It’s finals week at Keene State, which means I spent all last week and much of the weekend reading and commenting on student essay drafts.
I’ve often said that the end of a typical semester is like the final two minutes of a well-matched basketball game. The final two minutes can see one team pull further and further ahead, or it can see a stunning come-from-behind rally. Anyone can win in the final two minutes, and you can see that in the eyes of veteran players, who know to steel themselves against exhaustion in order to get it done when it truly matters.
In theory, no well-matched basketball game needs to last more than two intense minutes…but in practice, it takes almost four full quarters of play before that “get it done” mindset kicks in. The same seems to be true in any given semester. I’ve seen a lot of students “come from behind” during finals week, finally kicking into “get it done” mode after spending much of the semester approaching their paper topics tentatively. It isn’t a question of whether you can play two intense minutes of basketball, or whether you can produce decent last-minute revisions: it’s a question of whether you can play two intense minutes or produce decent last-minute revisions when you’re already sweaty and exhausted.
Now that it’s finals week, I feel like a coach on the sidelines watching those final few minutes of play. I’ve spent the semester shouting and gesticulating, drawing up plays and patting players on the back. I’ve spent the semester repeating “Keep going,” “You’re doing a good job,” and “More of this, and less of that,” and I can’t count the number of times I’ve said some version of “Good try, now try harder.” Now it’s time for me to take a seat, hold my breath, and see what kind of game my “players” have during this week of all-nighters, caffeine mega-doses, and foxhole conversions. I have vivid memories of all those semesters when it was me doing last-minute revisions over unhealthy amounts of Mountain Dew, the “midnight muse” of procrastination my main inspiration. Now it’s time to see what kind of fancy intellectual footwork my students are capable of.
In the meantime, I keep thinking of the photos I shot the last time I walked down Modica Way, the graffiti wall there reminding passersby that regardless of how well you do in school, business, or life in general, “you’re still gonna die.” As strange as it may sound, I find the sentiment oddly comforting, a reminder to keep things in their proper perspective. In any given semester, you play to win the game, but regardless of whether you (or your students) win or lose, eventually your play will come to an end: game over. In the meantime, how intensely can you pour yourself into your life, spending every last drop of sweat and leaving everything out there on the court, holding nothing back for “later”?