As students wrap up their exams for the semester, we asked alumni to share finals week memories. You responded in droves with a mix of wild, funny, and heartwarming stories—with some common themes. ❤️🐻 Read a sampling of our favorites.
“The spring of ’08, I had picked up a ball of gourmet cheese on the cheap but had no cutting board. ‘No matter,’ I thought, ‘I’ll just hold the cheese in my hand [while I cut it].’ Big mistake. Despite the best efforts of my animal science hallmate, I ended up at Cayuga Medical Center getting six stitches in my finger the night before my applied algebra final. The injury was to my non-dominant hand, so all went well [on the final], but for weeks I was reminded that people end up in the hospital when I cut the cheese.” —Chris Romeo ’10
“For 43 years, I have had a recurring nightmare about taking my organic chemistry final. I discovered that I had fallen asleep in the final, only to wake up and find that I had less than five minutes to complete the entire exam. I have had this nightmare at least twice each year since 1976. Whenever I have it, my wife looks at me in the morning and says, “Orgo again?” In reality, I did not fall asleep in the exam. To this day, I wonder how I ever got a C+ in that class.” —Randall Nixon ’78
“In 1976, I almost failed my thermodynamics final in the spring semester of my sophomore year as a Cornell Engineering student,” says Michael Rogers ’78.
Michael was surprised by his emotions, and decided to look into the career assessment program at Cornell to see if something other than engineering might be a better fit.
“With my girlfriend’s support (now wife of 45 years) I discovered that the career that best met my aptitude and interests was social work! As an engineering student, finals were times of isolation, lack of sleep, overwhelming fear of failure, and self-hatred. I had no idea that there was a counseling center and that my student fees would pay for therapy to help me with these overwhelming feelings of letting my family down and of dread that I was a failure,” he says.
“But in May 1976 I was not sad, surly, and depressed. I was energized, optimistic, and relieved. Thermodynamics did not demolish me. With the support of Pam Marrone ’78, a handful of friends, and Cornell’s career assessment program, I had a realistic plan in place and I made it through my crucible. Other than marrying Pam, it was the best decision of my life.” —Michael Rogers ’78
“When people think of finals at Cornell, stress, anxiety, exhaustion, etc. are often the words that come to mind. But I remember late nights ordering pizza to the dorms, bonding with my classmates, and tons of laughter (and even a couple of tears), so I hope today’s students see finals as an opportunity to get closer to their peers and develop lifelong friendships!” —Lori Greene ’92
Michelle (Sellig) Fellows ’95 was balancing a full class load, a 20-hour week at the Undergraduate Admissions Office, and sorority officer duties. A statistics class she needed for her major wasn’t going well.
“The final was heavily weighted, so I knew I could bring my grade up if I could just figure out the subject matter. I went to the Kroch Library and buried myself in some corner and studied and studied until I had that ‘I got it’ moment, got an A on the final and a B in the class,” Michelle says.
“That is the ultimate academic achievement for me. I had never struggled and certainly never contemplated failing a class. But grit, determination, and a quiet place to study helped me out.” —Michelle (Sellig) Fellows ’95
“In my final semester, I found myself struggling to remember what test was due when as I scurried about finishing all requirements to graduate. That semester was my best ever because I realized that I had finally mastered the art of test taking. The sense of accomplishment I felt at that time led me to set my goals higher (and achieve them) than I ever thought possible.” —Robert Allen ’79
“A dream saved me from getting a 0 on a 400 level Econ course,” says Jason L. Wyatt ’02. Jason and a friend planned to review lecture notes before their exam—which they believed was scheduled for 2:00 p.m.
“That night, I had an ultra-vivid dream that I was sitting in class on the first day. As I glanced at the syllabus in my hands, the cameraman in my dream zoomed in on the date and start time of the Final Exam. The start time read: ‘8 A.M. SHARP.’ I awoke groggily and thought, Wow, that was a weird dream. It must be anxiety about being unprepared for the test…”
Jason decided to double-check the original syllabus. “I got out of bed… and, with the music from the shower scene in Psycho playing in my head, I almost fell over when I saw that the syllabus did, in fact, list the final exam start time as 8:00 a.m.”
