When I left Candidate’s Weekend, I knew that I had found my new home and that I wanted to return this fall. I dreamt of working next to my roommate, disassembling our entire room, and building a penthouse in our hotel room of a dorm. The aroma of the top-notch food coming out of Rebecca’s Cafe followed me around as I sat at my high school’s cafeteria. I envisioned all of the custom parts I was going to create in the shop to put on my car that I had planned on driving to campus. Campus is Oz and I am young Dorothy on the yellow brick road that leads up to the Oval in the middle of Needham. The difference between my dream and hers is that my Wizard of Oz isn’t a person; instead, it is the changes that the global pandemic instituted.
My hopes and wishes for my previous dreams to come true will have to wait as now I, with my peers, have to enter into uncertainty. The uncertainty of a school year unlike any other, where things change quite literally every day leaves room for a lot of doubt, confusion, anxiety, and questions that cannot always be answered. Throw on top the fact that I’m a first-generation college student and now you have the Wicked Witch of the West’s cauldron of “Not knowing what to do” stew. Still, as much as COVID has changed the course of this year negatively, at least for me, it has radically changed me for the better too.
If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that this pandemic has created a lot of change from the routine lives we have all been living. My entire junior and senior years of high school were nothing but routines and conformity to the path of least resistance outside of the classroom.I had always been told that I should take the hardest classes I could and be involved with clubs in school. In order to avoid any unnecessary stress, outside of class I kept doing everything that I thought was helping me, regardless of how detrimental it actually was. I would get home, eat dinner, do homework, shower, do even more homework, and then go to sleep everyday at the same exact times. I was in the same relationship for the entirety of those two years and never even questioned why I was in it in the first place. I ate the same junk food that kept me full of energy and allowed me to grind hard all day. Clearly the grind worked because I’m here now.
Yet, as things got increasingly harder and more stressful, I relied more on the aforementioned routines than before. I ate more junk food, slowly pushed sleep back as homework took more time, and slowly distanced myself from the relationship I was in. The life I had grown accustomed to served its purpose. But, unbeknownst to me, I was no longer the same guy that entered his junior year with aspirations to go to engineering school. When, COVID hit California hard and I had to take classes from our dining table, I recall opening the portal to see I had been accepted into Olin. I had now reached my lifelong goal but had no-one around to celebrate with besides my immediate family. Where was the yelling and partying that all of the television shows I had watched growing up told me I needed to do with that news? Seemingly, the hugs and praises from my family were not enough as I felt the result deserved more of a reaction. The “friends” and “relationship” I thought I had were only useful when the grind was on but no longer there. Now that I’m telling everyone that I got into this small engineering school that MIT ranked number 1, no one cared. The food I thought had given me the world’s energy, had really only gave me a belly that I hadn’t noticed. Much like the world around me, I now had to change.
I learned that Olin has “core personal values” that it expects Oliners to strive towards during their 4 years. The fifth one, Openness to change, states that continually improving requires change even if that may lead to failure or more change. I was already committing myself to changing my entire life by accepting my offer of admission to Olin. I knew I was going to move across the country, leave my family back in California, and have to adapt to a new culture and climate on the east coast. How much harder was it going to be to try and lose some weight in the process, focus in on the people who actually care about me, and to try and return to my once ambitious self? In my head, if I was already doing that much to change my life, it couldn’t hurt to take it a step forward (almost like when you’re at the buffet and ask yourself should I get another plate, yes you always should). So, much like I had done before, I grinded all summer to accomplish my goals that I set on that revolutionary day that I got into Olin. Now as I arrive to campus, I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds and gained back strong bonds with my family and those who cared for me when I had lost self-care.
Conformity is dangerous as it can lead to a blindness to what may lead on the side of risk. As we all begin our journey towards becoming the greatest engineers in the world we should consistently look towards innovating and improving in all aspects of our lives and work as the greatest changes happen when one takes risks.