The last week of classes is finally here. For first-years, the anticipation is new, a feeling of excitement mixed with nervous energy as the last day of finals draws inexorably closer. Other students who have already been through the mud know what to expect — some pass with flying colors while others struggle through with the same hapless stumbles of a newborn. But no matter where you fall on the spectrum, whether you’re a finals first-timer or a blue book veteran, most students look forward to one thing at the end of the quarter: being done with finals.
There’s a sense of catharsis when that last test is completed. There is relief that the course, be it easy or difficult, liked or disliked, has come to an end. There is a sense of closure. The last day of finals week is the bookend to 11 chapters of learning, working, studying, meeting new people and making new friends. It is the last day of college for the rest of the calendar year, and hopping in a car or plane and heading home has never felt better. College life is all but stopped as students finish up their last exams and leave campus behind.
But even as you watch the trees blur past or the mountains edge by, know that the world hasn’t stopped simply because finals are over. Everybody else continues to live their lives, regardless of whether your final exams are in the rear-view mirror. The sun still rises and the Earth continues to turn on its axis.
Problems in our world will continue to exist. During the school year, protests erupted over the shooting of Michael Brown and the strangling of Eric Garner. UCR students made their voices heard, staging a die-in and demanding change. For students who find these cases appalling, the fight for justice does not take a hiatus over winter break. One African American will still be shot every four days by a white police officer. At least in Ferguson, there is still a Department of Justice investigation ongoing. African American men are still incarcerated at a higher rate and for longer than white men. One out of every three African American men will still go to prison sometime in their lives.
Tuition was another flashpoint this year, with the UC Board of Regents approving a plan that could increase tuition by up to 28 percent over five years, all while students voiced their objections and contended they were shut out of the planning process. The plan nonetheless went on to pass, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. Any tuition increases can still be offset by increases in state funding. That means opening a new front directed at state elected officials, prodding them to increase funding to head off a tuition hike. It means continuing to campaign for an affordable education and continuing to support politicians who support us.
Even more recently, climate change is back on the table, with world leaders convening for a summit in Peru to discuss how to best tackle the looming problem. This is occurring just after China and the United States made a historic agreement to cut carbon emissions and just as another massive typhoon bulldozes into the Philippines.
It would be a lie to say that recent events have given everybody reason to be optimistic. Plenty of horrible stories have been in the news. There’s no reason students shouldn’t take time to recharge their batteries after a quarter that has been grueling in more ways than one. However, the fight doesn’t end with every new hardship. Each new tragedy, every new outrage, should come as new motivation to encourage those wishing to make change. While relaxing in our time away from the responsibilities of school, we are responsible for knowing that there is still necessary change to affect in the back of our minds.
Students protesting violence — domestic or otherwise — is far from a new concept, and the very image of students being stifled by militarized authority is reminiscent of the Students for a Democratic Society organizing teach-ins in opposition to the Vietnam War. As the past generation did, so must the current understand that the voices of future policymakers and industry-creators have a tangible influence over the way contemporary issues are handled.
It must also be remembered that singularity of voice and purpose, as well as concrete goals will help to steel the drive for change, avoiding the unfortunate failure that came of the Occupy Movement. Lest we forget the lessons of previous movements of protestation, we, as student protesters, should keep longstanding histories of change in our minds, regardless of how it affects our winter breaks.
The end of finals is not really an end. It’s a new beginning. We don’t put down our pens and finish writing our stories only midway through the first act. There are adventures yet to be lived and tales yet to be told, and the book of your college life doesn’t close during winter break. Write your own chapters, for history is happening before our eyes.