One of the sections included in the annual Senior Edition is a series of essays titled Seniors Speak. These works are written and submitted to The Acronym by members of the graduating class, allowing them to reflect on their experiences, share advice, and advocate for change. The writer of this piece is Allen Chen (MIT ’23), who lived in 1505C his senior year. Allen Chen was president of Mu Alpha Theta and put much of his time into math competitions.
A couple weeks ago, I had a small argument with my parents. I wanted to stay a few weekends for Clash, but they’d asked me to come home. After a series of texts, we came to a compromise, so I didn’t think too much of it until they ended the conversation with a stinger: “Your sister’s crying because you’re not there.” I’ve been thinking about that for some time now.
I came to IMSA for a couple of major reasons. I loved the opportunities to explore math and science. I was entranced by Dr. Kiely’s lecture about orange juice and toothpaste during orientation. But I would be lying if I said the real reason wasn’t to get away from home. IMSA’s residential aspect intrigued me beyond belief – it meant that I could live with friends, be able to make my own choices, and finally be free from my parents.
Residential life exceeded all my expectations. I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, from going on walking trips with friends to playing video games on weekends until sunrise. I remember fabricating excuses to stay at IMSA more than a few times to avoid my parents’ constant reminders to do homework or watch inspirational graduation services or even write my college application a year and a half in advance. I grew to dislike going home, not because I didn’t want to be around my parents, but because IMSA had such a simultaneously relaxed and exciting atmosphere that I couldn’t bear to be somewhere else.
Meanwhile, I had always had a pretty good relationship with my sister. When we were little, we would play basketball, compete against each other on the Wii, and recommend each other books to read. When our parents fought, we sneaked away to my room, quietly locked the door, and played Pokémon or card games to pass the time. Other times, she would ask me questions about her math homework, and we’d work them out on the whiteboard in the basement. And whenever either of us grew overwhelmed by the stress of school or the unfair comparisons to other, more successful kids, we would always have each other to vent to.
But as I grew closer and closer to my friends at IMSA, our relationship stagnated. I exchanged our conversations about wanting a dog with late-night arguments on whether cereal was a soup. Instead of me, she turned to my parents and grandma for help on her homework. And when she needed her brother to talk with her and help her through whatever she was dealing with, I wasn’t there.
Relationships are like flowers. If you feed it and nurture it and care for it, a seed will grow into a strong, beautiful plant. But no matter how tall the flower grows, no matter how vibrant and colorful its petals are, it will always wilt if you forget to give it water. Hearing that my sister was crying was enough to uncover this truth from where I’d hidden and tried to forget it. I think deep down, I knew that I was distancing myself from my sister and my parents, and the truth is, that hurt, no matter how much I tried to hide it.
This has come to be my biggest regret of IMSA, but also my biggest goal for the small fraction of the semester we have left. I want to reconnect with my sister, my mom, my dad, my grandma. I want to come back home on some of the weekends I’d normally stay at IMSA, if only to spend a night sitting in the family room with them, playing with our adorable maltese poodle while watching a movie we’d never gotten the chance to see. I want to call them more often and not just when I need a favor or have a question, so that I can still be part of their lives even though I’m miles away. I want to play ping pong with my sister in the basement while we sing Disney songs or the new catchy Demi Lovato tune. I want her to text me whenever she has any questions or needs to talk to someone who understands what she’s going through.
In the end, IMSA is a wonderful place where you can meet the coolest people and the closest friends. In no way do I want to advise against that – in fact, keep making friends throughout your three years here (I know I’ve formed some friendships this year that have made me love IMSA even more). But the silver lining is that sometimes devoting your time to this incredibly close-knit community causes some damaging effects on our previous relationships, from our families to our old-school friends. So the next time you (correctly) reflect on how little time there is before college to spend with your friends from IMSA, try to remember that the same is true for the people back home – I know I will.