I watched two girls remove their panties, drop them to the ground near the rest of their just-removed clothing, and begin to sprint. As the silhouettes of the first duo disappeared into the darkness, another group of three appeared and carried out the same ritual.
I could only sit on the steps of the Rotunda with a slice of tortellini pizza and watch in awe.
Those unfamiliar with some of the odd traditions here at Mr. Jefferson’s University are often quite taken aback (or excited) at the prospect of young ladies so willing to strip off their clothing for the sake of tradition, but students and graduates alike will tell you that streaking the lawn is just one of the “114 Things to Do Before Graduation” that are key components of an undergraduate education at the University of Virginia.
Almost four years have passed since I witnessed that scene, and in 54 days I will be walking across a stage at the same location as the encounter took place. There, I will receive a diploma that will certify me as a graduate of the University of Virginia. Today I realized that is not something I am ready to come to terms with, and I know I am not alone in that feeling.
Four years seems like an eternity as a fresh-eyed first year, and perhaps even to some returning seasoned second years, but the third years and fourth years here will tell you that time flies and before you know it, it will come to an end. There are many clichés that has been said about the good times in college; I am not ashamed to say that most of them are true, especially for those who attend UVa.
As an international student, I must confess that I had no idea what I got myself into when I first set foot on Grounds. My understanding of the American college system was mostly based on the usual diet of teen films that reinforce college stereotypes. Not being from Virginia, the South, or the United States, UVa was not the easiest place to navigate or understand.
Replaying the awkward scenes of random introductions to people in my classes, or some other loner sitting in the dining hall, or befriending some guy on the bus because he looked Euro wearing espadrilles and therefore would have more in common with me than the ocean of boys in Nike trainers and Sperry’s that I had been forced to gaze upon but had been so unused to, bring upon a hint of discomfort as they serve as the reminders of my less-than-smooth moments in life. But by enduring these fleeting moments of unease I eventually made some great friends, including the boy with the espadrilles.
It occurred to me while writing this that perhaps one could never really be ready to leave. It will be painful to wake up every morning and not walk down Rugby Road, past Beta Bridge and onwards to classrooms and to the friends I have sat next to over the past four years. In this blissful bubble we have laughed, we have cried, but more importantly, we have grown to become the people we are today.
This is not something that can be easily described in words, but it is something unconsciously understood by those who have shared the experience of attending UVa. In one way or another, we all took the plunge here with our own hopes and dreams, wanting to eventually matriculate as adults who are accomplished and equipped for life. But an important part of learning is to come to the understanding that there will always be more to be learned. With maturity we come to realize things don’t always go according to plan, and that those experiences gone wrong are not necessarily for the worse.
What is certain as a student at the University of Virginia is that you will be challenged over four years—academically and personally—and in triumphing over these challenges you walk closer to the finish line and become more prepared for life.
We are the product of this University as much as the University is the cumulative product of each and every student who has walked these Grounds, and this is what we will take away when we make our unwilling exits to the world outside. When the students of the Class of 2014 cross off the last thing on our list of 114 things to do – “Wear the Honors of Honor” – it will be an acknowledgement to history and a testament to all that we have strived for and achieved. As we stand on that podium in our black caps and gowns, we will be ready for the next plunge.