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The most dreadful time of the year

Alexandra Stembaugh | Sunday, December 8, 2013

The last few weeks of the semester seem to change us all. When we catch sight of someone with a pillow and blanket spending the night in a library study room, we think nothing of it. When we don’t see a good friend for a couple days, we understand. When all junk food is sold out of The Huddle, everyone seems to have compromised immune systems and more than one person is fast asleep at the dining hall, we don’t bat an eye. We simply turn to one another, shake our heads and murmur, “Finals.”
Final exams make strange behavior completely understandable. Becoming slaves to work with grades occupying nearly every thought becomes the norm. The very idea of the elusive break to celebrate making it out alive is pushed out of mind. Instead, we flock to the library in the hopes of being productive, yet still generally procrastinate until we have no option but to start working. We hole up in a study room for days without sleep with the hope that cramming will pay off, and we fight for grades at the expense of sleep and friends. 
As we find ourselves on a collision course with finals and the endless quest for a better grade, it is easy to become overwhelmed and lose sight of what is important. Yet 10 years from now, it is unlikely that our exam grades or anything we learned in those hours of cramming will be remembered. Exams give each of us a chance to show what we have learned throughout a course, but putting ourselves through a week of misery is not the intent. Grades serve as a measuring tool to indicate what we have personally gained, not as a tool to measure ourselves against others or to indicate self-worth.
The good news is that exams do not need to be a horribly depressing. It’s Christmas time and the semester is coming to a close. Before long, we will be home for the holidays and finals will be a distant memory. But before the semester ends and we part ways, take a step back to enjoy the school and the people here. While it’s easy to forget why we put ourselves through the stress of exams, taking a moment to remember why we came to this university can provide the motivation to keep going. 
The next few weeks give us the opportunity to experience both the most stressful and the most cheerful time of the year. Finals cast a pall over campus, yet the excitement for Christmas is impossible to ignore. Snow is falling, hallways are being strung with lights and Mariah Carey is in the air. Rarely is there an obstacle that a warm cup of hot chocolate, a good laugh at Will Ferrell trying to survive as an elf and a trip to the Grotto can’t conquer – even that 12-page research paper that is too daunting to even begin.     
Christmas is a time of joy and cheer. It is a time of giving to others and a time to come together as a community in recognition of all that has been done and all that we have to be thankful for. Don’t let finals detract from the season. Christmas means giving up oneself to focus on bringing joy to others. It can be easy to lose sight of others during finals week and to forget that a lot of people are dealing with issues far more serious than final exams. Keep perspective, spend precious moments with friends, help others, take study breaks to sing Christmas songs, make time for the Dillon light show and don’t forget about your favorite Christmas movies.
We have only a couple weeks left. Use it. Bury your heads in the books, but don’t forget to come up for air. Keep the hot cocoa coming, and take the time to celebrate the bigger things in life with the people who make it special.

Alexandra Stembaugh is a junior studying Economics and English living in Welsh Family Hall. She can be reached at
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.