, the vision of social impact through scholarship wrapped in creativity has lingered with me since then.

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“Mind and Hand”: knowledge for the sake of application. Photo by Krystal J. F. Grant

Viewing syllabi of music courses and videos of research peppered my idle moments in college and grad school. I celebrated signing up to pursue a graduate certificate in Cultural Studies by visiting Borders and buying a book I had seen there: Placing Words: Symbols, Space, and the City by MIT architecture professor William J. Mitchell. This collection of essays examines the confluence of physical space with various modes of communication. I read it for fun.

A couple of years later when my dissertation prospectus was approved, I often checked the MIT website for any academic or administrative job my qualifications or experience might fit. “…The intellectual spirit of this place has significantly influenced me…” I wrote in one of two cover letters, but I was never interviewed. Instead, I spent another year in Stony Brook then moved to Brooklyn, where I gained a roommate who had lived in the Boston area.

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Public art is part of MIT’s building projects. In this case, the Stata Center itself was designed by Frank Gehry. Photo by Krystal J. F. Grant

I finally saw MIT in person because I spent a week at Berklee. My Brooklyn roommate had moved back to Boston, and I stayed with her while participating in Berklee’s summer program in Latin music. Unaware of the schools’ proximity to each other, I took the subway to MIT for an afternoon campus tour. Public art, varied architecture, and quirky anecdotes led me to wander and savor the grounds after the tour. I also visited the MIT Museum and made a phenakistiscope that turned pi into a heart for my then-boyfriend (now husband). Nearby, I stumbled upon Darwin’s Ltd., a cafe that served coffee from and had the same furniture as my favorite spot in Lancaster: Square One Coffee. I paused there and reflected on the joy of experiencing the school I had admired for almost half of my life.

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It was cruel to measure the Harvard/Massachusetts Avenue Bridge in the height of a freshman, but Oliver Smoot went on to a career in standards and measurement in addition to being a celebrated alumnus. Photo by Krystal J. F. Grant

Now, I follow the MIT Chalk of the Day on Instagram because the designs and quotes draw out parts of my heart I sometimes ignore. This week, I saw a message I already believe but often struggle to follow: Love Your Haters. Much of the trauma the news, my friends, and my work this season make me aware of is caused by human beings. It is hard to hope for perpetrators to turn away from doing evil and be restored while also seeking justice for wrongdoing. It is difficult to remain open to listening to people whose ideologies hurt me or people I care about, whether or not they are listening to me. I need occasional breaks from headlines and opponents, but love should pervade my returning to them.

I could not have known that a brochure I saw as a teenager would lead me to this week’s encounter with this powerful idea. But I do know that whom and what I choose to follow in social and other media and in real life are like breadcrumbs that can lead me toward goodness or malice. I am grateful MIT continues to be a good influence on me.

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