Graduating Class: '02

Joyce W. Lee

My serious interest in literature began with a rather unfortunate first paper for a Shakespeare HASS-D. It was pretty bad; it said nothing poorly. Fortunately, that paper’s hapless existence made me realize many things, the most important of which was the difference between intellectual curiosity and intellectual engagement. Like many (if not all) MIT students I was interested in ideas – how things work, formulas, and paradigms. What I didn’t have (and didn’t know yet that I didn’t have) was a way to really get at these ideas. A way that I actually cared about and enjoyed on a visceral level enough to do the work of understanding and learning. What I found in literature was a material and a system that yielded and structured fascinating questions and answers – and on a basic level, was pleasurable. (A quality that should never be underestimated when choosing a class and/or major.) So that first miserable paper, in its particular wrongness, made me realize that (1) this was something I liked that I wasn’t willing to cede and (2) literature could let me in on the ground floor of a lot of big ideas if I really tried. I continued to take classes in the Literature department, decided to pursue a doctorate in English at UCLA and have enjoyed fame and fortune ever since. Well, relatively speaking. I am truly appreciative of the singular education I have received and thankful daily for the perception I’ve learned. As I begin writing my dissertation on Asian American literature, I know that the questions that engage me now – questions about race, narrative, history – all have their roots in the wealth of opportunities, organic and inorganic, available in the MIT Literature department. That HASS could change your life.