Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Letting Ghosts Die

I haven't been on the MIT admissions blogs since the days immediately following my rejection. Throughout the first half of April I clung onto the MIT dream; whenever I tried flipping a coin to gauge my gut reaction to the question Caltech or Stanford, my heart always cried out, MIT!

I went back on the admissions blogs last Friday and read some posts by Anna Ho, the admissions blogger with whom I felt the strongest (one-sided, of course) connection from fall 2012 when I started reading the MIT admissions blogs to March 2014, when I got rejected. And in the course of reading one of her blogs, I discovered that she's going to Caltech to pursue a PhD in astronomy.

First of all, that's wonderful news. I'm a fan of hers (though a fair-weathered one, it seems, given that I didn't check up for two months) and I hope she enjoys the greatest success.

Second, I can feel the phantasm of my Caltech self floating around a lot. For a period of two weeks, I was dead certain that I'd go to Caltech since I thought I'd never get into Stanford. Even the first part of April I thought I'd go to Caltech since I hadn't internalized the Stanford acceptance so Caltech, as the first reach school to say yes to me, felt more real.

So I imagine that there's a version of me that chose Caltech, who is busily emailing the Caltech fencing coach about student athlete forms, who is submitting Caltech forms, who is wearing Caltech shades around school, whose name on the senior map is alone under California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, who is planning meetups with friends going to the Claremont Colleges.

That's not me. I'm filling out my Approaching Stanford forms, practicing trombone for the LSJUMB, wearing Stanford Federal Credit Union sunglasses and a track jacket with a tree on it, and on the senior map my name and my tuba brother's name are under Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. I got my AS mailing last Friday and spent the weekend flailing over the immensely cool Thinking Matters courses that will be offered (I can take a class on Evil. Evil.)

I read some physics books, so I encounter Caltech's name a lot. Feynman taught there for many years, as did Murray Gell-Mann (whose book the Quark and the Jaguar I began on Thursday and already love). And while I am thrilled that I'm going to Stanford, sometimes I also look at Caltech and think, wow, what an opportunity cost.

When I submitted the form stating "no, I will not attend Caltech," I felt a twinge of reluctance. In the two weeks when I thought I'd go there for sure, I had constructed a pretty sweet future: mechanical engineering with a minor in CS, research at JPL, fencing team, Caltech-Occidental wind band. I think I would have enjoyed that.

But then I remember sitting in on a CEE lecture at Stanford's Admit Weekend and, while not literally trembling, walking out feeling like a shaken-up soda and saying to myself, I have to come here. I remember wandering across the Main Quad in a daze, only just then realizing that I got into Stanford and that I could really come here and make the place my own.

Here is my plan for the future: civil engineering with a minor in CS, research or internships, bonz sexion in the LSJUMB, study abroad in Germany junior year with a Krupp Internship the summer after, classes in complexity (which sets my brain on fire) and global sustainability (which does the same for my gut).

I must confess that I am still holding out hope that MIT will want me for graduate school. But that is a long way off yet.

I saw myself coming out of Caltech as this very serious intense Mechanical Engineer. I see myself coming out of Stanford as an intense determined Leader as well as Engineer.

Caltech is a beautiful, wonderful school. But I have never been attracted by the idea of doing pure scientific research, even if I find the results of that research fascinating. And mechanical engineering is super cool and important. But, though I didn't want major choice to be a big factor in choosing between schools, I don't think I can give up the dream of civil engineering so quickly.

Mind and Hand? They don't want me. The truth shall set you free? Yes, but if the truth is constantly evading us, will we never be free? But we are free. Or we can be free.

Because Die Luft der Freiheit weht.

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