April 26, 2012 by Zack Brown
It’s hard to believe that we’ve already arrived at the last week of classes. It’s wild that Last Day of Classes (LDOC) is this week, seniors that I’ve known since Convocation are graduating next month, and I’m a little more than a month away from starting my summer internship in DC.
But there’s one more thing that is quickly approaching. One thing I know I’m not particularly wild about – finals.
In light of that scary truth, I thought I’d write up a “Survivor’s Guide to Finals.” For those of you who, like me, are going to be stressing a lot these next two weeks, here are my top six tips:
#1: Plan Ahead and Make a Schedule. Are your finals spaced out? Are they close together? As you’re waking up this Saturday and recovering from the craziness of LDOC, make it a tradition to layout the next week and a half. Mark days that you have finals, days that you need to study, and days when you can relax (extremely important). By knowing your schedule, you can avoid the last-minute panic and the adrenaline-induced-stress-studying, while also making more time to unwind and enjoy the company of your friends before summer break!
#2: Check Your Syllabus and See the Final Exam’s Weight: Does your final exam count for %20 percent of your final grade in that class, or 80%? This is very important for managing your time. If you’ve got two finals the next day and you haven’t studied much for either (which won’t happen if you stick to Tip #1), then it’s definitely better to focus slightly more on the exam worth 80% than the one worth 20%. But if you don’t check ahead of the time, you won’t know!
#3: Drink Lots of Water: I know it’s tempting to go straight for those coffees, but you’ll start to get dehydrated from the excess caffeine (not to mention fidgety, anxious, and easily agitated). Go for water instead; you’ll be able to study better, and your body will thank you! If you don’t want to spend money on water, that’s fine – hit up Wawa for some FREE water!
#4: Maintain a Normal Eating Schedule: During finals week it’s very important not to skip meals, but stress induced binge eating isn’t the best for you either. So integrate regular breaks during breakfast, lunch, and dinner into your study schedule. Better yet, organize with friends and get some food together! Not only will this give you a chance to step away from your studies and de-stress for an hour, but it will allow you to spend some time with friends that you won’t be able to see during break!
#5: Get Sleep: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve all heard it before. If we sleep more, we’ll do better in class. But it’s college, right? Between classes, sports, friends, extracurriculars, and “me” time, who actually gets enough sleep? This may be the case during the rest of the semester, but finals week is a different animal. When you’re struggling to memorize facts and you’re trying to cram a semester’s worth of learning into a few days, remember that studies have shown that sleep deprivation is linked directly to a sharp decrease in recallable short term memory (as well as higher cognitive thinking ability in general). Studying more at the expense of sleep isn’t always a good plan if you forget the material anyways when you’re taking your final. So next week when you’re struggling to remember what was on the back of a flashcard even though you’ve seen it seven times, remind yourself that you’re much better off if you call it a night and get some sleep!
#6: Take a Deep Breath, and Relax: There’s a reason finals are at the end of the semester. And there’s a reason why, if you think about it, they’re your easiest tests – you’ve already been “studying” for them for months. If you think about it, you already know all the material. And yet, I bet most people don’t even realize it.
Before you start to study for your finals – and definitely before you start the finals themselves – do yourself a favor and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you’ve already gotten this far, and that you’ve already learned everything that’s going to be on the test. Promise yourself that you’ll stick to whatever schedule you’ve got; that you’ll make sure to eat and drink and rest; and most importantly, that you’ll make time for friends and yourself. Remind yourself that there’s no test that’s too intimidating or difficult for you. After all, you did get into William and Mary.
And hey, if that doesn’t work, just think – summer’s right around the corner!
Good luck, Tribe!
April 13, 2012 by Zack Brown
I spent the first Monday morning of my spring break standing around in a Maryland soup kitchen.
Let me explain. I had trained since October to understand the issue of poverty, hunger, and homelessness through Branch Out National. In January, my co-site leader and I received our team, educated them, and now here we were, tackling these all-important issues in the biggest soup kitchen in Maryland. I was the “bread server,” and it was my job to offer pieces of bread to the incoming guests. I was excited, but nervous.
Although I had learned much about the issue of poverty, even as I stood there it remained an abstract issue to me. I had never personally met someone who didn’t have a home; I had never personally seen the inside of a soup kitchen. I knew the facts and the figures to be sure, but I hadn’t experienced it. I hadn’t felt it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but even then poverty was very much something unfortunate that happened to other people, not to me. I didn’t know what to expect when the doors opened up to the growing lines outside.
