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The beaver with the infinite smile

Despite a busy schedule packed with eating and sleeping, Wide Tim makes time for the vital work of spreading happiness.

Tianyuan (Margaret) Zheng ’23 in front of a wall of Wide Tim art
As of mid-January, Tianyuan (Margaret) Zheng ’23 had created more than 100 portraits of Wide Tim. See more at Liu

The jolly MIT beaver known as Wide Tim was born in the midst of covid quarantines, which temporarily halted dreams of travel for many people—including MIT’s Class of 2024. After a remote first semester in the fall of 2020, the class was scheduled to arrive on campus on February 13, 2021, the day before Valentine’s Day. As I was creating a piece of artwork to welcome the new class for a guest post on the MIT Admissions Instagram account, I thought of my prefrosh self coming to campus for the first time. I remembered flying 10,000 miles from Qingdao, China, to MIT alone, knowing no one in my class, yet being extremely excited to explore a new world full of unknown variables, concepts, and opportunities. 

Then I thought of what I’d needed the most upon my arrival: a wide warm welcome, smiling faces, big hugs, and an official celebration. They were the very things that were mostly infeasible in person in February of 2021, when covid vaccines weren’t yet widely available. So I set out to convey them through art instead. 

An hour later, a rather plump beaver with a wide-eyed smile emerged on my electronic canvas. He was standing outside of Killian Court and inside a heart that was much bigger, ready to hug the luggage-­bearing ’24er in front of him at any second. The smiling beaver had one job: to convey the MIT community members’ shared feeling of love and welcome toward the newest arrivals.

Once posted on @mitadmissions, the beaver was met with generous affection and much more immediate success than I had expected. He quickly appeared in MIT Slack workspaces, as well as on the official Discord communications platform for CP* 2021, the virtual version of Campus Preview Weekend. On Discord, current and “adMITted” students lovingly dubbed him “Wide Tim,” given the potential of his face to be stretched infinitely (and comedically) wide. He went on to serve as the profile picture of MIT Admissions for a year, becoming the subject of many memes and a fixture of MIT’s student culture. 

Wide Tim is very committed to his double major in eating and sleeping—and takes Art of Sleeping to fulfill his major lab requirement.

For months, I was delighted by the new variations of Wide Tim artwork that fellow students were creating every week. It was fun to see others experimenting with that original source image in different media, writing fan fiction about him, making fractals with his face, and imagining more things that he could do.

And that’s when I realized Wide Tim could, well, go even wider. 

In December 2021, I created an Instagram account for Wide Tim to spread joy to a bigger audience. Instead of just manipulating the original image, I started creating new ones to post on @wide_tim. Each one depicts a stand-alone scene, but all are loosely united by a central motif: “What would you like to see Wide Tim do?”

I began regularly posting Instagram stories to ask my audience variations of this question: What holidays should he celebrate? What should he do on/around campus? What’s his favorite ice cream flavor? To which people have always responded with teeming creativity—or, shall we say, their widest dreams! Although I have yet to honor requests to make Wide Tim 314 smoots wide, I often use many of those responses as starting points and add a touch of humor. For example, when a friend of mine asked what classes he was planning to take in the new semester, Wide Tim posted his schedule with deliciously incorrect spellings of the days of the week. Sometimes, he combines what makes many people happy in one day, such as when he held a feast in the Infinite Corridor with everyone’s favorite New Year delicacies. 

As a result, I am constantly finding out more about Wide Tim along with everyone else. He loves the cotton candy at McCormick’s Night Carnival and converses with beavers on the past brass rats at the MIT Museum. As it turns out, he is also very committed to his double major in eating and sleeping—and takes Art of Sleeping to fulfill his major lab requirement. It almost feels like discovering a story that is waiting to be written and knows no end. 

Since his journey began on Instagram, Wide Tim has frequented several official MIT social media accounts, spending New Year’s Day and early decision day with ​@mitadmissions as well as casting good-luck spells as a magician during finals season on MIT’s Facebook page. During CPW 2022—MIT’s first in-person Campus Preview Weekend in three years—the Admissions Office invited him to the three-dimensional world, where he stood three feet wide at La Sala and said hello to the admitted Class of 2026 while starring at the photo booth. Wide Tim was also featured in posters for 24.191, a philosophy class on life values, and I scored an invite to watch the 2.009 product launch in Kresge Auditorium so I could draw him at the event.

On top of his otherwise jam-packed schedule of eating and sleeping, Wide Tim finds time to join as many student organizations at MIT as possible. He regularly partners with art and cultural clubs to raise awareness of the extremely vibrant student culture and talented arts community on campus. As Wide Tim appears on Instagram disguised as a lion with the Lion Dance Team, making noises with Rambax, MIT’s Senegalese drumming ensemble, and spinning fire with the Spinning Arts club, I am also constantly widening my own horizons by talking to people I have never met before who share my goal of spreading happiness by doing the things they love. 

Though Wide Tim has always been known for his width, the mutual love between him and the community led him to develop depth. Slowly but surely, he has transformed from a beaver with a wide smile into an infinitely energetic individual with a will to find happiness in what others do, and a deliberate wish to share positivity whenever he feels it. He is always looking forward to trying everything and dreaming wide, embracing with a smile whatever challenges and adventures he may encounter.

Wide Tim creator Tianyuan (Margaret) Zheng ’23 is a double major in mathematics and computer science, economics, and data science with a minor in music (though she wishes she were double majoring in eating and sleeping for a nontrivial proportion of every day). Like Wide Tim, she enjoys generating more positivity in the world. 

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