I’m always overcome by a slight feeling of nostalgia for autumn after Thanksgiving. The holiday marks the end of my favorite season and welcomes the premature celebration of winter holidays — wreaths and stockings line the aisles of drug stores and Christmas music finds its way into radio stations almost immediately. We abruptly change gears and invite, or prepare ourselves for, the frigid winter months ahead.
At Yale, a shift occurs not only in the season, but also in our workload. We are greeted with final exams and papers upon our return from Thanksgiving break. As we start layering on thicker sweaters and socks, finals occupy our minds completely; even when we are not studying, the topic of studying infiltrates almost all our conversations.
It is only natural to vent to peers about our stress, as we are all victim to the same anxieties. Often my friends will joke that they complained to their parents while cramming for an exam or writing a last minute paper only to be told to go to sleep — a comical suggestion when you have six more lectures to review or five more pages to write. So we find solace in talking to our classmates, the people who encourage the all-nighter, who assure us that 10 pages can be written in a night because they did it last semester, twice.
But often, what we are seeking when we talk to our peers about our stress is not comfort or guidance but validation in the knowledge that our workload is more unmanageable than everybody else’s. At any given point in the next few weeks, one will undoubtedly find students in dining halls discussing with satisfaction their ridiculous finals schedules. It is a point of pride for us to boast about how much work we have, and better yet, that we’ve left it until the last minute. I have heard (and participated in) so many conversations in which we attempt to one-up each other: When one person says she has three finals and a five-page pager, the other responds that he has all of that plus a 10-page paper and a take-home exam.
I think these conversations are a source of competition. We think that somebody who can survive without sleep for three nights straight and still pull off As on their exams is better, stronger and more resilient, when really all this indicates is a failure to plan ahead. Still, I can’t help but feel this weird sense of gratification when I’ve endured the most unendurable finals period and still come out with good grades, like I can handle whatever is thrown at me.
What’s worse is that many of us, myself included, thrive in this culture. We just had a full 10 days off, only one of which was an actual holiday, and we hypothetically could have dedicated at least a couple of those days to studying. There are some people who possess the ability to work ahead, but many of us do not. So many days this break I found myself perched in front of my laptop, textbooks spread out in front of me, and yet neglecting my schoolwork and procrastinating for hours. I knew that even though it would seriously benefit me to get a head start on all of the work that was about to pile up, I wouldn’t be productive until I got back to school and felt the stress of the quickly approaching deadlines. Some of my best essays have been fueled by the adrenaline that comes at four in the morning and the imminent pride I know I will feel the next day after accomplishing the feat.
I continue to fall victim to the masochistic enjoyment of a jam-packed finals schedule, but I do think it’s important for all of us to keep in mind that spending these next few weeks procrastinating to the point of all-nighters doesn’t make us any stronger or wiser. If anything, it makes us tired and sick. Instead, let’s try to work ahead so we can take our parents’ advice and go to sleep.
Ally Daniels is a junior in Berkeley College. Her columns usually run on alternate Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.