Life and the Lecture Hall

The sharpened tip of my Ticonderoga pencil glides across the page of my notebook, moving at the speed of light. My neck is craned and a dull ache spreads through my clenched hand, but I cannot stop writing. The midterm exam is less than a week away and the lecture slides will not be posted online, meaning that every second of class time is infinitely valuable.

To both read the notes on the board and simultaneously write them down, without so much as glancing at the page, is an admirable skill which I have yet to master. The seniors to my left and right appear to do so effortlessly, but for me, every bullet point presents the difficult task of rapidly shifting my eyes back and forth, from the powerpoint at the front of the room to the page on my desk.

The professor appears to be providing additional insight on the slides, but I do not have time to listen and record all of the material on the board. His voice blends with the distant drone of the air conditioning unit, as the seconds on the clock slip rapidly away. I can feel the tip of my pencil grow duller and duller, but I cannot stop writing—even if I wanted to.

This frantic sense of urgency which note-taking so often evokes, especially in the weeks surrounding midterm exams, is not exclusive to the context of a classroom. In fact, I believe that in some ways, the nature of a lecture hall mirrors the nature of the college experience itself.

Given that we only have four years as a student on campus, time is a precious commodity which seems to slip through our fingers all too fast. A common fear which prevails among the student body is the idea that we are not making the most of our limited time here—that we have not joined enough clubs, met enough people, or taken advantage of the resources offered to us.

The semesters on the academic calendar seem to pass by at lightning speed, and thus we are often left feeling as though we must fill every moment with constant activity, productivity, and interaction. Every weekend must include an unforgettable night, with a series of photographs to prove it. Every weeknight in the library must fill you with satisfactory exhaustion. Every lecture should leave your hand aching to the bone.

It seems that there is no time to relent—to rest your pencil and reflect on the words you’ve written down. I will admit that there is something rewarding about this “go, go, go” mentality—something exciting about that frantic desire to make life memorable.

The problem is, that without slowing down and tuning into the experience itself, the memories ultimately become meaningless.

A few days ago, I took the first midterm exam for my history class, which is a lecture consisting of almost 250 students. Though the test itself was fair, the process of studying and preparing for the exam proved to be considerably more challenging than I’d anticipated. I didn’t understand why.

I had written everything on the powerpoint slides down, transcribing the bullet-points word-for-word. I had made sure to spell key words correctly and to underline all of my headers, as the professor did. When I went back to thoroughly “review” the information, however, I discovered that I had never truly learned it at all, nor spent sufficient time actually internalizing the information I had written down.

Only then did I realize my mistake. In focusing solely on recording the material on the board and essentially disregarding the professor’s additional commentary, I had no way of extracting meaning from my notes. To me, they were nothing more than fragmented sentences and arbitrary key-words.

I do not want to look back upon my college experience with the same dawning realization. I want the pictures from weekend nights to mean something more—to remind me of good friends and unforgettable songs. I want the exhaustion I feel at the end of a Tuesday night to be a sign that I am working hard, not merely so that I can achieve an A or respect from those around me, but so that I can go to sleep at night knowing I could make a difference in the world one day.

I want my hand to ache not because I am trying to desperately replicate what society tells me is important, but because I am passionate about writing my own life story.

The next class, I entered the lecture hall determined to change my ways. Instead of mindlessly copying down the information on the slides, I directed my attention to the professor and to his insights on the material.

I quickly found that in simply listening to the professor and taking note of what I understood to be most important, the class was remarkably more fulfilling. I could extract meaning from his words and write them down in a way that made sense to me personally.

I believe there is a way that we can live life like this as well—a way to refine our experience into that which grants us the greatest sense of satisfaction and purpose. Rather than joining every service group on campus, going out every possible Friday, or becoming fixated on acing every single midterm exam, perhaps we can selectively channel our energy into those clubs, classes, and weekend nights that matter most to us.

Time is a precious commodity, but it does not have to slip through our fingers. Let us hold it in the palm of our hands, firmly, until our bones ache and our bodies flood with the satisfactory exhaustion of a life well lived.  

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor