Ahhhh winter break. . . Perhaps the best reason to go back to graduate school, and probably the only good reason to go to law school is that month or so of vacation around the holidays. Summer vacation of course would be even better, except that law students are not allowed to enjoy it. The summer break is completely lost on the pressures of finding clerkships, internships or summer associate positions – anything but the audacity of relaxation. But the winter break is too short to do any sort of meaningful apprenticeships, plus since most people take some time off during the holidays and the average professional office comes to a bit of a halt, there is really nothing for a law student to do, unless he wants to play Santa Claus at Macy’s.
Quite possibly the greatest sensation I knew during my three years at law school was the moment the proctor at my last exam of the semester announced, “Pencils down.” Even if I wasn’t confident in my performance, just the thought that my brain could finally rest would fill me with joy. That night, I would join some friends for celebration, where we could fill our bellies with alcohol, and not have to conscientiously ignore that little feeling of guilt that normally followed us everywhere; that annoying voice suggesting: “Slow down. Don’t drink too much tonight. You should probably get up early tomorrow and do a practice exam.”
During winter break, that little voice in your head has no standing. You can tell it to bugger off and leave you alone until the new year. But of course, that little voice, and the anxious, guilty feeling that you could be spending your time more productively becomes such a part of the law student’s anatomy, that it’s hard to just turn it off. Any time I would try to indulge in a nap on the couch by the fire and the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, I would startle awake with a jump, and think, “Wait. Isn’t there something I’m supposed to be doing?” It would take me a few seconds to regroup myself and remember that I was on vacation and perfectly entitled to a nap, but the guilt would prevent me for falling back asleep.
Nightmares were common, particularly a recurring one where I had registered for a class and forgotten all about it, suddenly realizing at the end of the semester that I had never showed up to it nor taken the exam. When my grades came out, there was an F next to a ridiculous subject like Condo Association Law. “Oh dear god!! I completely forgot about Condo Association Law.” I would then wake up in a panic and have to count my classes on my fingers, adding up the total credit hours to make sure every course was accounted for.
One thing that can ruin the winter break in a heartbeat is the fact that first semester grades are released at this time, sort of like a diabolical anti-Christmas gift. What’s especially frustrating is that (at least at my school) each professor turned in their grades at their own time, so you had no idea when a grade would come up. So I inevitably adopted a routine of logging in to my student account and checking my grades every time I was near a computer. Before I even checked my email, I would check to see if a new grade had been posted. My mood each day would highly depend on what I found on my transcript, so my emotions were basically one of three: Joy (if a grade of B or higher had been posted); Sadness (if a grade of C+ or lower had been posted); or anxiety (if a grade for a particular class had not yet been posted – for the love of god how long does it take to grade a fucking exam?!!?).
I finally decided to stop worrying about grades. When it got to the point where I couldn’t even walk past the Mac store while out Christmas shopping, without wondering if I could use one of the display computers to log in to my student account and check my grades, I had to stop. I decided that I wouldn’t check my grades until the day before I was to return to school. This way, I could enjoy the holidays, and get the much deserved rest the winter break entitled me to.
Oh how I miss those long winter breaks as a full time student. It might even be worth considering an LLM just to have them back.