We sat next to each other in our film lecture and giggled during the awkward silences when it became clear no one had done the readings. Each time we exchanged glances when the professor’s voice cracked, it became clearer friendship with my classmate, Sophie, was on the horizon.
During lecture one day, our professor announced we needed to get into pairs to make a PowerPoint presentation for the class. Sophie and I locked eyes and, without speaking, agreed to be partners. As we left class that day, she told me to meet her at the library the next night to begin working on our project. I agreed, but as soon as we parted, my eyes grew wide in worry.
Wait, which library did we agree upon? If she had the “other” library in mind, our friendship would be over.
Among the plethora of libraries at the University of Virginia, there are two that tower above the rest in popularity: Alderman and Clemons. In effect, there are two types of students at the UVA — the unique intellectuals who study at Alderman and their more relaxed counterparts who prefer Clemons.
I’m an Alderman student all the way. Its historic charm and perfectly blended smell of coffee and old books meets me every time I ascend its stone stairs. During every precious visit to Alderman, I buy a coffee and a chocolate chip cookie, find a comfortable maroon leather chair and throw myself into my studies.
Instinctively, I showed up the following night at my second home, Alderman, in hopes of seeing Sophie. I wandered through all five floors of the marvelous maze of a library in search of her, but she was nowhere in sight. I rolled my eyes — she must have chosen Clemons.
She had assumed I was a Clemons student. I thought she was the Alderman type. Clearly, we don’t know each other as well as we thought. How are we going to work together on this project? I sauntered out into the cold night and realized what I had to do next. It was time. I had to cheat on Alderman Library.
As I nervously walked over to “the other” library, I immediately regretted my decision. Sitting in a charming bathroom stall in Alderman and working by myself on the PowerPoint would be better than venturing into the uninviting crannies of Clemons. While I reluctantly entered the doorway, I realized why I hated this place so much. The rectangular layout, closed-off study spaces and tan walls remind me of a corporate office building full of cubicles and stressed employees. Appealing, right?
I tiptoed downstairs and found a sea of complete strangers. My school is this big? Who were all of these people? I missed the regular crowd at Alderman. There’s the girl with the bright red hair who always works on an English paper while sipping on a chai tea latte. Then there’s the guy with the green beanie who always snacks on a Clif Bar. Where were my people?
As I stared in utter despair, I spotted a wooden chair in the back corner where my partner sat. Flashbacks to the inviting, soft chairs in Alderman filled my mind, but I tried to keep my disappointment to myself. After an hour of work, I confessed my attention span seems to be shortened. When she asked why, I told her that my heart can only be with one library: Alderman. Sophie begins laughing and said she can’t concentrate at Alderman and that Clemons is her only source of inspiration.
After the laughing subsided, I worriedly looked at her and ask, “Well, what should we do?”
She grabbed my hand, told me to close my eyes, and guided me back upstairs and out into the frigid air. After a few minutes of walking, we stopped suddenly. She grasped my hand even tighter and told me to open my eyes.
I smiled at her cleverness when I realized what stood before us. We took a deep breath and marched together into the mysterious third library, Clark, leaving behind our differences and starting fresh.
While I felt guilty for cheating on my beloved, I came to realize that straying from my comfort zone allowed me to see something different for a change. When entangled in the web of finals or the stress of a long paper, a change of scenery often leads to a new and needed perspective that repetition can’t resolve.
We were ultimately able to concentrate in an environment neither one of us had previously deemed worthy of exploring. Our experience at Clark symbolized that an Alderman and a Clemons student truly can work together. In fact, we crushed the PowerPoint presentation and strutted out of class believing we could be trendsetters for a new type of student: the Clark student.
The idea of starting a new studying trend was short-lived. As I passed by Alderman on my way home that night, a student opened the door and the rich smell of coffee and history lured me back to reality — I am an Alderman student all the way.
During my next set of finals, however, I might find myself sneaking over to Clemons or Clark to expand my horizons and fuel anticipated all-nighters with the adrenaline of cheating.