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Savoring rich experiences as last semester begins

NOTHING happened! After I spent an entire semester studying the history of America's obsession with an impending apocalypse, the latest millennial craze ended without so much as a blip on the television screen. Fireworks cascaded from the Eiffel Tower, surrounded the Egyptian pyramids and illuminated the Mall in Washington, D.C., but the massive worldwide destruction some feared never came to pass.

I feel somewhat sorry for those who spent so much time anticipating and preparing for potential disaster at the year's end. The eve of the new millennium should have been celebrated by enjoying a long evening of festivities with family and friends, not dreading the end of the world.

After having one of the best New Year's Eves in recent memory, I decided I needed to enjoy the coming year itself as much as I had enjoyed ushering it in. Watching "Dead Poet's Society" only strengthened my resolve to seize the day. As I listened to Robin Williams whisper to his on-screen students, it seemed his message could have been directed at me just as easily. "Carpe diem ... Carpe diem."

So many fourth-year students have returned to Charlottesville with an incredulity about their impending graduation that barely veils feelings of apprehension, intimidation and even fear about entering the "real world." Leaving the University bubble will come as a shock - and the end of the world as we know it.

During the past week, questions about Winter Break activity, New Year's Eve events and a fresh semester of classes have monopolized University small talk. Come February, however, the "What are you doing after graduation?" query will return - and with a vengeance. Though three months remain until we re-trace our convocation steps, fourth years see the end looming.

Denial seems a common coping mechanism, while extravagant graduation party-planning allows for a "keeping yourself occupied" approach to ignoring the inevitable. Many don't want to think about departing from the University, even if they have definite post-graduation plans in place. Though dwelling on the approaching end does nothing but invoke bittersweet nostalgia, reminding yourself that your days here are numbered actually can create a more complete University experience.

The possibility for procrastination has ended - with one final semester left, all the experiences you've been putting off must come to pass now. Never streaked the Lawn? Warm spring evenings will be here before you know it, so get ready to disrobe and make the trek. Never visited a professor in office hours just to chat? It's your last chance to interact one-on-one with some of the most amazing educators in the country.

The infamous work hard/play hard dichotomy of University life should define the essence of your last months in this place. In your final academic hurrah, make the effort to learn something this semester, even if you aren't so worried about ye olde GPA these days. In your final months of immersion in a group of friends cultivated during the past four years, make time for those who mean the most. Yes, we all lead busy lives at the University. But upon leaving the protective bubble of Charlottesville, real life - with all its responsibility and accountability - will put our whirlwind U.Va. lives in perspective.

In another "Dead Poet's Society" moment, Williams reminds his students that they all will die some day - that they must "suck the marrow out of life" while they have the chance. Though departure from the University can't compare with death as a motivation to seize the day, it remains inevitable and alarming.

Rather than a reason for lamentation, graduation usually entails celebration and the commemoration of four years of hard work. The joy of the occasion should not be overshadowed by regrets about things left undone, unsaid or unfinished. On May 21, our leases on University life officially expire, but we should be able to leave with a smile of contentment rather than a sigh of regret.

I'm not sure I believe the old cliché that calls college the best four years of life. I do know, however, that I will never again have an experience like the one I've found here. There is something special about Mr. Jefferson's University, though its flaws constantly challenge us to work for improvement. Passing the torches of leadership allow University institutions to remain fresh and invigorated, while allowing those on their way out of the community to sit back and enjoy its splendor.

Fourth years must, of course, worry about the future and where their University degrees will take them. But they also must value the time between now and then, spending it wisely and filling it with memorable moments. This chapter of life soon will end - make the last pages worth the wait.

(Amy Startt's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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