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Breaking all the rules one last time

BACK IN the day before his uber-politico status, Tom Bednar was my editor. He taught me the cardinal rule of op-ed writing: Never let "I" or emotions play too big a role in an article. I listened to him for two and a half years. Now it's time to break the rules.

You see, with fourth year comes certain privileges: crying without feeling stupid the last time you hear the VGs sing "Lonesome Road," enjoying a glass of wine on the Lawn, or being rather bitter in your last real article so that you can be exceedingly sappy in the last last one.

First, despite my frequent criticism, understand how much I love this place. Coming in as an out-of-state first year, I was awed by the stateliness of the columns on the Lawn, the coolness of the sudden appearances of the 7s and the Zs, and the idea that even this magnificent Rotunda was somehow mine too, just because I was a student. Leaving now, four years later, I find myself humming a line from Simon and Garfunkel: "After changes upon changes we are more or less the same." Things have changed - my criticisms were honest and heartfelt. But the Lawn still stands, students still beg to be U-Guides, the passage of the new Standards of Conduct is a small reminder that student self-governance still exists, and Rugby Road still bounces on Thursday nights.

With fourth year comes its privileges. One of those is my editors not being able to tell me that I can't do what I'm about to do.

I'd like to thank President John T. Casteen III and all his administrators for their attempts to make this place even better. Even if I haven't always agreed with their decisions, I think their intentions have been good. Thanks to all those who have put up with my abuse, taken my questions and most importantly listened. Dean Laushway - thanks for putting such a friendly human face on the Dean of Students Office. Profs. Quandt, Owen, Elzinga and Rhoads: Thanks for inspiring me and helping me figure out that law school was not the only option. Prof. Waldner and fellow "dumpers," thanks for making me think and push myself. And Prof. Sofka, thanks for being so patient, so giving, and for making me realize that the ivory tower isn't that tall after all, nor hard to climb.

But an education is not just school - there is much to learn about life that cannot be gained in any lecture. Thank you to all those involved with the University Judiciary Committee - you taught me how to think on my feet, keep my cool no matter how nuts the parties got, and what politics really does to and for an organization. Thanks to certain someones for late nights at White Spot, Frisbee in the hallway, making me an insomniac for real, and soccer in the trial room.

To my friends at the Center for Governmental Studies - most of all I'm proud of you. Age really doesn't matter. I learned more than I ever expected - how to stay calm when the sound system doesn't work, a guest is an hour late, The Hotline still can't find Larry, and even when Brett is driving to Waffle House. Once again, you know who you are, and I thank you for mid-day 7-Eleven, frogs on the ceiling, the romper room, 5:00 DJ Doug, "help Rak-eesh my computer's dead," AMWAY, and the wonder that was Shad Planking.

Before all of this, though, I was sitting at home holding two of the greatest gifts a kid can have: the opportunity to go to college, and two parents who love me so dearly they made sure that my ego was healthy, my heart was in the right place, and I was completely secure no matter how far I went from home. My mom had taught me (and continues to) how to be feminine and professional, and how to balance a family with a healthy ambition. My dad taught me about unconditional love, patience, diplomacy and what it means to really love your wife. I was writing my admissions essay to U.Va. despite the fact that my guidance counselors told me I wouldn't get in, and I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel.

What they say is true - we do move too fast, and it is so important to make the morning last. My friends have helped me do just that. First-year hallmates opened my eyes to how similar yet how different we all are. Lefevre was nuts, but I'd never trade her for anything - Halloween rumors or not.

My girls - you know how much I care about you, but if there was ever any doubt, here ya go. I'll always remember interpretive dance breaks, Castle runs, crossword puzzles, drunken wemais, random car trips, singing at the top of our lungs to "my new favorite song," quotes, I can't believe we made the plane, and another picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. Thank you so much for looking for fun with me, and feeling groovy.

Mike, you can stop reading now and go back to saving the country. Thank you for my weekly Wednesday e-mail and the (mostly) fair criticism, but I'm about to get all sappy about your son (stop gagging and go back to work).

Yes, my love, I will marry you in August. Despite the fact that our time here together was short, it also included one of your wisest moments, shared over an intimate table at littlejohn's: It doesn't have to be easy; it just has to be good. My time here has not always been easy, but it has been wonderful. I won't turn my head over my shoulder but once - to stare back at the Rotunda the day of graduation and know that it's still, and always will be, mine too.

(Emily Harding was a 1999-2001 opinion columnist.)