Studying for final exams in law school is stressful. The stakes are high, the hours are long, and the despair can…fester. I was generally aware of the pressure built into a grading system centered around distributive bell curves when I enrolled, but in my first week at Boston College the reality set in. Something terrible happened: I met my peers, and they were every kind of smart, impressive and terrifying. They were students coming from across the country and around the world, some from THOSE big name schools and others with remarkable professional experience.
Naturally I compared them to myself, the dumbest person I know. That was a bad move for my self-confidence, but sometimes you just have to keep moving forward. So, that’s what I did heading into finals season.
Fortunately, during finals season the campus cafeteria generously offers free coffee to all law students, and that makes everything better. Final exam season at BC isn’t just grind-it-out time; it’s grind-some-beans time.*
Almost immediately I came to rely on that free coffee as a physical, emotional, and spiritual crutch. Recognizing that hailing coffee as “spiritual” might border on heresy, BC being a jesuit institution, I would offer that it was Pope Clement VIII who said of coffee, “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it and making it a truly Christian beverage.” I don’t know about fooling Satan, but I know the free coffee definitely fooled this infidel’s body into thinking that it’s normal and healthy to get 4 hours of sleep per night for 3 straight weeks. It definitely kept me lively while I was clearing out all the space in my head where the names of childhood friends used to exist in order to make room for introductory legal doctrine.
The cafeteria isn’t messing around with the options, either. It wasn’t just medium roast, dark roast, or decaf… they also had pumpkin spice. There’s no pumpkin spice “basic” joke I can make that hasn’t already been made, so insert your favorite one here. Personally I drink my coffee black, mostly so people know how tough I am; “Dan drinks his coffee black? Wow, he’s the man – wish I were him.” That’s what people say about me. Since I usually embrace the dirt taste of plain black coffee, one might imagine my excitement at seeing pumpkin spice on the menu.
By the time I took my last final, I was more coffee than man. Then finals ended, and the free coffee was no more. It was like a bad breakup.
Now, I wrote most of this particular blog post before Covid-19 sent us all into remote learning, and sent us to a place of deep uncertainty about our health, our economic wellbeing, the wellbeing of our families and loved ones, and about the future. The blogpost was mostly just supposed to be me complaining about how I wished coffee was free the whole semester and not just during finals. Then I’d have pivoted into how the free coffee is an example of the importance of caring for our mental health, and the steps the BC administration takes to support students in that endeavor. I’d have made points reflecting on my experiences managing stress while studying this past finals season, and then offered some forward-looking thoughts about the coming spring exams. There would have been more terrible coffee puns dispersed throughout.
But now we are in the midst of a pandemic. Many students have left Boston. Classes are pass/fail. I, for one, have returned home to my parent’s house. It’s cozy. The coffee here is free – I’m more than happy to take advantage of my parent’s hospitality for free groceries. Clearly, I’m very fortunate and come from a privileged background. I can afford the luxury of writing crappy coffee jokes for a student blog. Others cannot. This is a serious and tragic time: Lives are disrupted, we are hurtling through a recession, and hundreds of thousands of people are likely to die. It affects everyone, and it isn’t something we can shy away from.
Did somebody forget to take the beans out of the coffee roaster? Because this blog just got dark.
Seeking the brighter side of things, I take comfort in the response to the crisis as I’ve seen it at BC Law: for one thing, there is an obvious and present feeling of solidarity that has emerged among both students and faculty as we manage these hard times and radical changes together – a feeling that words cannot quite capture or describe. Further, I have witnessed my fellow students actively and eagerly seeking opportunities to use the legal knowledge we are acquiring here to be of service to those getting hit hard by the virus. Put simply, it’s both inspiring and very fitting for the kind of compassionate lawyers one should expect BC to produce.
I’ll leave it to deans and governors to offer further comfort and counsel in light of these historically grave times, but I will end with this thought: there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully this coming fall, and otherwise next spring, our biggest problems as law students will once again be law school exams, and if this is a just universe, the exams will be paired with free coffee in the cafeteria.
I hope everyone reading this is doing well and staying healthy during the pandemic, except for you weaklings and cowards who take their coffee with cream.
*You can send thank you notes for that coffee joke to firstname.lastname@example.org.