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Once upon a time, she was known as a "coed" | by Ed Yourdon
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Once upon a time, she was known as a "coed"

I have no idea if this young woman is an MIT student -- but I hope she won't mind if I use her to illustrate another bit of ancient MIT folklore:


Of the 900 incoming students each year, approximately 30 were female (I have no idea if that ratio is still true, but it was fairly consistent from one year to the next, while I was there).


We did not refer to them as females, or girls, or women; instead they were known as "coeds." As far as I know, no insult was intended; I think the point was that their presence demonstrated that MIT was no longer a single-sex university, but was legitimately coeducational.


Still, it did not surprise us to learn that, while all 900 freshmen were members of the intellectual elite, the coeds were really special.


I recall meeting only one coed during my freshman year -- actually, during an orientation party where we insecure, anti-social geeks were supposed to become acquainted with one another. She was 16 years old, she was incredibly sexy, she smoked a pipe, and her IQ was several hundred points higher than mine. Or so it seemed...


Note: this photo was published in a Jan 16, 2012 Traveling in US blog titled "Once upon a time, she was known as a “coed”," with the same caption and detailed notes that I had written here on this Flickr page. It was also published in an undated (early Jan 2012) blog titled "The State of Young America: Millennials Need More Expensive Education to Succeed." It was also published in an Apr 4, 2012 Jaggi blog, with the same caption that I had written on this Flickr page. And it was published in a Dec 10, 2012 blog titled "Should schools be allowed to separate boys and girls into one-gender classrooms?"




It was a lifetime ago that I stumbled off a Greyhound bus in downtown Boston, a clueless 17 year old kid with two suitcases that held all my worldly possessions. I dragged them out to the street (no roll-aboard suitcases in those ancient times), and asked a taxi driver to take me to an address in Cambridge that I had scribbled on a scrap of paper: 77 Massachusetts Ave.


"Aye," the driver muttered, in a dialect that never did become familiar during the next several years. "SebendySebenMassAve."


When he dropped me off, I noticed two things. First, enormous stone steps leading up to the entrance to an imposing granite building. And second, a long line of scraggly, sloppily-dressed young men stretching from the building's entrance down toward the street where the taxi had dropped me. Aha, I thought: I'm not the only one who forgot to fill out the official form requesting a dorm room.


Welcome to MIT.


I waited in line for two hours before being assigned temporarily, with two other equally absent-minded, newly-arrived MIT students, to sleep on mattresses in an East Campus dorm room that had initially been assigned as a "single" room to an understandably annoyed fellow from Cincinnati. One of the other temporary misfits, whom we immediately nicknamed "Filthy Pierre," had just arrived from Paris with nothing but one large, heavy duffel bag that he dragged into the room. Its contents consisted of miscellaneous telephone parts, which he dumped on the floor and kicked under the bed before wandering out of the room to explore Boston. (He had not showered in weeks, and he was eventually expelled for burning a cross on MIT's Great Lawn on Easter morning. But that's another story.)


Thus began my four-year experience at what many still consider America's premiere scientific/engineering university. That I survived and graduated is a minor miracle; and while I'll hint at the adventures along the way, in this Flickr set, you'll have to look elsewhere for the details...


I continued to live in Cambridge for a couple of years after I graduated; took a couple of graduate courses in AI and computer science, taught a couple summer MIT classes to innocent high school students (one of whom challenged me to write the value of pi on the blackboard, to 100 places, from memory - which I did), took full advantage of MIT's athletic facilities, and 25-cent Saturday-nite movies at Kresge auditorium, which always featured the enormously popular RoadRunner cartoons, and occasionally walked through the same halls and pathways that I had first explored as an overwhelmed undergraduate student. But then I got a new job, moved to New York City, got married, settled down, and began raising family. After that, I typically travelled to Boston two or three times a year on business trips, but never seemed to have time to come back to MIT for a casual visit.


But one of the advantages of a near-fanatical devotion to the hobby of photography is that you begin to appreciate that all of the experiences you internalized and took for granted need to be photographed -- for posterity, if nothing else. Some of my most vivid memories of MIT, which we took for granted - like the huge,red, neon, flashing/pulsating "Heinz 57" sign out on the northern edge of the (Briggs) athletic fields -- are gone. Some of the legendary professors and deans have died and commemorative plaques have been erected in their honor. And there's a whole lot of new stuff - mostly new buildings and laboratories, whose specific purpose is a mystery to me - that I just have to shrug and accept.


But the basic campus is still there. And the memories are just as vivid as they were, so many years ago. I can't say that I captured them all in this Flickr set; the photos were taken at sunset one evening, and dawn the following morning. But they'll give you an idea of what it was like, a long long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ... and what it's still like today.

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Taken on June 14, 2010