The lights never turn off. Everywhere you turn, eyes are heavy as a tense silence pervades, punctuated by the sound of the frenetic race of fingers across keyboards and through notebooks filled with a semester’s worth of notes. This is the last week before exams. The air wafts through the stacks of books, thick with the smell of greasy and stale food, clothes that have been slept and worn through for days on end, and the bodies that begrudgingly live through this existence. This is a rite of passage that all Michigan Engineering students face at the end of the semester as they prepare for their final examinations, living the extremes of vigor and fatigue, hubris and self-doubt, community and isolation; and frustration and elation, all within the period of just one week.
As the week begins, the insurmountable task of having to cram a semester’s worth of materials starts to press upon the body and minds of students. For some students, they only need a minimum score in order to finalize the high grades they’ve worked all semester for. For others, they need a minimum score just to finalize the passing grades they’ve worked all semester for.
One of the few solaces for students is the physical fuel they consume. A minority opts to prepare home-cooked food that is often rich in protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins — nutrients that will keep body and mind balanced. The majority, however, opts for fast food and on-campus dining that is convenient but not necessarily as beneficial. The immediate comfort this food provides belies the degradation it has on body and mind.
Bodies of students are strewn across campus in various states of torpor, making it difficult to distinguish between night and day. As the sun shifts from east to west and back again, the glow of the fluorescent lights and screens in front of us remain ever present. The body is fatigued, but the looming work in front of us is a reminder of how little sleep we can have in the moment. But we are human, and so sleep often comes accidentally and in the most uncomfortable places, leaving us little more rested than we began.
When the mind is taxed from both lack of rest and proper nutrition, it wanders and begins to make simple errors that can often confound into larger ones. Little bits of frustration turn into mountains of grief, stress, and ostensible isolation. This is the final push. The late night meal binges, the naps in public areas that leave us more fatigued than rested, and the general decline of the standard of the way we live and function — this is only all tolerable because we know we’re working towards the final deadline.