I stood at the bus stop on Alvarez Avenue with mixed emotions on a cold, dry Monday morning. A small crowd waited with me for the bus that would bring us to campus in time for 9:00 classes. I was not sure if I would have to stand or not; this was only the fifth stop on the bus route, but in this cold weather, fewer students would be riding bicycles to campus.
I was coming off of a high from the weekend. I made some new friends Friday night at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, Eddie and Xander and Haley and Kristina and Kelly; we had a fun night of talking and games at the girls’ house. And Sunday Eddie and Xander and their roommates hosted a party to watch the professional football championship. Eddie borrowed a projector from his church and put a big bed sheet on a wall, so we could watch the game on a huge screen. It was a little dim, but it worked. After a year of feeling alone and less connected to my friends, compared to last year in the dorm, this felt like a huge step in the right direction. Eddie and Xander and six other guys from JCF all shared a house, with Haley and her roommates right down the street and another house of guys from JCF around the corner. Maybe next year I would be able to live in this kind of situation and feel more connected to people and things around me.
Despite being on an emotional high, however, two metaphorical black clouds loomed on the horizon. The game did not end the way I wanted, with the despised Texas Toros winning by a score of 27 to 17. Texas had won three out of the last four championships, and that would bring smug taunts from all of the haters of my Bay City Captains. The Captains lost in the semifinal round this year. But, more importantly, I was worried about this coming Friday, when I had midterms in all four classes on the same day.
On Sunday, at the football party, I had mentioned the four midterms. “Can you ask your professors if you can take the midterm on another day?” Eddie had asked.
“I think there’s a rule that they can’t make you take that many midterms on the same day,” Xander added.
I had not considered that approach; I had just assumed I was stuck with this crappy schedule. So my plan for today was to ask each of my four professors if I could take the midterm early. Hopefully, by suggesting early rather than late, they would see that I wanted to use my study time wisely and do my best, not get an advantage that others would not have.
“Not possible,” my professor for Differential Equations said curtly after I presented my request. “You got the dates for the midterms on the syllabus on the first day of the quarter. If those dates were a problem for you, you should have dropped the class.” This professor, a middle-aged balding man who told us to call him Larry, never bothered me before, but after that day I decided I did not like him.
I had an hour break before my next class, so I walked across the Quad. This was the oldest part of campus, dating back to the school’s founding in 1905. The Quad was a grassy rectangle surrounded by tall oak trees as old as the campus itself, with a paved path running north-south down the middle, and a few pines, redwoods, and other trees scattered on the grass. On a warmer day, the Quad would gradually fill with students sitting on the grass to study, or socialize, or socialize while attempting to study. But at ten in the morning on a cold day in late January, the Quad was empty except for the trees and a few students walking across it to get from one building to another.
The Memorial Union building lay just north of the Quad, extending all the way across it east to west. The building was home to a number of student-run commercial enterprises, the namesake memorial to University of Jeromeville alumni who died in wars, a post office, the campus store, offices and meeting rooms for the Associated Students organization, ATMs for three different banks, and my current destination, the Coffee House. This was a large student-run enterprise that served pizza, burritos, sandwiches, soup, and all sorts of other food items, in addition to the hot beverages after which it was named. Next to the kitchens and cash registers were large expanses of tables which made good places to study and people-watch.
I got a large hot chocolate and began scanning the crowded tables for an empty one, or for someone I knew. I saw Scott Madison from JCF sitting alone with some kind of fancy spiral-bound book in front of him. I walked up and asked, “Can I join you?”
“Hi, Greg!” Scott said. “Sure!” As I sat down and got out my math book, Scott slid the book in front of him toward me and said, “Check out what I got! It was on sale, because it’s already the end of January.” It was a day planner, which Scott had filled out with dates of upcoming exams and projects, Bible studies, JCF activities, and other plans he knew he had coming up.
