Coming to MIT, I was the classic quiet guy in the back of the room. I could do schoolwork. . .and didn’t think too much past that. I didn’t like it much, but I didn’t really know what else I wanted.
The East Side fixed that. And not only from exposure to all sorts of people; the exposure to the idea that I really could make my life interesting, in ways I never would have dreamed of anywhere else.
Do I want to learn how to cook? Then go for it. Make mistakes. Ask for help. Work at it.
How about a mural? Make the dorm something other than institutional white? Get an idea, make a proposal, and try it. So what if you’ve never painted before? Worst thing that happens is you cover it in white paint and someone else gives it a try. Who wants to live in a sterile hallway, anyway? Humans decorate anything they can get their hands on.
Do I think a roller coaster would be amazing? Make it happen. Plan the design, figure out the 2x4s, get other people involved, get the safety down so that we do it right.
I couldn’t have done it anywhere else. I had freedom, and responsibility, and community, and it’s why I want to make things happen instead of just following anyone’s plans.
Freedom to try things, to have that belief that your world is in your control, and that by working you can transform it. Art, construction, experiences, whatever, it’s there.
Responsibility to make sure that it goes well, that you do not hurt others by carelessness, or do the job half-assed, or run roughshod over everyone else.
Community for advice, because with that many people from that many odd backgrounds somebody else will have a great idea. Community for support, not just in execution of a plan that you want, but in picking you up when you fail so that you don’t quit for good. Community for a social circle to relax and recharge. Civic participation; if you want it to happen, then you’d better convince other people of the same thing. A self-organizing community. Doesn’t happen without freedom to move around and try new neighbors and develop culture.
The East Side gave me all that. I’ve gone on to grad school, and I’ve run potlucks and built hacks (fake UFO crash, for the curious) and told the fun stories and listened as almost everyone else in this science department says “Damn! I wish my school had been like that. We never did anything interesting.”
I don’t want to hear that from future alums, too.