(March 16, 2010)
Please, sit down. Breathe.
I want to tell you a story.
It’s about a boy. He’s in high school. I guess you could call him a young man. He is 6’, maybe 6’1. Blond hair, blue eyes. His build is that of a sailor; he teaches in the summers. His eyes seem to be peering into the distance, imagining the possibilities. I’ve been told that he’s very attractive.
He’s been developing his thoughts and writes effusively on many topics, including the logical shortcomings of religion. He’s come to be an atheist in a catholic family. At school, he takes solace in the sciences, excelling in programming, chemistry, and physics.
He gains an interest in spanish culture from his work helping immigrants gain citizenship. Shakira enters his life and takes over his music collection. From there, he learns the language and exults “¡Felicitaciones!” when a student of his joyously shares the news that she passed the citizenship test.
He meets a girl. She’s not just any girl but … what are words when there is first love?
He remembers each time their hands clasp (5) and each oh so gentle and soft hug (2). It is all so sweet, so gorgeously sweet, before it must end. Cruelly, she must return home across the country.
But our protagonist is a capable and resourceful man. Two days later, he sneaks away and jumps on a plane to reunite with her. The ensuing hug is by far the softest, the sweetest, the most pleasing and enduring of them all.
Ryan Davis died three years ago. All that remains of him is memories, thoughts, and impressions. I do not remember what day he died. I do not remember when he was born. But every year, I remember March 15, the last day that I saw him. I remember this day because of what he represented to me as the best man that I ever knew.
I met him as a freshman in 2006. We lived on the same hall of East Campus. Over the course of that semester, I became close friends with Ryan, mainly because we both liked to do stupid things.
Maybe you remember two fools sitting front and center in the 3.091 final dressed in suits? That was us who ate breakfast and popped champagne halfway through. aybe you recall Spooky Skate that semester? We were the idiots impersonating the skate guards and kicking people off the ice for going too slowly, for not wearing enough layers, and for wearing skates, not shoes.
I tell you this story to speak to something greater than just Ryan. Every March 15, I am reminded that the reason he made such an impression is that he was so curious, so passionate, so human. Ryan had an idea for life. He recognized that it was so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, and our minutes. It is similarly trivial to take for granted the delicacies in life, the cool winter breeze flowing over the shore or the warmth exuding from a campfire’s crackling dance. He wanted to be happy. He wanted to be where he loved, doing what he loved, and ultimately with the people he loved. How many of us can say that we have those simple aspirations that seem to mesh so well with our sense of a good life?
Ryan wanted everyday to be a new day, to be novel and worth waking up for. These were thoughts expressed in action, in the way a simple conversationabout if we really understood the chemistry behind the champagne led to proving it during the final, in the way a burning desire culminates in adventuring in aforeign land with just clothes and a backpack. How many of us can say that we are capable of such spontaneity, such an ability to be present for life’s call?
I can truly say that my time at MIT has been nothing but extraordinary. And through my numerous failures and my relatively few accomplishments, I have met many people with a potential for excellence and effecting lasting change. Similarly to Ryan, they are characterized by their curiosity and their passion. I like to believe that for almost everyone here, the impetus for being admitted was that you had that flame burning brightly prior to MIT. We were all at some point characterized by desiring to do something very well. But how many of all of us will remain inquisitive and sustain a burning passion as our years progress? I fear that the flame will extinguish for some faster than others. And unfortunately, for many, it will probably be faster than you even imagine. Regardless, i sincerely hope that you can look into the mirror every day and still see a supple but intense mind returning your gaze. And if at any point you find you have lost what you came here to MIT with, I hope that you are are able to be cognizant of that and not afraid to explore.
I am lucky that I met Ryan, especially when I did, and I think it would be selfish of me to keep to myself the understanding that I gained from knowing him then, from remembering him now. I hope this story and these ideas resonate with someone else, with one of you.