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Photo Essay: Up All Night

Sometimes you find yourself in the library at 2 a.m. You’re hungry, tired, and still haven’t finished your math homework. There’s no motivation left to do anything but you know you still need to complete this homework if you want to preserve that GPA. 

What’s the sacrifice you need to make? It is probably sleeping. I am no exception to this phenomenon. I’ve unintentionally watched the sunrise and trekked back from the library at 4 in the morning. There are 24 hours in a day and sometimes I use all of them. These photos offer a glimpse into the life at college that goes on after it’s already too late, the life that most people don’t get to see because they do something healthy and normal like sleeping.

It is natural for people to see what they want to see in photographs. All college brochures feature the same general types of photos. There’s a sports photo from one of the teams in celebration. There’s a photo of a group of racially diverse students sitting on the grass on a warm day studying. There is also probably a picture of a student with a white lab coat working in a lab. Although these are pleasant photos to look at, they fail to capture what students are doing after the sun has set. They aren’t capturing the other half of student life. 

There’s a common sequence of events that can occur on any given night. This is reflected in the order of these photos. I start by studying alone in the library. I come back to my dorm usually between 12 and 1 a.m. I walk around and talk to a few of my friends who are struggling with their own work before I think about my late-night food options. If enough people are hungry, then we’ll usually order pizza. Otherwise, I end up cooking ramen for myself. Most people have gone to bed by 2 to 3 a.m. but there’s always someone that stays up just as late as me. We might mess around and talk about our lives before we finally go to bed. 

In my short time living at college, I have observed that sleep is the most neglected activity for most students. It is certainly not true for everyone.

There are the few who always get plenty of sleep and still manage to do all the things they want to do in a day. However, most students will still revel in the idea of an extra hour or two of sleep.

My advice to future college students: stay up late for the right reasons. Stay up late because you actually have so much work that you cannot do it in the morning. Stay up late if you are in a conversation with your friends that could go on forever. Stay up late if you are enjoying what you are doing.

If you are up because of something you procrastinated earlier in the day, you know what you have to do next time. If you are staying up because it seems normal to you, change the norm. I can assure you right now that staying up late is normal in college. Do not beat yourself up if you are mad or sad that you had to stay up late because of homework. We are all in the same struggle. If you think you are staying up too late and not getting enough sleep, I’m right there with you. 

Capturing these photos allow me to reflect on staying up late in a humorous way. It eases the stress I feel at 2 a.m. a little bit. It is easier to sleep at night knowing that the little sleep I get is the norm for other people too.

Channing Wang is midway through his first year at Rice University in Houston, Texas.