To the Weary College Student

To the stressed-out college student,

It is during meager study breaks that you give yourself a pep talk,

A “just keep going” kind of pep talk,

A “hey, I know you haven’t slept well, but you got this” kind of pep talk.

It is during every minute of free time that you snatch the opportunity to study,

Before work, after work, before bedtime.

It is during the classes leading up to the exam that you gaze at the professor,

Counting the hours before you can sleep.

When every study hour has passed, and you wake up on exam day,

I challenge you to carry an infectious optimism from your bedroom to the very campus of your university,

Because you were willing to sit on the edge of your limits for long enough to make it to this moment,

Prepared.

Before you open the exam packet, imagine.

Imagine a positive reaction to the test results,

Imagine yourself celebrating the week’s accomplishments with friends.

I’ve learned that we are more terrified of the possibility of achieving our greatest ambitions than failing.

Could we be as capable as we envision ourselves to be?

As I approach the conclusion of the midterms week,

I would like to honor the bags underneath my eyes,

The tireless pep talks,

The study sessions and “just a little bit more” moments.

I have not only epitomized the stereotypical image of the weary college student

but also achieved my midterm goals while being just that.

Let me wear my sweat pants as a symbol of relentless effort.

We achieve academic success only if we’re willing to crawl to the edge of our limits,

And gaze at the gray possibilities.

The Persistent Academic

May 2016

I struggled to engage the mind, as a substantial workload presented itself. Lengthy rubrics and deadlines fueled a forest fire of doubt, and anxiety woke from its restless slumber. The word “can’t” flooded my mind, duplicating itself like countless pages being ejected from a printer… falling onto the expanse of a room void of confidence. I attempted to hush the subconscious mind, which was active in protest. The conscious mind was a fool to believe that its peaceful demonstration could repress such intimidation.

February 2017

I graduated from high school and have successfully completed my first semester of college. I am taking a course similar to the one of which I spoke several months ago. But there is one significant difference between the former and the latter course. I no longer encounter the mental roadblocks that once hindered my academic performance. Anxiety is a feeble enemy, particularly to the persistent academic.

Allow me to digress. I would like to mention that I earned an ‘F’ on my final exam in the class I discussed in May (and yes, I do mean, “earned”). But when I received my report card in the summer, I was not disappointed… because my ‘F’ was more than a letter grade. It was the purest symbol of trying and failing, and trying and failing, and trying again. It was a representation of my long-term fight against anxiety, and the many lessons I learned. I learned that my mental well-being is a greater priority than grades. I learned never to ignore my intuition, even if I can’t muster the words to explain the problem. I would rather receive an unsatisfactory letter grade and have grown intellectually than to earn an ‘A’ but not have achieved personal growth. Quite frankly, the aim of acquiring information is not to achieve an ideal result but to learn from the process.

On another note, it would bother me for others to perceive my academic success as a paved route. I am so thankful to have earned a spot on my school’s Dean’s list. But it is vital to note that high-achieving students often possess effective problem-solving abilities because they have had substantial experience tackling personal and academic challenges.

Planning for the Future

Hours fly as we converse under dim lights at a newly-opened Japanese restaurant, and our plates are nearly empty save for streaks of sauce. I don’t notice that the sun has set until I press the home button on my iPhone and see that it’s 6 o’clock. I remain planted in my chair, still, anticipating the next burst of laughter, or an astounding piece of advice that remains grounded in my mind like the dense air of a breezy autumn night. I tell Ms. Scharl, my former English teacher, about my concerns regarding the future. Informing her about my career and academic ambitions, I notice as fear and uncertainty coalesce. My greatest ambition is to live independently, but the only way to reach this destination is to successfully travel along the unpaved path of academia and career search. I am not a materialist, but rather a minimalist, and unfortunately, affording the cost of living is the prerequisite to living independently. And so the expenses will pile on, but Ms. Scharl soon shushes the voices of my uncertainties. She says, “Naima, you’re a go-getter. You’re going to get a good job.” Her words hold abundant weight, as they rest firmly at the bottom of my heart. Uncertainty withers away in veins that once pulsated arrhythmically. So her words rotate in my mind and follow me before I tuck myself into bed. The mind loves to plan for the future, often forgetting about the present and questioning, “What if?” Hushhh. Naima, you’re a go-getter. My brain ignites a chain-reaction of positive self-affirmations: I am confident. I am strong. I will succeed. Rinse and repeat.

I aspire to earn a Master’s degree in Information Technology (IT) at George Mason University so that I may become a college professor. My passion for teaching and being a leader among a group of individuals are aptitudes I would like to apply in the workplace. This profession enables me to choose a wide range of public universities nationwide, so I will have the opportunity to live in other states if I so choose. And even if I change my mind about teaching at the college level, I will have flexibility in choosing a wide range of professions worldwide, as Information Technology is a high-demand field of expertise.

I am thankful for those who continue to encourage me to fulfill my passions and to those who support me unconditionally. Thank you, Ms. Scharl, for fueling the fire in this 18-year-old. And when I am holding my diploma in a few years from now, I will thank and remember you. Your confidence in me is unmeasurable. Thank you so much for helping me take another step closer to achieving my greatest ambitions, for surely, this act of kindness cannot be repaid. But rather, it is vital for me to pay it forward. So when I look at all of my current students at Mathnasium, and even the ones in my future workplace, I recognize my responsibility to encourage my students just as you have encouraged yours. Thank you.