It is dark. The day has finally slipped away, and an eerie silence has fallen over campus. Outside, life has become deathly still apart from several solo travelers hurrying beneath the glow of the streetlamps. Two girls sit awake in a room. As the clock’s neon numbers flash midnight, the girl on the futon raises her head to say, “It’s starting.” Suddenly a shrill scream rips through the silence, followed by a chorus of shouts, yells and moans. Could this be the thrilling introduction to a terrifying cinematic masterpiece or simply the night of exam week for 46,000 students at Michigan State University?
As December rolls around, college students, young and old, experience the mad rush of fall semester finals. The library becomes the new hot spot and coffee is the drink of choice as students buckle down and forsake sleep for grade point averages. At MSU, exam week means a level of stress so high that it can only be released in the form of an ear-splitting scream.
The Midnight Scream is a study tradition that is quite unconventional. Although its origin is unknown, students have observed this nightly ritual for years. The tradition begins Sunday at midnight, the night of the first exam, continuing through to the end of the week.
In order to scream properly, a student must follow several steps. The first stage is to add an unhealthy amount of caffeine to the bloodstream, making screaming a plausible option for stress relief. Sugary soft drinks plus strong coffee equal one late night. The next step is to choose a prime location from which to scream. Freshman media arts major Michael Daniels saw people all over in the Brody Complex. “At twelve, I could see people in more than just the doors and their rooms but also in the stairwells and lobbies,” he said. Once a student has picked his or her location, there is only one thing left to do: scream.
Students approached the scream in various ways. The Yakeley dorm seemed to reach a high decibel, and the circular shape of Brody Complex only amplified the screams. Some preferred a short and sweet shout, while others favored lengthy conversations, cursing the very existence of exam week. “Two doors down, a kid was blasting ‘Poker Face,’ […] and we could see one room in the hall across from us flashing their lights like a strobe light,” said Alyssa Simpson, a freshman journalism major living in Case Hall.
For freshmen, fall finals are foreign territory. With the new stresses of college courses and an indecent amount of homework, this week can be one of the most difficult. “I would describe exams as stressful and frustrating,” freshman education major Julia McLean said. “Because as a freshman, it was hard to anticipate what to expect from my exams.” She said that she studied an average of eight to nine hours each day in preparation for her exams.
Luckily, finding this new level of stress was balanced out by an opportunity to release every pent up emotion. Simpson described the scream as “exhilarating, relieving and obnoxious.”
“[It was] louder than I thought it would be,” freshman media arts major Joshua Michels said. The Midnight Scream had its own Facebook event, inviting people from all over State’s campus to join in.
However, Facebook events were not always so widely used. Not every senior had the luxury of knowing about the Midnight Scream as a freshman. “I will never forget it,” music senior Melissa Butman said. “I was sitting at my desk on the very first night, and all of a sudden people started yelling and screaming at midnight. I really had no idea what was going on.” Many of the seniors only heard about the Midnight Scream after a startling first exam night as freshmen.
After three years of practice, the seniors have finally gotten the hang of college life. All day study sessions and all night cramming are no longer an abnormal part of college life. “The day before, I spent all day studying for the two exams that I had,” Butman said, making a ten hour study session seem like a walk in the park.
Despite the gap between freshmen and seniors of age and experience, exams require hours of study no matter what stage of college a student is at. The Midnight Scream serves as a unifying event for State’s student body. Daniels said, “When a lot of people participate in something like this […], it is good to have the feeling that you are not alone and that others are doing the same thing you are.” Through this simple experience, students from freshmen to fifth year share the feeling of stress, along with a gratifying release.
More than a silly diversion from studying, the Midnight Scream may be a healthy stress reliever for fall exams. According to the online medical information site WebMD, one of the best ways to relieve stress is to “let out your feelings.” The site said to, “Talk, laugh, cry and express anger when you need to.” Simpson seconded this opinion. “I [felt] a lot better!” she said. “Now that I got it out of my system, I could focus more, and I felt ready to concentrate.”
In the stress of exam week, it is important to remember a little balance. By doing something a little crazy and setting aside our academics for just a moment, students of every age have the opportunity to connect over a common experience. It fulfills our need for enjoyment on a basic level, and best of all, as Daniels puts it, “a minute of acting like a caveman never hurt anybody.”