“That’s nice,” I said. “I wish I could be that organized. Every year I get the little planner they sell at the campus store, and by the middle of October I’m not keeping up with it.”
“It really helps, especially when you’re busy like me.”
I grabbed Scott’s planner and turned it toward me, flipping to the week of August 11-17. Scott looked at me wondering what I was doing. I did not want to spy on his plans; I simply wrote “Greg’s birthday” on August 15.
“Nice,” Scott said. “I guess I have to send you something now.”
“It’s in your planner, so yeah, you do. That’s the plan.”
Scott and I continued alternating between small talk and silent studying until it was time for my next class, Math 108, Introduction to Abstract Mathematics. This was the first quarter that I had taken two math classes simultaneously, something I would be doing often as a mathematics major, as well as the first quarter that I took upper-division classes. Those unfamiliar with advanced mathematics would be surprised that this course involves very little calculation, instead covering mathematical logic, set theory, and the fundamentals of abstract algebra and analysis. The professor was a gray-haired, well-dressed man named Dr. Davis Cutter; his official title was “professor emeritus,” which I believe meant that he was officially retired but still performed some duties for the university. I always thought there was something pretentious about having a last name for a first name, but Dr. Davis Cutter seemed like a nice man. Maybe he would be nice enough to let me take the midterm early.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do that,” Dr. Cutter said. “We have a policy against that, and in order to maintain academic integrity, I can’t give out the test early.”
“Okay,” I said. “I figured it would be worth asking.”
“Good luck studying,” Dr. Cutter replied. “You’ll probably do fine.”
“Thank you.” Apparently this department policy trumped Xander’s rule about not having more than three midterms in one day. I had never heard of this rule other than Xander mentioning it yesterday, and by now I suspected it was not real.
After Abstract Mathematics, I had English 101, Advanced Composition. Every student at UJ had to take three writing classes; since I had passed the AP English test in high school, I only had to take one of the three. This instructor was a middle-aged hippie woman named Dr. Paris; I was under the impression that we would be learning how to write in the class, but she made the assignments about things like art and feminism, not exactly topics I was familiar with.
“Dr. Paris?” I asked as she was putting things away at the end of class.
“So I noticed the other day that all four of my classes have midterms on the same day. Is there any way I might be able to take Friday’s midterm early?”
“Oh… I can’t do that,” Dr. Paris said. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. I thought I’d ask just in case.”
“I can’t just give it twice on different days.”
“I understand. See you next time.”
My classes so far today had all been in Wellington and Orton Halls, two buildings near the Quad that each contained dozens of classrooms used by all subjects. My last class was physics, back to back with English with no break, and not in the Quad area. As I walked to Ross Hall, where the large physics lectures always were, I thought about how everyone had rejected my plan so far. Larry’s statement about dropping the class especially stuck with me. It had never occurred to me to drop a class for that reason, or to plan my entire quarter around the dates of the midterms. It made more sense to me to plan my schedule in a way that works for my day-to-day life over the ten weeks of the quarter, even if that means one or two hard days of multiple tests or multiple papers due. But now I had to suck it up and accept the fact that I would have one very difficult day. And I would have another difficult day later in the quarter, since three of my classes have a second midterm on the same day, February 23.
I was still hopeful that I might get to take the physics midterm early. This class was in a large lecture hall with almost 200 students, and it would be difficult to get Dr. Collins’ attention after class. But I knew that Dr. Collins had office hours immediately after class, because I had been in there a few times with physics questions, so when class got out I followed him to his office in the Physics-Geology Building, adjacent to Ross. By the time I got there, three people were ahead of me in line.
“Dr. Collins?” I said ten minutes later when it was my turn. “I have four midterms all on Friday. I was wondering if there would be any way I can take the physics midterm early, so I can get one out of the way first.”
Dr. Collins thought for a minute, then checked his calendar. “I think I can do that,” he said. “Can you be here in my office Thursday at 3?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Great. I’ll see you then.”
