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Reading Period Disease

By Michael R. Grunwald

DURING Harvard's four-week winter exam extravaganza, a horrible disease develops on campus.

Harvardicus irritatus is usually defined as "an epidemic that transforms predominantly nice, bright college kids into snivelling, whining wretches who deserve to be airdropped into downtown Bucharest with `I loved Nikolai Ceausescu' tattoos carved into their foreheads." Every January, this dreaded disorder pervades the student body, causing widespread stress, anxiety and generally infantile behavior.

For instance, The Crimson ran a letter last week complaining that the libraries have poor lighting. Awwwww. The Independent ran an entire opinion piece titled "In Defense of Deadlines." Here's an excerpt so juicy the Indy decided to enlarge it:

"Barney asks for a one-week extension, gets it, and uses the time to really polish his paper. He gets an A. Is this just? I think not!"

Well, you've got to take a moral stand somewhere.

Meanwhile, everyone I know apparently felt some kind of moral imperative to bore me with the gory details of their exam schedule.

"Oh, God, I've got two 25-page papers and a thesis and an oral presentation and five exams and Glee Club rehearsal every damn day."

You signed up for the courses. Why are you bitching to me?

Look, I'm not trying to be callous. But what do you want? Sympathy? Dream on. I've got just as much work as you do. You want to impress someone, go talk to your friend at Texas A&M. And don't whine to me when he brags to you about the weather there, either.

Unfortunately, my roommate (to protect his identity, I'll call him Jonathan E. Gross '92) has a genetic predisposition to Harvard irritatus. When classes are in session, he is a brilliant, fun-loving, caring fellow. Sure, he has a few quirks--an addiction to aged Jello here, an unfortunate tendency to confuse Miami Hurricane quarterbacks with God there--but what do you expect from a philosophy concentrator whose conception of the real world is derived from epistemological restructuralized empiricism? (This means he can't remember where he left his bookbag.) As an etiquette-impaired individual whose social graces have been compared to Attila the Hun's, I consider myself very lucky to be his friend.

Except during January.

I was fortunate enough to have two classes with Jon this semester, so I got to spend reading period trapped in the library with him. Actually, the libraries. You see, Jon needs to change his study atmosphere frequently in order to maintain the proper psychological outlook towards his work. So I got to watch him wipe sweat off his over-furrowed brow and make funny gurgling noises in Adams House Library, Quincy House Library, Lamont Library, Cabot Library and the Kennedy School Library. Not to mention the dining halls, our common room, UHS...

Oh, did I mention that he had to spend a day in UHS after his back slipped out of joint because his bookbag was too heavy? (I'm not kidding about this.) Of course, this was the least of his medical problems. As stress became panic, Jon actually convinced himself that he was suffering a massive coronary.

"It's not all coming together intellectually!" he wailed in agony. "I need more time! I need more guidance! I need more air!"

"Jon, you're acting like a baby," I replied.

"Am not!"

"Am too!"

SO WHAT should Harvard's troubleshooters do about this distressing dilemma? There are several possibilities:

1. Lengthen reading period and exam period: Yeah, that's the ticket. How about until...March? This would give us more time to study and professors more time to do their research (which they would rather be doing anyway). It's a marvelous idea, so it obviously will never happen.

2. Shorten reading period and exam period: This would make January stress even worse, but at least it wouldn't have to last the whole month. I'm sure Harvard students would adore this solution. In fact, maybe we should scrap December vacation, too, so that we wouldn't have to deal with the guilt of relaxing.

3. Eliminate reading period and exam period: This one will happen soon after (1.) and just before Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 slam dunks a basketball.

4. Switch reading period and exam period: This solution, however, does not make one iota of sense. It is illogical, incomprehensible and basically stupid. Which leads me to believe that the Harvard administration will look very kindly towards it. After non-ordered choice, I'm willing to believe anything.

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