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Stott: Students’ lives full of peaks, valleys

As you read this column, I’m probably getting ready to go to my final class meeting for the fall semester.

I wrote a long paper, and today I’m ready to present a summary of the findings. This is the last of three presentations I have given in the past week, and the paper is one of four I’ve had due since last Wednesday.

I’ve been extra busy lately. If you happened to notice that I didn’t write a column last week, don’t think it was because I didn’t feel like writing.

I was definitely writing; it was just for purposes other than publication in this newspaper. Finals time is known for being hectic for students. I never knew just how chaotic it could be, however, until I started graduate school at Northern Illinois University, where today I am officially half finished with work toward my master of public administration degree.

On my end, it seems to be going well. I haven’t yet seen my grades, though, so this impression may be wrong. I guess I will find out next week.

I enjoy learning, and school has always seemed like the best option for someone who wants to do so in a structured environment. Plus, the advanced degree is nice to put on a resume.

What I do not enjoy, however, is the semesterlong buildup to an almost unbearable finals period.

It never fails: After 13 or 14 weeks of regular class, the ante is upped. Papers come due in rapid succession. Projects must be assembled. Test days and due dates stand out on calendars like the coming of the apocalypse.

And of course, this is the case for every class. This semester, I’m taking three.

Learning isn’t supposed to be like an amusement park ride. Why does it feel like I am at the top of a roller coaster at the end of every semester?

Why must students write and study themselves stupid for the sake of their education, only for the learning to halt completely at semester’s end?

It seems counterproductive; we instead should train to be lifelong learners. The cycle of learning for students is choppy, unsteady and anxiety-inducing at best. We spend all semester being overserved with knowledge only to be starved over breaks.

I’ll spend little time over my few weeks of winter break on any structured learning. This isn’t intentional. I just have to do things I’ve neglected during the semester, things like chores and Christmas shopping and haircuts and laundry. Like so many of my peers, the last several weeks have been solely devoted to school and void of much else.

It isn’t exactly fair to blame the higher education system. Students need to be rated somehow, and at some point, during their education careers. More often than less is ideal.

But if the itinerary of education was less peak-and-valley and more rolling plains, it might be more effective in the long run.

Students might be taught to learn always, throughout their lives, instead of when they have an exam coming up. Best of all, they might learn not to panic around the first weeks of December and May.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at

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