“Thank you so much,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” Dr. Collins replied. “Good luck!”
I walked back in the direction of the Quad and Wellington, where I would be leading a tutoring group at 4:00. It was nice of Dr. Collins to reschedule my midterm. I expected him to be the least likely to make this arrangement, just since his class of 200 students was so much bigger and less personal than my other classes. I was not sure at this point if Dr. Collins recognized my face or knew my name. He was the first professor that I had had twice; I also took the first quarter of physics with Dr. Collins last spring, and I was in his office hours frequently after bombing the first midterm. This week, I would still end up taking four midterms in under twenty-four hours, but now at least I could concentrate on physics first, and then only have three midterms to study for when I got home on Thursday. This was a definite improvement.
I spent most of the rest of the week studying. I had enough routine homework to work on that I did not do a lot of special studying for the midterms until Wednesday. It was a rough week, and by the time Thursday afternoon arrived, I felt that I had very little free time or relaxation all week. I also owed emails to six different girls I knew from the Internet.
After eating a burrito at the Coffee House for lunch, I headed to Ross Hall for physics lab. I walked past the library, where a sculpture of an egg with a face had his nose buried in a book. One of the writing assignments in Dr. Paris’ Advanced Composition had been to research the meaning of a work of art on the UJ campus and write about it. I chose the Egghead sculptures, one of which was here in front of the library. To most of my peers, they were just weird, but I learned to appreciate them more after I read about them. The one in front of the library seems fairly straightforward, he is engrossed in his studies, although to this day I still do not understand why it is a different color than the other six Eggheads. I heard somewhere that students rub the Egghead during exams for good luck. I do not believe in luck, but with four midterms in the next twenry-four hours, I took no chances and rubbed the Egghead.
When I finished my lab, I walked across the path to the building where Dr. Collins’ office was and knocked on the door. “Hi,” Dr. Collins said.
“I’m here to take the midterm early. You told me to come now.”
“Oh, yes! Greg, was it?”
“Just sit here, and let me know when you finish. I’ll be working on some things here.”
I looked through the exam, reading every question before I started. Electric current… electric fields… watts, amperes, joules… I can do this. Everything looks familiar, like homework problems that I had studied last night. No problem. I finished the problems in about half an hour, then went over each problem again to make sure I did not make any miscalculations, and that my answer made sense. “I’m done,” I said to Dr. Collins at 3:40.
“Just leave it here on the desk.”
“Do I need to come to class tomorrow if I’ve already taken the midterm?”
“No. Take the afternoon off.”
“I will. See you Monday. And thank you so much for letting me do this.”
I went home and took a break from studying. I answered emails for about an hour, then ate a Hungry-Man dinner. After that, I continued studying, looking over the writing concepts we had learned in English class and all of the math problems we had done and words and theorems we had learned in the two math classes. I felt fairly confident about Differential Equations, but Abstract Math was a little more of a concern, mostly because Dr. Davis Cutter did not always follow the textbook, and my handwritten notes were a little messy and hard to read. I opened a blank Microsoft Word file and typed all of my notes for Abstract Math; that made them both legible and fresh in my mind.
The next morning, I walked straight from the bus stop to my Differential Equations exam. It was easy, as I suspected it would be, and I left class ten minutes early. I spent the extra time sitting against a wall in the Coffee House, since all the tables were full, reading my Abstract Math notes. I felt fairly confident by the time class began. When I arrived, I looked over all of the questions first, and all of them seemed straightforward. One problem mentioned the Well-Ordering Principle; I drew a blank on what that was. Ordering? Putting numbers in order? Oh, yes, any set of one or more natural numbers has a smallest number. This seems obvious in colloquial language but needs to be clarified in the exact science of abstract mathematics.
