How College Can Be a Day at The Beach

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This article was published in the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition in March 2013.

Waves perpetually ripple in the ocean. Sometimes they are short and fast, sometimes they’re long and slow, but they always reach the sandy surface and crash along the way, dying down at the shore. Wave sounds depend on the waves’ intensity and frequency: sometimes, the sounds are formed steadily and repetitiously, one wave crashing after the other, the tchum reverberating through the beach. But sometimes the sounds are formed intermittently, and a quiet silence of five seconds or less bridges one tchum to the other.

The college rhythm works much like waves in the ocean. Some days are so busy with incessant tasks that there are no pauses or breaks between one event and another. Other days are irregular and you may find some time here and there to breathe. But no matter what type of day you have, one event is always bound to happen: the invariable crash of the waves, whether they’re booming achievements or thunderous setbacks.

My weeks of February flowed much like the wave tides of the sea: one week very harmonious, the next very turbulent. On my first week, I had plenty of reading to do but I read a book for one class, and some short stories and excerpts for two other classes. I kept up with my newspaper deadlines, and attended weekly club meetings. I practiced French and wrote for my Journalism class. During the weekend, I went to a mandatory college retreat up in Santa Barbara, a couple of hours away from USC, and immersed myself in meaningful discussions about class in America, but also in a lot of fun at the beautiful resort. My college week went as ideally expected: work hard, play hard.

However, the following week was nothing but frantic. As soon as I arrived back from the retreat on Sunday afternoon, I wrote an English paper due the next day. Then on Monday, I wrote another Literature paper due on Tuesday, and on Tuesday, another one due on Thursday. Because I spent most of my time writing thirty pages in four days, the rest of my homework got delayed: readings, two midterm reviews (for Thursday!), newspaper articles, and so on. You may think I should have worked on my papers the week before, but unless I ignored all my homework due that week, I could do nothing more than outline them, which I did.

Two more weeks followed in the same fashion: one balanced, the other completely unstable. When I thought I had figured out the best plan to tackle my academics and personal life, circumstances changed and consequently altered the outcome of my plans. The turbulence overwhelmed me at times: I did not know whether I’d be able to get everything done, and I felt as if I had lost control over my time. I was pressured from two sides: my academics stacking over in multitudes of assignments, and my personal life yelling for a break and time to catch up with friends.

The last Tuesday of the month seemed to be my worst day. Nothing went right and my 200-page reading due the next day (not considering other homework) couldn’t be shaken from my mind. Meanwhile, personal preoccupations were banging in my head. But as the day went on, the sky cleared and the sun brightened the events: I got my papers back and my grades were A- and two A’s. I also got A’s on my two midterms. Such an outcome brought me reward and relief like I hadn’t yet felt in February. The hard work was, after all, worth it because I succeeded in what I most love to do: reading and writing. The waves had been crashing hard on me, long and slow, and, because I focused so much on that stage, I forgot the waves would ripple away, but they did. And the five seconds of peace reverberated throughout.