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Strength in numbers

Coming together as a fourth-year community

At the ends of the emails she sends students in response to tragedy, University President Teresa Sullivan typically emphasizes how we must “come together as a community.” Though this advice seems appropriate in theory, in practice it is difficult for people to cultivate an environment in which they share complex emotions without fear of judgment or imposition. It is easy to engage in social activities that circumvent the pain of tragedy, but it is not so easy to collectively confront this pain with informal dialogue.

At the same time, I can’t discredit the sentiment behind President Sullivan’s counsel in less dire situations. If there’s one thing being a fourth-year has taught me, it’s that sometimes the only thing left to hold onto is the reassurance that my peer community is just as lost and afraid as I am.

Balancing a full course load with post-grad preparation has been one of the most stressful things I’ve ever had to do. College applications as a high school student pale in comparison to making post-grad plans, as the end goal is far more open-ended and there is so much more on the line. Choosing the wrong college to attend for undergrad is a relatively easy fix compared to choosing the wrong career path. The wrong choice of career can lead you into a perpetually miserable life — or, at least that’s what it feels like.

I’m more anxious about my future on some days than others. On a rainy morning last week, for example, I drove all around Charlottesville with the radio blasting for a solid hour because I couldn’t stand the thought of being alone with my thoughts while sitting through a lecture. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to let it all out with a good cry or to buckle down and take a stab at some of the assignments that had somehow piled up in front of me. Compounded with the thought of filling out grad school applications, it all nearly pushed me to my breaking point.

Later that day, I met up with two fellow fourth years at my internship. The conversation drifted to the stress about pushing through this critical point of the semester and planning for our futures. We vented and raged, offering sympathy where necessary and invariably recognizing ourselves in each other’s anecdotes. By the end of the afternoon, I felt incredibly relieved that my own worries were nothing to feel alienated about.

I realized all fourth-years share some form of these anxieties. To test out my theory, I asked a person whom I’d hardly spoken to before if she was a fourth year, and we both immediately gravitated towards the dreaded fourth-year-life-crisis topic.

When you’re a fourth-year, it’s perfectly okay to show others you’re not okay. You no longer have the obligation to incessantly feign excitement about being a student at the University, and you may or may not still feel honored to be here. You are free to discuss reality rather than stick to the rose-colored U.Va. bubble.

Though I am still utterly horrified at the fact that I am a fourth-year, I am grateful to be surrounded by a beautiful community of fourth-years who are both humble enough to talk about their struggles and sharp enough to make me feel like I can make it through mine.