November rules: getting some early action.

The weather has finally turned cold, and November is upon us. The Thanksgiving holidays approach with a mixture of relief and forboding: joy for the break that they offer, but dread for what they symbolize, fall semester crunch time, the specter of finals, and the inevitability of the hell that is end-of-term. It’s no mistake that November is such a milestone in the MIT student calendar, a time when students take part in annual festivals of excess (be they of the substance or computer game variety) like the Nethack tournament or November Games. It’s no coincidence that the November Rule — an unwritten (and oft-broken) code which dictates that upperclassmen should not sleep with freshmen until November — is the November Rule and not the October Rule or the December Rule. November is a crucible, and everyone has his way of dealing with it.
Now that I’m no longer a student, November carries a different meaning, but one that is still wrapped up with school. November is Early Action reading season in the Admissions Office, and despite my lack of problem sets and examinations, Thanksgiving time remains one of extreme stress and seemingly endless work. We make Early Action decisions the first weekend in December. And there’s lots to be done before that can happen.
As an MIT alum-turned-admissions-officer, I know I have a tough job, but there’s a part of me that thinks the impossible deadlines and endless work that we admissions folk have to deal with actually keeps us close to and empathetic with what it means to be an MIT student. If our jobs were easy, we’d probably do a terrible job of engineering the student body, since we’d have no clue what it means to be at MIT. Last year was my first year with the office, and I was busier than I’d been since my Junior year (before I dropped 6.002, that is). It’s hard, but it’s a good thing. Nothing worth doing is ever really easy.
But despite the workload, I love November. I love the creeping cold, the approach of winter, the excitement of the first snow. I love the sound of dry leaves underfoot, the smell of them in the crisp, sharp air. I love the warmth of Thanksgiving when it’s needed most, the way the stars gleam brightest on the most bitter nights, the woodsmoke in the air (even here in the city, though sometimes I wonder if it’s some sort of olfactory hallucination brought on by other, associated sensory clues). I love the way the hills look when the trees have lost all their leaves, a purple-grey dotted by evergreens and patches of snow. I love walking around the city on a cold night, happy and beaming, surrounded by happy, beaming Bostonians in long wool coats and bright scarves, moved by the brilliance of the lights in the darkness and the miracle of toasty restaurants and hot meals. And while they say that springtime is when love blossoms, for me it has usually happened in step with winter, a perfect contrast that never fails to astound me with its beauty.
I never took part in November Games, I didn’t know about Nethack until this summer, and I’ve never slept with a freshman. I usually spend my Novembers diving into a good book (right now it’s The Lord of the Rings, since I figure I’ve been a bad MIT student by not having read it) and baking when I get a chance. Thanksgiving in the Williams family deserves an entry of its own. Today’s a reading day (applications, not novels). I’d better get down to cases.

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