The Addendum

Reflecting on Finals Exams

The opening day of the last ever instance of the "A"-half of Paul Groth's American Cultural Landscapes course at U.C. Berkeley. I was privileged to be a part of the graduate student instructor team for the course, which officially ended last Wednesday.

The opening day of the last ever instance of the “A”-half of Paul Groth’s American Cultural Landscapes course at U.C. Berkeley. I was privileged to be a part of the graduate student instructor team for the course, which officially ended last Wednesday.

Finals day is tough for students, but it is tough in an entirely different way for those who, like me, teach. I do not mean the grueling hours of early mornings and lengthy grading days that come after finals—though to be sure those are tough in their own ways. Instead, what is tough is the sadness of parting.

Wednesday was the final exam day. It began early—8 a.m.—in a sunken auditorium room in a gloomy concrete campus building. Pens scratched away, pages rustled, brows furrowed. Over the semester, in small but meaningful ways I had come to know dozens of those students, dozens of young minds.

As the hours wore on, slowly they began to put down their pens, get up, and hand me their exams as they departed. And that was it.

I may someday see some of them again, in another class, in another semester, somewhere. But many, many I will never meet again. Where will they go? What will become of them?

I often wonder such things, and though in some ways I will miss my time with all of them, for a few I will feel the absence more. Sometimes this is because they were bright, personable students who, because they genuinely cared about the subject, made every classroom feel inviting. Sometimes this is because they simply exuded a sense of being a good person, like a strawberry that is red all of the way through. And sometimes? Sometimes it is because that student is utterly and profoundly brilliant. You hope to cross paths with them again. You hope, irrationally, that you may some day work with them as colleagues. You hope at the least that they stay in touch. You know they almost never will.

As the exam wore on, chair by chair the absences grew. I had seem the exam room empty plenty of times in the past—mostly at odd hours of the day, or just before or after a lecture is held. Yet as it stood, still partly occupied, students slowly draining away as they completed their exams, it felt emptier than if there had been nobody there at all. They were all slipping away, one by one, walking off into the world and their lives and who knew where.

The break, now, is upon us. Grading remained to be done, and then a reprieve from duties as a graduate student instructor. Soon enough, another semester will be upon us all. I will teach again, and the rest of my student instructor team will teach again too—though we will all go separate ways for new and different classes, new and different professors. Yet at this moment at the end of fifteen weeks, my mind lingers still on what will become of those for whom, in a brief season, I had the pleasure of being guide.

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