Every time I lead a campus tour, someone in my group asks me how I got into the business. “I used to do musical theater,” I tell them. “But after a couple of Off-Off-Broadway shows that never caught on, I left my job as a waitress and decided to come here.”
It usually takes a few seconds for people to realize I’m kidding. But that’s why I give tours. Those who can’t do comedy, guide.
As a tour guide, it is my job to convey that MIT–a place where students work harder than they have ever worked in their lives, where there are nights when we don’t sleep, and where we learn that we are not actually the smartest people on this planet–is indeed a good place.
I started leading tours the spring of my freshman year. After my first, someone came up to me and said, “I didn’t realize people like you went to MIT.”
“What do you mean, people like me?” I asked.
“You know, talkative people.” My heart sank as I thought about how often the media portrays MIT students as socially challenged freaks. (This was before the movie 21 depicted us as high rollers whose vocabulary did not contain the phrase problem set.)
It seems that the general public associates “MIT” with “smart,” and beyond that, impressions are fuzzy. Before I got here, I had no idea whether people even socialized. I pictured MIT as a cement jungle, filled with faceless beings. And equations. But after I arrived, I found people who had biked across the country, a student who started his first company when he was 15, and a Scrabble master. These kids weren’t just smart; they were extraordinary, and they had all congregated at MIT.
I was determined to present this more accurate picture of MIT to visitors, so when I became a tour guide, I vowed to wow. I remember attending horribly generic college tours, shuffling along the sidewalk hoping to catch every third word of the guide’s spiel; five years later, everything has blended into one blurry speech about diversity, study-abroad opportunities, and flexible meal plans. To make sure that people would never forget my tour–or MIT–I designed a script containing stories, jokes, and scientific quizzes.
I start out with a brief history of MIT, pointing out that we have a long tradition of coeducation that dates back to the early 1870s–unlike some schools belonging to an elite group named after a creeping plant. We then head to Killian Court, where I mention that we are often able to get out of our rooms to play flag football in our letter sweaters. On one tour, a note taker, intent on asking intelligent follow-up questions, wrote that down. I explained that I was joking and requested that he strike it from the record.