A toast to exams

For the longest time, entering exam season has felt like descending into a deep pit. The objectives are clear, and certainties are few. A little reflection, however, has shown me just how flawed my perspective has been. 

Many, I hope, read the previous passage with surprise. As interesting as a course or degree might be, there is an obvious need to assess a student’s grasp of the subject matter. Exams do just that, and have done for in one form or the other for millenia. While I wholeheartedly agree, rationalisations do little to alleviate the extistential dread I’m faced with every two months. 

Perhaps it started with my first failed exam. For someone who had always done rather decently study-wise, a failing grade came as a rude shock. Anchored somewhere deep was the thought that study delay meant personal inadequacy. It only got worse as the failures piled up, to the point that an exam on the horizon became cause for desperation.

It’s incredibly empowering to a student who feels like he’s at the bottom of a vast corporate food-chain

Failing an exam is simply a sign of a wrong approach, or a lack of effort, or at worst a signal that a change in career paths is in order, surely? These were things with which I ought to have been able to make peace with, and yet I couldn’t. Being the university student that I am, I needed answers. Happily, I didn’t have to look far.

The lovely city in which we live didn’t spring out of nowhere. It was built over centuries with hard labour driven by a revolutionary perspective on work. The Reformation notion of all good work being a sacred calling was a powerful and transformative one, the fruit of which has been the establishment of what is objectively one of the greatest civilisations in history. 

It suggests that work done well dignifies the individual. We are not engaged in some meaningless selfish pursuit, but in something that helps to build and uphold society, and on a personal level, develop ourselves, and be of use to our neighbours and loved ones. As sappy as that sounds, it’s incredibly empowering to a student who feels like he’s at the bottom of a vast corporate food-chain.

A light has shone in the pit, and there appears to be room enough to walk with a head held high. It’s quite a ways to the finish, but I’m confident it’s a worthwhile endeavour whichever way it goes. Now that it’s possible again, I’ll be sure to toast to that. 


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