Half Empty, Since 1998

This scholastic phenomenon is a wonder when experienced firsthand, many minds cramming knowledge into their heads, life stands still as we know it, and all for a grade on a piece of paper that tells you of your intellectual worth.

Ode to Finals Week

Andrew Mullins. December 22nd, 1998

As I dive up to the surface this week, and breathe regular air and again look like a normal person, I take a look around me during a normal day. When I say I emerge, I am referring to, of course, coming out of the reclusive lifestyle of a student during this part of the year, the phenomenon known as final exams week. All around me at school, students have that one goal in mind, the ultimate object of the semester, to pass all the classes, to survive healthily, and to get ready for the new semester.

Although, the next semester is an awfully long way away right now. You know, really, the survival goal is not even that high of a priority right now either. It’s really all about passing those tests and completing those papers. Everyone affiliated with the university knows, now is not the time. For anything. Just about everything on campus is shut down; the main gathering places on campus where a normal weekday noon is packed with students is empty.

Students are hitting the books, holed up in their apartments and dorm rooms, in coffee shops, in the libraries. I read in the student newspaper today that the coffee shops near the university have 35-50% increase in sales during finals weeks. Every student is trying to cram a semesters worth of material into their heads for the big test that often determines whether we have to take the class over again, or what grade we stumble through with. We’re all competing, for attention of professors and TA’s, for spaces in the library and the coffee shops, and for our grades.

Some people will tell me that it’s not important how they do on their finals, that they’re going to get good grades no matter what. Since my personal philosophy in school and at work (at wherever else it’s effective) is “bare minimum,” the final ALWAYS counts. I usually figure out what it takes on the final to have my class average be between a 79.49 and a 79.5 (the cutoff between a B and a C). And then study the bare minimum to get by, which is why I can observe somewhat detached from most students today. But even I have been holed up; unable and afraid to come out into the open, too damn stressed out, too worried about the results, and working too hard.

But today was different, I told myself that I was going to let that French test material wait another day, that all that Nietzsche and Kant could remain unread a little longer. Today I was going to go to campus and just hang out there. I met some friends, shopped for CD’s, had some deep dish pizza, played some video games, got a haircut, had some coffee, and eventually met a friend who works at a frozen yogurt shop, got some free yogurt, and went to work for a few hours.

Even that was odd. I work at a local coffee shop/bakery near school, and there was a totally different atmosphere than usual. There were at least 10 people sitting at tables with laptops out, slurping down the coffee, typing like mad. Sure the old people that come in there, they’re still the same, they really never seem to change. But they could tell there was a different atmosphere in there today, it was very study-inducing. I had to kick out 3 people after we closed, they didn’t want to leave, perhaps they thought we were a 24-hour place.

In this day I saw what I am telling you, how empty everything is, how focused just about everyone is this week. It’s quite an event, and maybe each of you will one day be able to experience a finals week for yourself (if you haven’t already). I promise you, if you take the time to really think about the big picture, it will be a vivid image that stays with you for quite a while.