I was nervously standing in place when John, an employee who had been helping our team earlier, walked up to me and a few others. Out of the blue he started telling us his story. He told us how he himself had struggled in the past with making ends meet, and how at times he had even found himself in those lines, waiting for a free meal that was too expensive otherwise. “That used to be me,” he said. “I used to be out in those lines.” And then John told us something, and then everything made sense.
He said, “Everybody is just one step away from something, either good or bad.”
And at that moment I knew I had been wrong the whole time, and everything I thought I understood about poverty was thrown out the window. It wasn’t an other people issue anymore; being poor could happen to anyone, even me, and could happen regardless of race, sex, or socioeconomic position. John’s words spoke to the potential for both good and bad in all of us. They painted the world not in black and white or “us” vs. “them,” but in shades of gray, a world in which we stand one step away from both material well-being and the lines outside that soup kitchen. I was floored, and my head was spinning as I stood waiting for the doors to open.
Shortly after, the doors opened and the guests streamed in. There were individuals, families, couples, men, women, the old, and the young. Some were wearing the latest fashion of coats, while others’ had large holes. Many were using their cell phones, many others interacted with each other, often walking across “the floor” to sit next to or simply chat with another guest they knew. Everywhere I looked I saw smiles and laughs, handshakes and hugs, gratefulness and hope.
As I walked around the crowd offering bread to each guest as they were seated, John’s words echoed in my head and I started seeing familiar faces all around me. The woman just sitting down at a table was my Mom. The teenager across the room listening to his iPod was one of my best friends at W&M. The couple laughing and enjoying their meal were my aunt and uncle, and their young children flinging food at each other were my cousins from back home. All of a sudden my interactions and conversations became much more meaningful. I found myself intently listening to their stories, laughing at their jokes, and sharing in their dreams. As the day continued, I realized that I wasn’t talking to “homeless people,” or “poor people” as I might have thought before. I was talking to people; maybe people without a home, or people with financial disadvantages, but very much people, no different from myself or anyone else I knew.
The week progressed, and our team traveled across Baltimore city, working at different women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and day care facilities each day. But I think we all took a little bit of what John said with us. I think after that first Monday our whole team understood that we weren’t just helping strangers anymore. We were helping our friends, our colleagues, our classmates, our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, and our fathers. We were helping people¸ and although they might not have known it, they were helping us be better, more understanding people too.
November 18, 2011 by Zack Brown
It’s that time of year again. The time when the trees are changing color, the nights are getting longer, and the café has started making pumpkin bread and turkey with mashed potatoes more often. All of this means that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and for me it’ll be the first time seeing my family this semester (they weren’t able to make it down for parents’ weekend, and I spent fall break at my girlfriend’s house). I’m enormously excited to see them, and I can’t wait to be in Boston again. But when I think about when I’ll have to head to the airport and board a plane, I can’t help but wonder: am I going home, or leaving home?
The obvious answer would seem to be simple – I’m going home. And it would seem to make sense. I’m heading back to my hometown; I’m going to the place where I grew up; I’m going to go sleep in the very same bed in the very same house where I’ve lived the vast majority of my life. This place is school, I think to myself; where I’m going is home.
But I can’t seem to shake the feeling that when I leave the College for the weekend, I’m leaving home too. And that feeling, when I think about it, also makes sense.
That’s because for over a year now, I’ve eaten, slept, and lived here. That’s because all the groups I’m involved in, from my fraternity to my involvement with OCES, are here. That’s because just about all of my hopes and stresses–the things that I’m excited for and worried about–are here. That’s because I’ve practically memorized the patterns of the bricks on the pathways along the Sunken Gardens. That’s because I’ve learned what times to avoid the weight room at the Rec in the afternoon when it’s crowded. That’s because I know which professors to look out for during registration, and that’s because I’m aware of the sad fact that the Philly Cheese Steak sub isn’t on the meal plan anymore at the Marketplace. In almost every way, the College has come to feel like my home too.
Whenever I go back to Boston, my home here always seems to creep into my day to day life there. Sometimes, I catch myself grabbing my W&M ID card when I’m about to do laundry. Other times I grab my dorm key instead of my house key when I’m about to head out for the night. And it always takes me a little time to adjust to the welcome fact that I can eat meals anytime without having to worry about how many swipes I’ve got left. When I first got to the College, I used to see faces from my hometown everywhere. Now, it’s the opposite. When I go back to Boston I can’t stop doing double-takes as I think that I’ve seen people from my life here—from a group of guys driving down the street that look like some of my fraternity brothers, to an elderly neighbor who I swear works part time as one of the “colonials” in CW (how she manages that commute I have no idea). I even use the word “home” casually in conversation with family members and friends in Boston, only to pause for a moment afterwards and realize that the “home” I was referring to wasn’t the place where I grew up, but instead was W&M.
