I love finals season.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m stressed and tired. I should be rehearsing a presentation about Universal Childcare, writing a movie script in Korean, and doing something about my thesis. But instead, I’m writing this, because finals season has a beauty that I yearn for all semester long.
I spend most of the school year rushing around campus, trying to get to classes and clubs. But during finals, it all pauses. Finals week and reading week are the only parts of the semester when I’m fully devoted to learning. For once, I can just sit down in a library with all my notes spread out in front of me and actually focus without worrying about where else I’m supposed to be. It’s my one chance to really dig in, get to the good stuff and study until I understand. Finals season is what I was longing for when I applied to Yale four years ago.
Even though I’m overwhelmed by all the things I have to do, it’s exciting that I can do them. I’m not the same person I was in August. I have new skills and ideas and opinions. I’ve spent the last fifteen weeks absorbing information, doing assignments, becoming a new version of myself. And now, I have a moment to digest everything I’ve learned, to organize my thoughts and discover who I have become. I need to reflect on the semester before I leave it behind.
So if I had the choice to just end the semester right here, I would never take it. And I think that, deep down, most of my classmates would agree. We did work hard this semester. We have been through a lot. And that’s why we want the satisfaction of seeing it through to the end. Why would we leave the semester behind without knowing what we were working towards all along? I believe that there’s an innate human desire to learn and grow, and finals season is the only thing that can satisfy us.
So it makes sense that finals season is also a time of celebration.
There’s too much food, too many performances, too many “study breaks,” for me to believe that finals week is anything less than a festival in Yale’s culture. We have so many traditions and feasts and rituals that, from an anthropological standpoint, I’m convinced that finals is Yale’s greatest holiday. All the good that’s been stored up all semester long gets unleashed all at once.
And maybe I’m just a sentimental senior, but I do think that finals week is a precious, ephemeral gift, like one last waltz with the person you’ve always loved.
By the end of the semester I know exactly who I am and how I live. The ballet of my life is perfectly and elegantly choreographed. Dancing through my routine feels so comfortable and natural. I know where I eat lunch on Tuesdays and I know who I get coffee with on Thursdays. I know when I work out and how I wake up. I know my professors and my classmates — and it breaks my heart that I’ll have to say goodbye. I’ve spent the last few months falling in love with everything in the world around me — and these are my last bittersweet moments before it fades away forever.
This semester hasn’t always been easy to love. I had class at 9:25, in the Watson Center, every single day. But when I look back, I realize, we had so, so many moments of happiness. We did learn to love each other. And even though next semester will bring its own blessings, I know I’ll be forced to dance a different rhythm. I’ll never love anyone quite this same way.
This week, I’ve heard so many people describing even their moments of peace as “the calm before the storm” or “the eye of the storm.” But what if we thought of finals season as the grand finale? The dessert course? The championship? You’re surrounded by all the thoughts and friends you’ve been building all semester long. Everything’s coming together. These last two weeks will be the culmination of what life looked like at this point in time. It’s the climax of your story. It’s the highlight reel. Finals season will be more than anything we’ve ever done before. But I’d be disappointed with anything else.
I do think that we’re overburdened and overworked. We expect more of ourselves than is humanly possible, so we push ourselves to unsustainable, unhealthy behaviors. I’m not sure how STEM majors survive. It’s impossible to enjoy learning (or anything) when you’re sacrificing things you were never meant to give up. I admit, this is a ridiculously euphoric review of a time that pushes people to their breaking points.
But I’m ready to write a paper with an argument I never considered before. I’m ready to take a test on a topic I didn’t understand a week ago. I’m ready to see my breath in the air as I laugh with friends during cold December nights. I’m ready to grow into the person I never dreamed I’d be.
So much happens during finals week. Time feels a little more concentrated. If 30% of my course grade can come from the work I do next week, a single day during finals week might be worth more than the whole month of September. And that’s exhilarating. I love life enough that I’m happy to somehow experience it thirty times all at once. I am thirty times as tired. But I’m also thirty times as joyful. You have never been a fuller version of yourself than you are during finals week.
I believe that we can finish strong, stick the landing, sprint through the finish line. I believe the best is yet to come. I have so, so much hope for us. I have faith that Yale’s campus will feel alive in a way it never has before, that the next two weeks will show us who we are and who we have been and who we were meant to be. I’m ready to study and celebrate and say goodbye. I’m ready for miracles to happen. I’m ready to watch all of life unfold before me.
Finals season will challenge us—and I wouldn’t want anything less.