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Making the last time ...

After 16 years of textbooks, term papers and exams, fourth-year students have reached the beginning of the end. In just eight short months, the Class of 2002 will walk down the Lawn, fling their caps in the air, wipe away tears and leave the University and their longtime student status behind.

"I don't feel old enough. I don't feel like it should be at this point in my life," said fourth-year Nursing student Lindsay Tatum, voicing the sentiment of many of her classmates.

"Over the years, there is a split between students who are so eager to get out and get on with life and other people for whom college is its own experience," said Dean of Students Penny Rue. "The sense of loss these students experience is profound."

With the last first day of school, the last Tom DeLuca show and the last Rotunda Sing, the past week has made some fourth years wish they could stick around for another year.

"I don't want to graduate," said Fourth-Year Class President Portman Wills. "The last Rotunda Sing was one that really hit me because this year it was my friends singing, not just some cool upperclassmen."

Wills also recalled looking up at the people on stage at his first-year convocation on the Lawn three years ago. This year, he was the one on stage, looking out at "all these lucky people who get to go through college again."

The month of May will not only bring the end of college life, but the end of the long era of formal education for many fourth years.

Fourth-year Education student Becky Stratton fondly reflected on her school memories ranging from back-to-school supply shopping to skipping study hall to eat lunch with her high school friends.

"I remember the first few weeks of first year and getting ready to go out to Rugby ... bonding with my suitemates," Stratton said.

Student Council President Abby Fifer vividly remembered sitting on her childhood bedroom floor the night before the first day of school every year, agonizing as she strategically organized her supplies.

"The bookbag had to be perfect," Fifer said.

But other than the childlike thrill that comes from raiding the school supply shelves at Staples, fourth years will lose some things they may have taken for granted, like three-month long summer vacations and basic classroom etiquette.

"No one raises their hand" in the real world, observed Wills. "It has been a pattern of our existence for the past 16 years."

Tatum said she will miss the constant opportunity to meet new people that school provides.

"I'll miss living in a college town where everything is right here," Tatum added.

Fourth-year Engineering student Jeff Ludwig agreed.

"Everyone here is your age," he said. "I'll definitely miss the numerous opportunities to meet people."

The prospect of having just one year of school remaining tends to throw some fourth years into a list-making frenzy of things to do or accomplish before graduation.

"I've never actually been to Monticello," said Fifer, referring to her own "To Do" list. "I don't believe in streaking the Lawn, but I do think I will streak the football field ... that's different. I want to ride up and down the boards in the Chem auditorium."

"I definitely want to take a camping trip," said Stratton of her list, which also included streaking the Lawn and eating a Gusburger at the White Spot.

Wills nixed the Lawn streaking tradition but said he planned to go cliff jumping and steam tunneling.

"I really want to steal and ride one of those maintenance golf carts," he added mischievously.

Quirky traditions and challenges aside, fourth years are left with only one year to leave their marks on the University.

"Over the last six years, I've dealt with a lot of fourth years who were emotionally distraught," Asst. Dean of Students Aaron Laushway said. "I tell them to look at the ways in which you've made a difference, ways you've supported the University."

Laushway advised all fourth years to get involved and promote fundamental University values to first-year students.

"All U.Va. students make a difference and leave a legacy whatever that legacy may be," he said.

Rue encouraged all fourth years to find an opportunity to do independent research with a faculty member, an experience they may never again have the chance to pursue.

Rue also said she wished she had made a plan to stay in touch with friends after college and advised fourth years to "leave the University with no unfinished business."

Economics Prof. Ken Elzinga also had sound advice for fourth years on the academic and personal level.

"For students who have never done any serious writing, they should do that in their fourth year," he said.

Elzinga also advised fourth years to heavily and intentionally invest in their current friendships on the chance that they might just last a lifetime.

"I made some very dear friends in school," Elzinga said, recalling his fourth year of college when his tennis doubles partner suggested they keep in touch. "This began a correspondence of hundreds of letters that deepened the friendship that lasted over 30 years."

Elzinga advises fourth years, some of whom are his neighbors on the Lawn, to enjoy the flexibility of college life while it lasts.

"There is this freedom as an undergraduate you might not appreciate until you graduate," he said.

"The grind of work is hard to prepare for," Rue pointed out.

And so the countdown to the real world grind has begun and fourth years have limited time to live it up at the University.

"You should take advantage of the structured programming that is handed to you on a platter," Wills said. "Spend as much time as possible with your friends and relationships. This is your time to kick back and relax."

But Fifer warned against a complete senior slump.

"Do something meaningful with your time here. Don't retire," she said. "When you leave, make sure people miss you."

Ludwig summed up the emotions of many fourth years with a unique idea for a class project.

"Definitely we need to make a time machine that slows down time so the year goes by as slow as possible," he said with a laugh.


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