Story-telling and poetry-writing during Random Acts of Kindness Week

circle with logos about MIT life around it and "write a story with the whole MIT community" inside

Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) week on campus is usually colorful and obvious, a week when you see purple throughout the Infinite; you get letters from your friends; you come across a free goodie-bag; you interact with new people and organizations. 

The increased community engagement is immediately apparent as you see connections forming while walking to your classes, lab, or office. This year, these interactions had to be virtual. However, many community members are fatigued by the obvious medium of Zoom, due to its use in classes and meetings.

The MIT Institute Community and Equity Office (ICEO) this year wanted to have an event for RAK week in which we could engage the community in a way that wasn’t through Zoom. So we started brainstorming. 

Should we host a movie screening in which we could discuss kindness and inclusion afterwards? While this could be fun, it would have to be through Zoom or some equivalent programming. Should we pair students up with other students for a one on one phone call? While nice to randomly make connections with others within the MIT community, it could quickly get complicated with students who are abroad. Once again, we find ourselves back at Zoom.

But what about a story we could all collectively write? Or a round robin where we could write a poem together?

This is how we ended up with a story of a student’s first day of classes at MIT, complete with getting lost in the Infinite and running into Tim the beaver, along with a poem that takes us through the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Participants could submit as many times as they wanted throughout RAK week, and decide their own twists and turns. The first 100 distinct authors received a $10 Uber Eats certificate. 

MIT students responded well to our efforts to find a non-Zoom outlet. We had 39 contributions (82% undergrad, 12% grad student) to the story and 34 contributions (69% undergrad, 18% grad student) to the poem. We hope that our community members enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate together on a creative, light task and take a break from their psets and research.

Below we have compiled both the story and the poem to show-off what we wrote together as the MIT community! We hope you all enjoy them. 

The Story

I got up early to be ready for my first day of classes at MIT as it's 4 Sept 2021 and I am super excited for my first freshman class.

It was a beautiful day: the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I could almost hear my soul singing.

I got ready to head out: map in hand, hoping not to get lost 

I was trying to recognize all the spots from movies, documentaries, and imagine that I was walking the same hallways as the great minds from many decades ago

As much as I enjoyed wandering the place I have always dreamed of, I was so scared of missing my first official MIT lecture. 

As I passed some classrooms with students seated with their laptops and notebooks out already, I relaxed my shoulders and took a deep breath. 

The professor walked towards the chalkboard, pausing by the bucket full of rainbow chalk sticks in order to pick a color.

I couldn't believe it. All of this is real! I had to take a video of this, tho this moment will forever live in my memory

My first day at MIT was filled with hope and wonder until a TA questioned my abilities to be a graduate student. 

as I took out my phone to record, the professor welcomed everyone, and the students began to quiet down. 

The professor started talking about the philosophy of mathematics or something like that and I wrinkled my forehead - this didn't sound like Introductory Chemistry.

Ah, true to form and despite my map, it seems that I had gotten myself lost along the Infinite and wandered into the Theory of Probability; but alas, it was too late to turn back now.

The professor called me up to the board and handed me a piece of chalk, motioning for me to start writing down an answer. 

My mind returned to the classroom after sufficient daydreaming, and I was completely lost. 

Palms sweaty, I grabbed a piece of chalk and looked nervously back at the classroom of people staring at me.

Time stood still, and what felt like thousands of eyes stared at my back

Then I started writing, hands shaking, sweat dripping.

But what came out of my chalk was not an equation... in fact, it was something entirely unfamiliar to me.

Surely it can't be. I must be dreaming!

Astonished, I stared at the board in front of me and blinked my eyes.

It was a free body diagram!

It was the most beautiful FBD I'd ever seen: neglecting friction AND gravity

I couldn’t find any of my classes, but there was a small, omniscient bean that helped me along the way 

The bean greeted me with a big smile and offered me directions

When I went to thank the bean for saving my day, its skin suddenly splits open.

Out pops Tim the Beaver! While I take a quick picture with Tim, I get a notification on my phone. 

I read the message, I left something in the chemistry room.

I raced out of the lecture hall and down the Infinite, with Tim the Beaver bouncing along behind me. 

Then Tim the Beaver took me to the Stud because he was confused.

"What are you so confused about Tim?", I asked.

"This isn't where you were trying to go, is it?" Tim grabbed my hand, and together we headed back to the chemistry room

But on the way to the chemistry room, Tim remembered why he had gone to the stud in the first place. "I'm starving! Let's go get some Anna's!"

Admittedly, I was having trouble keeping up with this beaver. 

He seemed to be intent on dragging me back and forth across MIT, and my tiny legs could barely keep up with the huge strides he was taking.

When we finally got to the entrance of the Student’s Center, I saw a convenience store, La Verde’s, and then Tim was dragging me to the left, and we arrived at what was presumably Anna’s. 

I had never been before, but the heat coming from the room and the overwhelming smell of beans and soft tacos had my mouth watering.

“In we go!” Tim said. We ordered and after we got our food, sat outside on the steps of the Stud, what Tim informed me we call the Student Center sometimes. Along with W20. Or plain old Stratton Student Center.

“Actually,” he said, “no one calls it that.” 

We laughed.

As I unwrapped my Anna’s burrito, I looked over at Tim—who had removed his costume and was actually another MIT student coincidentally named Tim. 

He was looking back at me and smiling.

I smiled.

I’m going to love it there, I thought, and took my first bite.

The Poem

The snow is melting and the flowers are blooming,

While the wind may whip as you cross the bridge, you see more sunset than yesterday

Easier breaths, brighter smiles, longer walks than yesterday 

The sun shines brightly and your worries dissipate in her warmth

With warming weather comes more possibilities than yesterday

oh my oh my it’s going to be a wonderful day

The river is frozen and the students watch with fascination.

A warming harbor, tides of change

The rabbits by Kresge come out to play

It is slightly cold and slightly warm

And students throw frisbees on the warm spring day

Their laughter settles onto the new grass beginning to waken 

the pink blooms by Walker welcome us home

home at the rims of the sun's touch and slight breeze of a Spring day

The breeze will wake me up, and whisper that I am indeed awake

but this spring is different than those previous 

As I lay, I think of fate

I think of all my friends, old and new

I think of the ones who have come and gone, and the ones who sit by me on this sunny day. 

I think of times of maskless laughter with friends strolling down the outfinite as the sun is setting.

I think of the soft morning light illuminating the Charles

How its rays pierced my windows, as I overslept on Sundays

Taking a brisk walk across the Charles which appears like a blanket of ice while the sun slowly sets in the background, painting the sky orange.

Looking to the future with winter behind us

Spring’s a time when nature reigns and life, unchecked, abounds

Brushes of green efface the scars of a frozen past

Bunnies are hoping around Briggs Field as you head off to classes.

Like them, your heart races with anticipation,

The air no longer feels so cold against our mask,

And I run outside, leaving my coat behind

I can feel the warm sunny days coming as I look outside

The rays melting the barriers of separation and isolation

Bringing together people from across the nation

I'm warm. I'm full. I'm whole.

I've shaken off my winter cold

It may only be 60 degrees but to us, it's beautiful weather

We New Englanders consider this perfect for shorts and a sweater. 

I long to run across campus, all the way from Sloan to NE49, and smile at one and all

Although it is a snow-covered spring, I yearn for the fall.