Jason and his friend hurried over, and made it to the exam just in time. “We both got a B+.” —Jason L. Wyatt ’02
“I was a very strong student in Arts and Sciences at Cornell in the Class of 1960. I majored in music. One of my professors was Dr. Donald Grout. I had to hand in an essay on a specific piece of music, and I chose Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Quixote. For the only time in my college career, I pulled an all-nighter and brought the finished essay to Dr. Grout in person the next morning, a day late. (I think I even cried.) I had borrowed a small score of the piece from the library and I had written all over it in pencil (including a complete description of the harmonic sequences, which were very complicated in Strauss). I had intended to erase this mess afterwards but I just didn’t get around to it and brought it back to the library as it was. When Dr. Grout returned my essay (with a big fat A on it), included was the book, which he had bought from the library to give to me as a gift! I still have it, 64 years later, and cherish it.” —Judith (Judy) Singer Bercuvitz ’60
Tammy Tobin ’85 overslept, and arrived at her wildlife biology exam just as students were turning in their blue books. “I think I still had pillow face,” she says.
“My professor listened to my panicked story and then asked me if I had any money on me. I found 50 cents in my pocket and held it out to him. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘Go downstairs and buy yourself a cup of coffee and a bagel. Come to my office when you have had a chance to calm down.’ (The fact that a cup of coffee and a bagel could be purchased for 50 cents should tell you how long ago that was.)”
Her professor let her take the exam, and she passed the class. “When I thanked him profusely, he looked me in the eye and told me that one day I’d be in the position to pass it on, and I should remember that moment and do so. As a professor, I had many opportunities to remember that moment and to channel his compassion. I did pass it on. Good luck with finals week!” —Tammy Tobin ’85
“Maggie (Margaret Holland ’68) and I had planned to marry in Anabel Taylor Chapel on Saturday of finals week,” says Richard Gibson ’68. “I had a final at the same time of the planned wedding! After some negotiations, I was able to take it early.”
A fire in the chapel meant the wedding was rescheduled to Sage Chapel, and the minister couldn’t make it—so the couple also had to find a substitute.
“We had to double up, and weddings were every 30 minutes! The following week we returned to attend graduation—and 55 years later, we are still together!” —Richard Gibson ’68 and Margaret H. Gibson ’68
“Unbeknownst to me, my Art History final exam was moved [from the afternoon] to 8:00 a.m. I called the professor and offered to run over immediately for the exam, but since the exam required that she show slides, she put us off but gave it to us as a take-home (which was quite unusual at that time.) I still cringe when I think about missing the final. I made sure that never happened in grad school.” —Lauren B. Silfen ’82
“On December 7, 1972, during finals week for the fall semester, I skipped town to witness the launch of the last Saturn V, at Kennedy Space Center,” says F.X. Flinn ’75. “I was an 18-year-old sophomore at Cornell, a staff photographer for the Cornell Daily Sun, and I had grabbed a piece of Sun letterhead and typed a letter to NASA, requesting a press pass in October. To my amazement, NASA approved my request for credentials.”
Without accommodations or ground transportation set up, F.X. planned to hitchhike and sleep on the beach. “This was, of course, madness,” he says.
But a series of fortunate encounters meant he was able to stay with a friend and fellow Sun reporter who’d also flown down for the launch. “Looking back on this 50 years later,” he says, “I have been more interested in talking about all the small miracles that made it easy for me to witness this stupendous event.”
The most difficult part of the trip? F.X. says it was “hitchhiking from Syracuse back to Ithaca. It was cold and snowing and I didn’t really have my heavy winter coat. But after two or three hours, I was back in my dorm and cracked open the books for finals week, which would start the next day.” —F.X. Flinn ’75
“Three finals in one day! What bad scheduling luck! All three finals were in Barton Hall, where I sat up close to one end of the six-foot tables pictured. By the late afternoon’s third exam, I was really fatigued. About halfway through, I laid my head down on my crossed arms on the table to ‘think’ about the answer. I promptly dozed off. Thankfully, the unknown classmate at the other end of the table noticed my lack of activity. Using the heels of both of his hands, he shoved his end of the table toward me. My end of the table hit my chest, and I was immediately jolted awake. I hurried to finish writing that essay and finished the exam just as time was up. I never learned who that other student was, but I surely owe him part of my GPA.” —Paul C. Goldsmith ’66, PhD
“I graduated in 1990 and received my MHA from the Sloan Program. I did my whole career in Hartford, CT, and came back to Sloan to teach three years ago. My best finals week will always be getting into the second row of the Dead & Company concert #Cornell23. I’ll become a grandmother for the first time soon. You are never too old. ‘Buy the tickets!’” —Cathy Bartell MHA ’90
“What kept me going as a student wasn’t just ‘studying.’ My fellow students, all the many thousands of them, were there, too. This time of year in Ithaca is like no other place in the world. There was never a shortage of good company during study week to help you manage the thing together. If students are reading this, soak up the experience! It’s one of the tough things in your life you’ll grow to remember you loved!” —Robert Wood ’80