The Joy of J-Term

Brrrr. It's cold. Damn cold. The thing is, though, that this is the mildest winter I can remember. Our one inch of snow that fell yesterday might be the biggest storm of the season. Last week our area had temperatures in the low 50's. Global warming, anyone?

Doesn't matter. When Minnesotans complain about the weather, there is no relativity. It's cold today, and that's what we're going to talk about. Thus, we're in the midst of a miserable winter. Welcome to our state.


If this were a regular winter, we would be about halfway through the snow, ice, and freezing temperatures at this point. This is a bit frustrating to most, as the normal Minnesotan has (on average) shoveled 42,320 pounds of snow by this date. Hey, only three more months until we can see green grass! Y'know, I kinda like the blaze orange color of those MNDOT plows. Driving on ice makes me feel like Scott Hamilton!

We Minnesotans are an optimistic people. But we could use a break.

When I was a college student years ago, we experienced a phenomenon called "J-Term." ("J" signifying January.) This month fell smack dab in between the two semesters of the college year; to help students cope with the stir-craziness described above, St. Olaf College changed the rules. For those thirty days students had not four classes, but one class. One entire calendar month with 25 percent of the normal workload. Hmm.

Um Ya Ya

The official Olaf policy stated that students should put the same amount of effort in towards the one J-Term class as they did during the normal semester's worth of four classes. But let's be fair: the faculty enjoyed this break as well. Why burden themselves with the same amount of teaching and correcting? Let them eat cake!

Let's examine what our hero accomplished during his four years of J-Terms...

Freshman Year: January 1995

Being a Frosh, I didn't quite know how to take advantage of J-Term yet. As a Philosophy prof once told me, "I love teaching first years-- they don't yet know how little they need to do yet still be successful." That described my first J-Term rather accurately. I enrolled in America During World War Two, a rather interesting class that didn't require much effort-- but that didn't stop me from giving 110%. The upperclassmen looked at me a little strangely when I handed in assignments on time or when I didn't nap during our frequent movies.

It's not as bad as you think. A bit.. nutty...

I was no slouch socially, however; I spent much time down in Wade V's Rand quad playing computer games and drinking Pig's Eye Lean, our potent potable of choice. Also, Wade and Alex introduced me to broomball. I'm not much for balance or moving quickly even on surfaces with traction, so I was a faantastic goalie. I can't recall what I got in my class, but I give myself a B-; I worked too hard, but was able to enjoy some social diversification.

Sophomore Year: January 1996

There are many advantages to attending a music-centric school such as St. Olaf. One, the band, orchestra, and choir concerts are breathtaking. Two, the comedic value of someone walking around campus carrying a tuba over his head. Three, the skewing of classes to help the music majors out. Every non-music major at Olaf should take advantage of this at least once; I did so during this J-Term. My choice: Musical Acoustics, which was passed off as a Physics class. Sure it was four hours a day, but as someone used to-- let us say traditional-- science classes, it was a bit of a walkover. My final essay, titled "It Goes To Eleven: A Scientific Comparison of Solid-State and Tube Guitar Amplifiers," garnered me an A-. Go go Liberal Arts!

He's a complicated man.

This J-Term was my equivalent of a debutante ball. I roomed with Andy May, down the hall from Wade V. and Dan Motschenbacher. They showed me how to properly celebrate the month of January-- binge drinking. The four of us threw in $25 at the beginning of the month, and "acquired" several bottles of booze. Our goal was to serve a different drink every night. We succeeded, somehow, yet were left with a full liter of tequila at the end of the month. We experienced the following highlights during this month: Andy passing out in the shower, several viewings of Shaft (the Richard Roundtree version), more broomball, and the Wade&Wade show on KSTO. Good stuff; I deserve an A.

Junior Year: January 1997

I'm not sure why, but I spent most of this J-Term by myself. Most of it was due to my class, Classic English Literature. To keep pace, I had to spend five hours a day reading-- this was not the kind of class you could get away with not doing the homework. So instead of chilling with Wade V. or Dan, I hung out with Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. It was enlightening, if not fun. This was also during the Best Intentions golden age, so I spent every weekend off campus. Other than listening to Gear Daddies bootlegs and drinking lots of Surge (it was only 25 cents for a bottle), I don't have a lot of memories of this one. Booooo. c-

Senior Year: January 1998

And you thought Junior year was bad. Here was my thought process (apparently) when deciding what do to for J-Term that year:

Fun fun fun

What's the point of enjoying my final J-Term while relaxing, sipping cocktails, and taking a class that won't challenge me? Howzabout I do an internship! Yeah, that's the ticket. I'll live in Lakeville and work in Woodbury! That way I'll get to enjoy all of the fun things about the working world-- commuting, waking up early, stress, cubicles-- earlier than my friends!

I never claimed to be a genius.

Let's just write off this J-Term. It wasn't any fun whatsoever, and I really am not sure what variety of crack I was on to think this would be better than chilling in Northfield. My incorrect decision-making here is astounding.

Anyhow, my point (yes I have one) is this: we should encorporate a country-wide J-Term. Everyone would be required to take a month off (that way no business could gain a competitive advantage, you crazy capitalists) to pursue interests other than their daily work. Can you imagine? Not only would we get a month to stay up late, sleep late, and enjoy the vocation of our choice, we'd likely be energized and refreshed on our return to work in February.

Yeah, I know it'll never happen. Fun to think about, though. There's got to be a way that I can watch Shaft over the 'net while at work, right?



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