I had an hour for lunch, in which I gobbled down the sandwich and banana that I brought from home in five minutes so I could have more time to study for English. I had a mental block against English that had persisted since I got a B-minus in tenth grade English four years ago, the lowest grade I got in high school. By the time I arrived at Dr. Paris’ class, I just wanted to get this over so I could get home and enjoy a weekend of not having to study. The questions about sentence and paragraph structure were pretty straightforward and seemed to match everything I studied, and the part where I had to write, I did the best I could. I was not as worried for this class, because with the four papers we had to write, the midterm did not count for as large a share of the grade as my other midterms did. By the end of the hour, I knew that I had done the best I can, so I turned in my test to Dr. Paris and walked toward the bus stop.
I did it, I thought, as the bus left the Memorial Union and turned on West Fifth Street, passing fraternity and sorority houses. I had completed four exams in just under twenty-four hours. I was getting home an hour earlier than usual, since I had already taken the physics test that the rest of my class was taking now. And I felt confident about the midterms. I began my post-midterm relaxation weekend by collapsing on my bed as soon as I got home, at 2:30; I closed my eyes, and the next thing I knew, it was after 4:00.
I spent the next three hours wasting time on the Internet, talking on IRC, writing emails, and checking a few Usenet groups. I also worked on Try, Try Again, the novel I had been writing off and on for a few months, as I waited for people to reply to me. At seven o’clock, I drove to campus, since parking at night only is less expensive than parking all day, and walked to the lobby of 170 Evans, the lecture hall where Jeromeville Christian Fellowship met.
Eddie, my new friend who hosted the football party last weekend, was doing name tags with Raphael, who had been his roommate the year before. “Today was the day with all your midterms, right?” Eddie asked.
“Yeah. One of my professors let me take his yesterday. So I had three today. I think I did okay.”
“Good! I’m glad you got through that.”
I put on my name tag and stepped into the lecture hall, bumping into and almost knocking over Haley Channing as she walked up the aisle perpendicular to me. “Oh!” she gasped.
“Haley! I’m sorry!” I said nervously. Of course, life would throw this curveball at me; after all of my hard work and four midterms I felt good about, I end the week by embarrassing myself in front of Haley, narrowly avoiding injuring her in the process.
“Hi, Greg,” Haley chuckled. Hopefully that reaction was a good sign. “How are you?”
“I’m great. I had four midterms today.”
“Four?” Haley asked incredulously.
“One professor let me take one early, but I still had all four in twenty-four hours. And I think I did okay. I’m just glad it’s over.
“I would be too! I have a paper due Monday. I’m going to be doing that all weekend.”
“Good luck!” I said. Then, after a brief hesitation, I asked, “Where are you sitting?”
“Down there next to Kelly,” Haley replied, pointing to the back of her roommate’s head. “Want to come sit with us?”
“I’ll be right back.” After Haley stepped outside, I walked to the front of the room and sat next to Kelly. Haley returned a few minutes later, just as the band started playing. I did my best to concentrate on the band’s worship music and Janet McAllen’s talk and not be too distracted by Haley’s cute smile. And, after hearing her sing, I discovered that she had a nice voice too.
After JCF ended, I stood around making small talk with people for a while. I did not get invited to any social plans afterward, and I did not get to talk much more with Haley because she went home immediately afterward to work on her paper. This week, I did not care about having no social plans. I was exhausted after my hard week of studying, and a weekend at home by myself being lazy sounded perfect. I could socialize next weekend when I had recovered.
I did well on all four midterms, even the one in English that I was less certain about. That stressful week took a lot out of me, but I survived. If life was trying to get me down, it would take much more than four midterms in twenty-four hours. A year and a half into my studies at a somewhat prestigious university, I was still excelling academically. My future goals may not be entirely clear right now, particularly with my mathematics major, but I was keeping my grades up, and that would be important if I did go to graduate school eventually. School was always one of my strengths, and that had not changed in the last few years; all I had to do to get good grades was work hard enough.
And in August, when my birthday came around, I did in fact get a card from Scott. He was serious about sending me something after I wrote my birthday in his planner. I liked this new group of friends.