When I was 5 years old, my parents took me to a Fourth of July fireworks show, and I asked whether every third explosion was the grand finale. I wanted to show off my new vocabulary words, but I didn’t realize that it would mean the end of the show. As we stood in a field in upstate New York, necks straining backwards to watch the colored explosions, vibrations travelled from my feet to my eardrums. They lingered there in the car on the way home.
As a third grader, I loved learning new words, but I was even more enamored with learning itself. I walked around with stacks of blank paper and piles of books, pretending that I had lots of homework. To have work felt important. It made me feel old. Now, as I hand in pages that are certainly not blank, I sometimes wish my assignments were pretend.
It is easy to romanticize the future. During the week, we look forward to the weekends. We look forward to final exams and completed papers. We look forward to the end of the semester, the end of the year, and the end of this phase in our lives. There’s always that one kid who asks about the midterm the first section, and about the final before we’ve even taken the midterm.
We might judge this person, but we’re also a little bit grateful that he asked. I wonder, though, if the final, the end lurking in the back of our minds, detracts from what we do in the moment.
As this semester winds down, the conversations before lecture and in the dining hall simultaneously scare and reassure me. I am worried about my own three papers and exams, but then I hear from people who are somehow more overwhelmed. The phrase “I don’t know when things are going to get done” is a common one. While these conversations are groan-inducing, they do help us reassure ourselves that it will all get done.
In the middle of sophomore year, nothing is really ending or beginning. It’s a weird kind of unremarkable, no-longer-so-exciting place. Yet I look back on the semester and realize that it has been a valuable one, both personally and academically. In addition to asking the hard questions about Virginia Woolf’s use of parentheses and declaring a concentration (although I am still unsure about when it is socially acceptable to wear my History and Literature T-shirt), I learned a lot about myself. Still, I find myself looking forward to the next semester.
I am ready—I think we are all ready—to move on from this semester. Reading period feels like the last 40 pages of an overwritten novel. We know what has happened and what is going to happen. We know what we are supposed to learn. But it’s still dragging on. We can’t skim it like we can scan that 60-page PDF we were supposed to read for section.
Maybe we’re hoping for a beautiful last line, or maybe we’re just hoping that craning our necks will be worth it. We’re just waiting for the grand finale.