So again, there’s the big question that I’ve been struggling with as Thanksgiving approaches: am I going home, or leaving home?
My answer: I’m doing both. And I’m perfectly OK with that.
Because when it boils down to it, who says I can only have one home? To me, the cold tiles of my unit mean as much to me as the warm rugs of my house. To me, chilling out on the Sunken Gardens on a sunny day is as relaxing as chilling out on a New England beach.
But perhaps most importantly, it’s the people that are important to me that make both places feel like home. Here at William and Mary, these people are my fraternity brothers, my freshman hall mates, and the countless other people I’ve met across campus that I consider to be my wicked good friends. In many cases, I consider them essentially my family. Back in Boston, these people are my buddies that I’ve grown up with and went to school with, my co-workers, my teammates and the countless other people I’ve encountered through the years. It’s the people I also consider my wicked good friends, and again, in many cases essentially my family (not to mention my actual family in Boston!).
In the end, I’ve come to realize that when you surround yourself with people you call your family, that’s where your home is. And if, like me, you’ve also come to realize that you’ve got a family in more than one place, just remember: who says you can only have one home?
One Tribe. One Family.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
September 13, 2011 by Zack Brown
We are terrified of our freshman year of college.
It’s not something we like to admit, even to ourselves. After all, aren’t our college years supposed to be the most exciting and fun-filled years of our life? We’ve all seen it in TV shows and in the movies: the wild adventures, the crazy parties (come on, be honest, who can’t wait to be able to shout “TOGA! TOGA!” at a social gathering?), and the sweet freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want that comes with moving out of your parents’ house. Not to mention that college finally gives us a chance to study something we actually want to study, instead of the mandated, dull courses we’ve put up with in high school.
So why are we terrified?
The truth is, we are scared of firsts. The first time you ever drove a car? Pretty scary. Your first date? Really scary. The first time visiting potential colleges (especially if there was an interview)? Absolutely nerve-wracking. This is because the first time doing anything puts us in unknown territory. We don’t have any experience to draw upon, and we have no idea how we’ll perform. We worry that we might screw up. We worry that we will hate it. Every first is a leap of faith–with an unpredictable landing.
Firsts terrify us, but usually they come one at a time. Sure, the first day of high school is scary, but generally you’re still living in the same house, and you still have the same friends. But the first day of college is a totally different animal. On that day, you’re hit with a brick wall of firsts: first time living on your own, first time making a whole new set of friends out of complete strangers, first time sharing a room with somebody you don’t know, first time walking across an unknown campus, first time taking college courses. It’s this unprecedented concentration of firsts that comes with college that terrifies us.
Inside we’re at least vaguely aware of the fact that once we’re settled in, college won’t be so scary anymore. And I bet most incoming freshman wish they could just skip the few months and wake up with a daily routine with now-familiar new friends, taking courses they’ve already felt out, in a campus that already feels like home.
But that’d be missing the point. It’s all those firsts that make freshman year great.
This year, I’ll be a sophomore. I’ve got friends, an established routine, and about half a dozen groups I’m already involved in. There will certainly be firsts for me this year, but not nearly on the same scale as my freshman year. I already know how it feels to live away from home. I already know which café meals to avoid on a given day and I already know what time I have to leave the 2nd floor of Swem if I’ve got a 3:00pm class in Washington Hall and I want to make a stop at the Sadler Center first. I know that there are people I really like. I know that I can take Statistics or Chinese and not flunk. I’ve survived all those firsts.
And you know what? Truth be told, I’m jealous of the incoming freshmen.
Because you may not realize it now, but the firsts that terrify you now will be the very same firsts that you will wish you had more of when you’re established here. And the reason behind this is simple: firsts are fun. Yes, a first means you’ve never done something before, but why should that be a bad thing? With firsts, you don’t have standards to live up to. With firsts, there isn’t such a thing as failure because you have nothing to measure it against. With firsts, everything is an adventure. With firsts, you can be and do anything you want; there are no limits. Soon, like me, you’ll hunger for them and the chances they bring.
So if I had just one message for the incoming freshmen, it’d be this: the thing that’s terrifying you the most about freshman year is going to turn out to be the best part. With every first you encounter, just do it.