The White House is on the phone
And MIT is in my inbox
President Jimmy Carter conceded the 1980 election earlier than expected. Ronald Reagan recounted, “I never dreamed it would be in the late afternoon when I was taking a shower, standing there dripping wet, that Nancy told me the White House was on the phone.”
A year ago I received an email from another white-columned place, not on Pennsylvania Avenue but on Massachusetts Avenue. The subject line: “Exciting News from the PhD Program in EECS at MIT! YES!!” I never dreamed it would happen the way it did.
On a Wednesday in January, an MIT professor emailed me to schedule an interview. My undergraduate advisor had explained that an interview or lack thereof may or may not be a good sign, and I didn’t know if the purpose was to recruit or evaluate me. We met that Friday, and it felt more evaluative than some of my other interviews, which I interpreted as a bad sign.
The acceptance came four days later. Like Reagan, I had just taken a shower and was standing in my underwear, half-shaven, when I got the notification. This can’t be real, I thought. So soon, and double exclamation points? I put down my razor to investigate. “YES!” the email opened, “Our decision regarding your application to our doctoral graduate degree program is a resounding and unequivocal YES!” It continued, “Among the thousands of applications submitted from all over the world, we believe, and we are confident, that you have much to offer to our community with regard to our research endeavors, our academic pursuits, and our collaborative engagements to achieve our collective goals to impact the world and to also achieve our individual career aspirations.” It was legit.
I threw on a shirt and FaceTimed my parents to share the indeed exciting news. My dad cried. It was a Tuesday, so I let them get back to work and took a moment to process the news myself. Up until that day, I wasn’t sure about starting grad school right after college. I was planning to apply for research positions in industry and government and then weigh all my options. But when I got the MIT acceptance, I knew I was done. Nerds like me go to MIT, and I believe it’s where I’m most likely to meet the Nancy to my Ronald. This is the beginning of the rest of my life, I thought. Then I resumed shaving.
Years earlier I had visited Cambridge with my family, and I have a fond memory of eating ravioli at Bertucci’s in Kendall. So, finally shaven, I put on pants and trekked out into the snow for celebratory ravioli. MIT was my first acceptance, which was highly validating and worth commemorating. All my hard work had paid off.
I’m still searching for my Nancy, but like the President, I’ve got four more years. I’ll close with another quote from the Great Communicator: “My philosophy of life is that if we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, then work hard toward that goal, we never lose — somehow we win out.”
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