Six years ago today, during my very first year at Augustana, one of my high school friends committed suicide.

The news blindsided me; I still remember getting up the morning after it happened, eating breakfast, taking a shower, brushing my teeth, going through my morning routine as if everything was normal.  I still remember sitting down on my bed, scrolling through my Facebook feed, killing time before I had to go to class…and then finding out, from a simple post on Facebook, that my friend was gone.

It was overwhelming.  I didn’t know what to do.  This was the first time I’d lost someone even remotely close; I didn’t have the slightest clue how to move forward having heard news like this.  I’d never felt so empty, so powerless, so alone.

And you want to know what else?  I had a math midterm to write that morning.  Before I’d had any time to process the news, to even step out of my shell-shock and begin working through my grief, I had to go to the school and write a midterm.

I actually did well on that midterm, all things considered (I got a B+, if I remember right).  But I should not have been there writing that midterm; there was no way I could have done as well as I could on that test considering the circumstances.  Perhaps, because I got the news of my friend’s death so soon before the test was scheduled, I thought it was too late to change anything, too late to talk with my prof and arrange to write the midterm at a different time.  However, what I didn’t fully realize then (and am definitely more aware of now) is that our profs are generally quite willing to make concessions for extreme circumstances.  Getting the sniffles or sleeping in too late are legitimately bad reasons to ask to write a test a different day.  Just finding out your friend died, though?  I’m fairly confident now that, if I’d have asked my prof six years ago to reschedule the midterm, he would have accommodated me.

I’m telling this story for two reasons.  The first, of course, is to honour the memory of my friend.  He was a great guy who was gone far too soon.  The second, though, is perhaps the more poignant, as well as probably the more relevant to you, the students of today; it’s to remind everyone reading this that it’s OK to ask for help.  Sometimes, the burdens of life become too heavy to bear, and more often than not that’s outside of your control.

Sometimes, life throws stuff at us that we can’t handle on our own.  Whether you’re struggling with personal demons, someone close to you is going through a particularly rough time, or even if you’ve lost a friend, this kind of thing happens sometimes.  The good news, though, is that you don’t have to handle the burden alone, nor do you have to push what you’re dealing with aside in the name of academic success.  It’s good to push yourself, but only to an extent.  If you’re dealing with something bigger than school, it’s OK to step back and admit you need some time.

If you’re going through something serious, most profs – heck, most people – will understand.

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