You can see it on the faces around campus. While preparing for the worst part of the semester — final exams — most students are expending the last of their energy to weather the storm and reach the oasis that is winter break.

As I'm sure is the case for many students at this school, my last few weeks have been grueling and promise to be surpassed in misery by the coming two. I have been inundated with papers, presentations, exams and, of course, the mandatory social outings — which you'd think would be a break from the aforementioned obligations, but are actually nearly as punishing, given the unshakeable cloud of guilt one encounters when mindful of the many impending due dates.

Fortunately, come Dec. 23, my life will transition from night to day. After about 12 hours of sleep and three glasses of eggnog, I'll forget that only one day before was I sitting in College Library, hallucinating as I robotically went over the notes for my last exam. Basically, life will begin anew.

Being a senior, this is all pretty familiar to me. For the past three years, my life has been divided neatly by the academic calendar. No matter how overwhelming school may be, I can at least be certain that on a particular date, relief will come.

Every sabbatical from the academic year is of a different nature. Thanksgiving can never come soon enough, as the wave of midterms preceding it make the holiday hiatus a place of refuge offering relief as great as the interlude. The break we are presently approaching, our month-long winter recess, is perhaps the greatest gift given to us by our ever-benevolent University of Wisconsin administrators. Spring break is what it is, and it inspires as much eagerness as any other break, but coming back from this vacation might be the hardest part of the school year. And the arrival of summer is really not as much something to be celebrated as it is to be considered necessary. There is one thing that each of these breaks has in common: As a student, you come to not only need them, but to rely on them.

These are all things I've finally figured out after having gone through the motions a few times. And as can be expected, I've grown pretty comfortable living in anticipation of arbitrary dates on the calendar, letting external forces dictate exactly what I have to do and when I have to do it. As I recently spoke to a friend of mine, who will graduate after this semester, something of a revelation hit me: Given my plans to graduate in May, this is the first time, since my arrival at the UW, that I am heading into a break from school not knowing exactly when the next will be.

It's not that I've got an absolute, specific plan lined up for the day I walk out of the Kohl Center, mortarboard in hand. Although I do have a general blueprint laid out regarding what I intend to do post-graduation. For all I know, I might still be able to enjoy something of a recreational summer in Madison or elsewhere. Rather, my recent eye-opener came from actually realizing that, regardless of how my summer is spent, one thing it will not be is simply another break as usual.

Obviously, I knew that this point in my college career was inevitable, and I consider myself to be fairly well prepared for it. But it is simply another landmark point at which things cease to be regular and a new course must be charted. Perhaps I'm lamenting too much — I still have a semester of school left — but May will come as quickly as this semester has passed, and everything that has become customary will shift once more. And there is nothing bad about all of this. Change, while impossible to get used to, is a great thing.

But, at the same time, it wouldn't be a bad idea to think about how many breaks you have left as you look forward to this one.

Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.