I find the fall exam period to be a beautifully surreal moment in the academic calendar, a time when everyone on campus is striving to resolve thirteen weeks of work while also wading into the holiday season. A time of endings and beginnings. Stressful but poignant.
I remember going home after my first term at college. My last exam took place in the final slot on the calendar, concluding at 5:00 p.m. on December 22. By that time, the campus was practically deserted, and I felt my anticipation rising as I carried my suitcase out to the shuttle that would take me to the airport. One of my roommates had taken an incomplete on an upper-level biology course, and he was planning to stay on campus through Christmas in order to finish his work in the class. I was grateful not to be in his shoes.
Years later, I feel some nostalgia for that moment, perhaps because the transition between college and home seemed to bridge two very distinct phases of my life. Those differences have now been erased, but I think about them when I see students leaving campus at this time of year.
F. Scott Fitzgerald reflects on this transition at the end of The Great Gatsby when the narrator, Nick Carraway, describes the final leg of his train journey back to the Midwest from Yale during the 1910s:
“When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.”
Whether your home lies north, south, east, or west, I wish you safe travels, restful holidays, and a happy New Year.