The second semester of my freshman year at Florida State University, I decided to be bold and delve into an advanced-level Roman art history course for my classical archaeology major. After all, I was a college veteran now, I could handle whatever the classics department could throw at me.
I’ll admit that the nerves started to get to me. Thankfully, my older sister, a junior art major, took the course with me. Encouraged by her support, I excitedly welcomed the chance to challenge myself. We could study together, talk about the subject matter together and hopefully not get tangled up in a family grade feud.
Syllabus day went as always, the professor went over the assignments, due dates and policies. I flipped through the pages lazily, noting the reading assignments and the fact that we only had a midterm, final and term paper. “Yes! No projects!” I whispered to my sister. “Yeah, but there’s a 5,000 word term paper,” my sister replied, looking a bit anxious herself. I smiled giddily while I stuffed my syllabus away into the oblivion of my backpack. My sister hated researching and writing, but papers are my forte and I much prefer them to abstract group projects.
The class proceeded rather smoothly with the manageable daily readings and a manageable midterm. The term paper barely crossed my mind as the last two weeks before finals came around. “Worry about your other classes,” I continually told myself. “Your paper isn’t due until finals week anyways.”
Eventually, I dug out the syllabus for the class, figuring I’d start brainstorming possible topics. As I ran my finger down the page searching for the general paper requirements, a different piece of information popped out at me first, sending me spiraling into a pit of anxiety. At first I played dumb, this was all a dream, and it absolutely couldn’t be true. Unable to reason it out, my mind stopped trying. Instead, I just ran.
“What do you mean, your paper is due tomorrow?” my roommate asked as she tried to calm me down. “I thought you said it wasn’t due until later?” Between hiccups, I explained how I misread the syllabus, and didn’t write down any of the due dates. For some reason, I thought the paper was due during finals week. “Well,” she said looking at her watch, “You’ve got 31 hours. Better get started.”
Returning to my room with the lumbering steps of a zombie, I grabbed my phone to call my sister. In my emotion-fused haze, I prepared to either screech at her for not reminding me that the paper was due soon or be her bearer of bad news. She admitted having the same due date as me, but surprisingly declined my invitation to a mad dash to the library. As I sat there anxiety fuming from my mind, she remained rather chill. I hung up, deciding not to worry about it.
I entered the library in hopes of salvation. Two hours later, I triumphantly returned touting a general topic and five giant art history guides. Roman art wasn’t going to get the best of me, not this semester. Wasting no time, my roommate dragged me down to our floor’s study room, a cold, stale jail that could destroy any semblance of positivity. “I love you, but you’ll probably do best in here,” she said. “That way you won’t be distracted and won’t have to move when I go to sleep.” I nodded weakly as she exited the room, leaving me to my doom.
I worked through the entire night, writing and reading until my fingers went numb. Originally fueled by the adrenaline of anxiety, the pure exhaustion and constant need for focus drained those tanks fairly quickly. After a few hours, the music I’d been playing to dispel the maddening silence wasn’t registering in my brain. All of my emotion started to dissipate and my life became Roman art, body and mind. Multiple times, the patrolling night shift RA stuck her head in, growing more and more concerned with each pass by. Stopping one last time at 6 a.m., she spoke to me–the first voice I’d heard all night. “Good luck with your project.”
I finished the paper with time enough for my unlucky roommate to proofread the resulting 17 pages. Drunk with relief, I clicked submit on Blackboard, but the feeling was conspicuously soured by my older sister. Talking to her at 10 a.m. in the midst of my writing madness, she admitted to just beginning the research–she hadn’t written a single word. “There’s no way,” I thought to myself. But sure enough, come 6 p.m., she also turned in a paper.
I tried not to feel bitter about her quickly prepared paper, nevertheless my sleep-deprived mind was overwhelmed with jealousy of her restful night. I consoled myself by asserting that my paper was written better; she couldn’t have written a cohesive 5,000 word essay in such a short period of time. When the grades came out, I was ecstatic to see a hard-earned 95 percent. With a squeak, I revealed it to her. She began laughing and held up her paper; she also received 95 percent. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.