IF I SCRATCH the cobwebs from my mind, I think I can remember back to that warm spring afternoon before my first year of college. I came home with the anticipation of receiving that fateful letter from Mr. Jefferson's University that was supposed to arrive. The word had come, and the word looked good--it was a fat envelope. This was the moment I had been waiting for since I received my first Ralph Sampson basketball jersey back in 1983.
A few months later, Sabra, one of my best friends from high school, and I made the drive from the cornfields of Indiana out to Charlottesville. Looking back, it was one of the scarier moments of my life, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Somewhere along the line in the past three years, someone came to the belief that I was in a position to impart some type of knowledge to incoming first-year students. But why would you really want my so-called knowledge? I'll be perfectly honest--after three years at this institution, I think I know far less than when I got dropped off at a doorstep on Alderman Road. But that is because I have discovered so much that I didn't realize existed before.
Come here and find out what I mean. There aren't words for what you will get out of a U.Va. education. Academic deans and advisors will tell you that everything is learned in the classroom. It's not. But I will let you in on some of the aspects of Mr. Jefferson's University that make this place great. It's not perfect by any means, but it's pretty damn good.
To fall in love with this University, though, you'll need to do a few things during the journey. The following are 10 things that I think you need to do before your time in Charlottesville expires. Take 'em, or leave 'em. That's up to you. But these are my suggestions (drum roll, please):
Find your passions. I think this is the most important thing you could do in your time at U.Va. Find what you love to do, and do it. Whether you love to climb mountains, be involved in student government, or drink pints of Guinness with your best friend over a game of spades, this is the time and the place to do it. It doesn't matter if your passions are things you do or the people you spend time with. But carry yourself as far as you can. Dive in deep and explore the possibilities.
Take Professor Larry Sabato's Government 101 class. Mr. Sabato is pretty much the man around Wahoo country. There are certain classes that you need to take before leaving. Not just Construction Management, Mental Health and Astronomy 124. These are all great classes--but c'mon George, you know better than that. Expand your mind. That's why you are coming here. Take classes outside of your interests, or what you think your interests are. And hey--Politics is a pretty good thing.
Have Thanksgiving dinner at the Elzinga's. Every fall, Professor Kenneth Elzinga invites all of the students in his Economics 201 class to Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Pavilion IV. This is one of the most generous offers I have heard of around Charlottesville. It is also a great opportunity to meet a great man in a personal setting. You can talk to your professors. You can even go to dinner at their homes. Keep this in mind as you go through the next four years. Besides, from what I hear, Mrs. Elzinga can cook up a damn good turkey. And believe me, Elzinga's dog Rotunda isn't the only one around Grounds asking for scraps.
Eat a late night Gus Burger at the White Spot with Elvis. You'll have to figure this one out on your own.
Go to U.Va. sporting events. First of all, the sporting events are free, which is always a relief on the poor college student's budget. But sports at U.Va. are fun. And we have some teams that are pretty damn good, as well. Of course, go to the football games. Dress up, get rowdy, you'll learn the drill. But also check out the national champion lacrosse team (Just a suggestion for Midwesterners: Take someone from Long Island along--the game will make more sense). The men's and women's soccer teams are perennial NCAA powerhouses; and the women's basketball team can turn some heads. And the men's basketball team is well on their way, thanks to the new leadership of Pete Gillen.
Get outdoors. Charlottesville is only 30 minutes from some beautiful mountain scenery. Go to Humpback Rock, or camp in the Blue Ridge--not all the wildlife occurs on Rugby Road. Even people from The Big Apple or Beantown should take the next four years to experience the outdoors. You'll have plenty of time to sit in that cushy little corner office the rest of your life.
Do the U.Va. thing. While I don't encourage anyone to conform to the U.Va. stereotype, there are a few traditions you might need to know. Alumni and current students always talk about traditions around this place. And the torch is about to come your way. Don't let us down. Go to Tom Deluca the first Friday you are here. And the Foxfield Races are a must for any Hokie-fearing Wahoo. It is where beautiful people tend to get ugly. The drinks flow, the sun shines, and someone told me once that there were horses running around somewhere. I still haven't found them, though.
Get Nekkid! Kiss Homer's little green hiney--figure that one out on your own as well.
Get busted. You'll arrive in late August and see the wonderful ladies and gentlemen who are U.Va.'s finest: Parking and Transportation. They are so nice on move in day ... they let you park in the medians, give you 30 minute spaces in Bonnycastle Circle, and perhaps they will even give directions. Don't be fooled. These are evil, evil people. If you park your vehicle anywhere questionable around Grounds, they will find you. They will track you down and they will fine you. And the first time they try to be nice by issuing a warning ticket. Be warned: they are onto your scent.
Along the same lines, few students make it through four years in Charlottesville without getting stung by the lovely state troopers along Route 29. Of course, for the record, U.Va. students don't really mind doubling the general revenue for Madison, Greene and Culpeper Counties, now do we?
Wear the Honor of Honors--Graduate from the University of Virginia. There is a poem by James Hay, Jr. that you'll hear over and over from people like Hunter Ferguson, the Honor Committee Chairman. If you walk down the Lawn and see Rhodes Ritenour concluding his tour, you're bound to hear about the purple shadows of the Lawn. Graduation day 2003 is at the end of the tunnel. Are you going to be there?
Of course, each of you has already passed your first test. By coming here, you've made one of the best decisions of your life. You're pretty much guaranteed a great education. And if you try just a little, you are guaranteed to have the best time of your life. Most of you will be away from home for the first time in your life, and that brings opportunities by itself. But so many more opportunities await. This is your chance to grow both
intellectually and socially.
I look forward to seeing each of you in the next year. Come, study hard, and excel academically. That is, after all, the fundamental reason for each of us attending U.Va. But we are Wahoos. And Wahoos work hard and play hard. Stop and smell the roses every once in a while. Have fun while you're here, and don't take yourself too seriously. This is the only chance you will ever get to do the college thing. Take advantage of it.
This is a great place, with great traditions, and great people. But to really fall in love with the place, you need to attack each day, and not waste a heartbeat. I still think that Indiana is a great place, but I have a new home here. God's country is right in the heart of what was once James Monroe's plantation.
Good luck, and I'll see you on move-in day. My truck will be the one parked on McCormick Road with the ticket.
(Brock Jolly is a rising fourth-year College student. He is the Student Council vice president for administration.)