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.

Feigned Optimism

The alarm begins to sound at 7:30a.m., as the winter doldrums tempt the eyes to close. The body begs for sleep, but the mind is wiser than to let itself drift off. Suddenly, the brain recalls the myriad tasks that must be completed. Classes bright and early starting at 9:00a.m. and work until 8:00p.m. Yes. 8:00p.m. My finish-line. The end to all this bustle. The time that I can prepare to go to sleep again. I crave the feeling of clean sheets against a weary body. But where do I find the starting line?

Just peel the blanket away from you slowly. Let your mind wander a bit. Thoughts wrap themselves around the prospect of breakfast, of listening to my favorite songs on the way to school, of my plans for the weekend.

I get through my gen-eds (Math, History, English) and complete my work as a math instructor at 8:00p.m. On my way home, I remember a valuable lesson I learned from running cross-country.

Suddenly, I can’t remember why I am tired. I can’t remember that I’m struggling to get through the week. Rather, I am empowered by the fight I have left in me. It may only be the 2nd week of the spring semester, but I can already imagine the summer break… for during the break, it is not the restless nights of free writing that I will remember… or the rush to travel from school to work… or the wish to just go to sleep and shut it all out. It is the triumphs of my freshman year at George Mason University that I will remember… wrapping my mind around discrete mathematics until the concepts click. To my professors, to my students, to my employer, and most important, to myself: I wear these dark circles with pride. These “I just rolled out of bed” winter leggings, this “just get out of the house already” t-shirt. May I repeat the successes of my past. Better yet, let me surpass them. Let me find myself on the Dean’s list, let me surround myself with loved ones on the weekend, let me spend hours on homework assignments that trigger a thirst for knowledge. It is in these activities that I find balance.

So I will wake up for my 9:00a.m. review session in a few hours and demonstrate an eagerness to learn. And to all my classmates: you’ll likely remember me by “the crazy girl who said the homework was fun.” It’s a lot more exciting to fight for optimism than to give in to indifference. Try it. I dare you.

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.

Can Sports Help Students do well in School?

Running cross-country in high school yielded greater benefits than improving my mental and physical well-being. Balancing time for the sport with academics helped me build a determined mindset. As I am a college student now, I am confident that I will be able to manage fatigue, long days, and piles of work. I’ve had enough experience with pushing past internal conflict to achieve academic success. This skill can only be learned through experience. Anyone can say that they can stay up late to get work done. But when you’ve already put in eight hours of work at school, three hours at cross-country practice, and every bit of energy during interval workouts, you’ll build a greater level of strength. Your mind might be half-asleep at the end of the day, but you better believe that your history assignment will be turned in the next morning. And that you sure as anything will be waking up at 6:30a.m. just to do it all over again.

On the first day of IT 104, my professor informed the class that a 1500-word, APA style research paper is due in four weeks. Sounds pretty daunting, ay? Let’s talk about writing a quality, 1500-word essay at 3a.m. not because you’re fighting for your grades but because you’re fighting for your beliefs. Let’s talk waking up early because I’ve gotten up at 5:40a.m. on race day mornings when the crisp fall breeze tempts the eyes to close. Put naps aside until after you’ve beat your greatest competition (yourself) on that dewy cross-country course.

My sister informed me that college will be “hard.” So I meet all challenges with the persistence of a distance runner, the thoughtfulness of a writer, and the mind of a student who is determined to thrive as a George Mason Patriot.