The final stretch
As a journalism major who typically has a pretty easy time during finals week, I see the end of the semester as a great time to do some people watching. People are very interesting to watch when they are stressed out. But the even more interesting thing that few people take stalk in is how fascinating it is to listen to people talk about the crazy time crunch.
Whether you have a light load this semester or you’re wondering how you’ll make it through alive, everyone has something to say about final exams. Students take to social media to update the world as to just how many hours they have spent in the library, how tired they are or how much coffee they have chugged in an effort to stay awake.
But the fact many students drink unhealthy amounts of coffee, eat junk food and have bizarre sleeping habits really isn’t remarkable, or even isolated to finals week.
As much as people hate finals, there is a kind of glee to the suffering.
There’s competition in the madness; a great contest to see who is having the most stressful time. Midterms and, to a greater extent, finals offer students two explicit times during the semester when it is totally acceptable, and even encouraged, to be a complete mess.
And I mean this in the best way possible. It is never more acceptable to wear clothes you probably should not wear in public, eat possibly inedible food, act out in sleepless delirium, and take extended procrastination breaks in which you journey to what seems like the end of the internet and back again than it is during finals.
And if you do not do any of these things, you’re less likely to judge those who do.
It’s not just finals that have people frazzled. We’re currently in the middle of the holiday season, which I see as the most unnecessarily stressful time of the year.
Taking a break from typical decorum and holing up for a couple days with gallons of coffee and a laptop – a very stereotypical finals week experience – can be kind of a relief when sandwiched between dealing with distant or nagging relatives at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It is stressful “me time,” but it is “me time” nonetheless.
The strange kind of camaraderie finals foster’s can also be reassuring. After all, what is more uplifting than the sight of people who share your pain?
Knowing everyone else is exhausted and craving time off is a welcome reality check for those of us who think we are wimps for wanting to hibernate.
In general, though, our society is increasingly pressure-filled. College students now are part of the relatively new generation that has essentially been bred for success since childhood, in a way that previous generations were not.
That is not to say all college students are successful, or all successful people are college-educated, as just getting to college is a feat in itself.
For as long as I can remember, I have been pushed into leadership roles, team-building exercises, padding my resume and preparing myself for employment before I was even in high school. We are all kind of on the last leg of the journey to so-called “real life.”
It’s no wonder people get really stressed out, even if the work required to finish the semester is manageable.
Finals week presents a kind of do-or-die situation, where some people see not only their grades but their futures at stake. It is a strange in-between stage we find ourselves in, and would make anyone want to curl up in sweats and watch three seasons of “Lost” in an attempt to hide from the pressure and existential angst.
All of that pressure is not totally self-imposed. So much well-intentioned informative rhetoric, some of which is conflicting, is thrown our way between the time we start looking for schools and the time we leave them.
College is about finding yourself. College is the best four years of your life.
College is when you prepare for your career. We’re supposed to take advantage of our youthful energy and make a change in the world, and yet have world-weary decision making skills.
There’s great disparity between the towering ideals we think we have to live up to (or, at least, the inspirational platitudes family members and teachers dispense on us) and the typically less impressive reality.
We are all in the same stressed out boat, one way or another, so feel no shame in taking advantage of the opportunity to throw care to the wind and let it all hang loose during finals week.
Hannah Sparks is a Collegian columnist; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org