Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Finish Line and Beyond

I haven't written in a while, mostly due to the sheer busyness of the last three weeks. So, it only seems fitting that the last three weeks of school be the topic of my newest blog. This is just a collection of reflections and observations that seem to describe those last moments of the school year fairly well.

Perhaps the most deceptive name ever given to a week, yet still painfully accurate in the sense that you do feel dead (or at least, less alive) by the time that Friday finally rolls around. As a naive freshman several years ago, I welcomed dead week with open arms, having misunderstood just what was supposed to be dead about the week, anyway. This year, as a junior, I sat and waited in grim anticipation of the incoming tsunami of homework and research projects. A more effective approach may have been to actually work ahead and finish things up in a timely fashion, so that every lingering academic commitment did not come crashing down on top of me at once. I should try to learn a lesson from all of this now, before it is too late. However, it is in my nature to procrastinate, and for procrastinators, there is always a tomorrow (how optimistic!).

Hand throbbing, you set your pencil down on the stack of lined paper in front of you, which you have just filled with several haphazard streams of consciousness in the form of semi-legible handwriting. Although the pink eraser hardly makes a sound as it hits the paper, its significance echoes through your mind with the resonating finality of a judges' gavel: Junior year is over. Rising to your feet, you collect and staple your test papers, handing them to the professor, who looks on in mild amusement as several of your classmates scrawl frantically on their test sheets with one eye always on the clock. In a whisper, your professor wishes you a good summer, but you stare back blankly, only managing perhaps the faintest smile and "you too." Your mind is simply too numb from writing essays to handle basic speech just yet. You walk back to your dorm room in a stupor, only vaguely aware of the people around you, or the car that braked hard to avoid hitting you when you stepped out in front of it.
The test went well, you think. The first essay was easy, you knew exactly what to write, and managed to fill two pages, front and back. Your second essay was easy too, although you only used one side to answer the question. By the time you made it to the third essay, however, you were getting tired. The question looked like a jumble of nonsensical words on the page, and as soon as you deciphered what the question was, you realized that you did not know the answer. So, you made the answer up as you went. Fortunately, if Dordt offered a B.A. degree for B.S., you would graduate with honors, so you are not too concerned.

This is a bittersweet experience, and really the last chance for roommate bonding during the schoolyear. An example of said roommate bonding:
Me: "Hey Dan... I'm going to throw out this salsa. It expired last December and there seem to be sentient lifeforms growing in the bottom."
Dan: "Okay, whatever. By the way, I found a pack of Slim Jims from first semester behind your fridge. They were hot and it looked like they had started to melt, so I trashed them."
Me: "Oh... you should've asked me first... how melted were they?"

Okay, so maybe I didn't really make that last comment, but I am not kidding about the Slim Jims melting. I'm not sure what chemical property allows mechanically seperated chicken and beef parts to melt, but they had definitely melted. We're talking microwaved freeze-pops melted here. Sufficed to say I may never snap into another Slim Jim again, as long as I live. But that does answer the question posed in so many Slim Jim commercials this year: How do you catch a "Snap-a-lope"? Well, apparently you just need to crank up the heat. Yeah... that's gross.

As soon as the beds are rearranged, the melted Slim Jims/living salsa thrown away, and your earthly possessions packed into several 20"x18" cardboard boxes, you take one last look at your room. The room feels rigid and cold, identical to nearly 100 other rooms on campus. Whatever it was that made it your home for the better part of nine months is gone, and until you turn off the lights, turn in your key and take your leave, you are the last remnant of Cv. 161, 2006-2007 (or whatever room you lived in). This feeling always makes it a little easier to re-adjust to non-dorm life with your family for a few months.

You know the drill. Even though you might say it a little bit differently to each of your friends, it all boils down to the basic formula of "have a good summer and see you next fall." For many, you still consider your college friends to be your new friends, and you take comfort in the fact that you still have ample time left to have fun and hang out. What hit me hard this time was the realization that next year is the last year. As I was saying goodbye to one of my friends, we realized that we would only be on campus together for about nine weeks during second semester (she will be off-campus first semester, and I will be gone student-teaching during the second half of second semester). My point is, don't take your college friends for granted. It may feel like you only just met, yes, but those four years fly by, finished before you know it. Make the most of the time that you have. Go to Blue Bunny. Go to the Corn Maze. Play a game of sardines in the campus center at midnight. Walk to the Sioux Center Wal-Mart at 3:00 am. Do something. Just don't assume that you'll always have time to hang out later, because later could mean your 25th class reunion (scary thought, huh?).

Well, those are my reflections on the end of the school year. While I would rather you not try to emulate my tendency to procrastinate or B.S. exam questions (I didn't actually have to do that this year), I do hope that you will take to heart my advice in the preceding paragraph. College goes by in a flash, and each semester seems briefer than the one before it. I intend to make the most of my time on campus next semester, and enjoy being a college student while I still can. The past three years have been simultaneously fun, challenging, exhillarating and exhausting, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for me senior year.

Have a great summer!
Nate G.