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Club Clemons

Late on a cool night in mid-December, Ifechi N. Momah (Col ’08) hurries down McCormick Road. All is silent and empty on Grounds. Activity has ceased—no practices, no parties, no meetings. The only sound is the rapid tapping of her feet on the sidewalk. Occasionally, a fellow student rushes by, heading toward the same destination: Clemons Library. Warm yellow light pours out of the library. The main floor is crowded and noisy. Not a single chair is vacant. Some students sprawl on the floor, faces buried in open notebooks. These students are embroiled in a ritual that summons dread in the hearts of all on Grounds: exam week.

During exams, Clemons stays open 24 hours a day to accommodate the mass of cramming students. Momah, like so many students, is coming to Clemons to spend all night studying.

The coffee dispenser is running at full speed, sputtering as it churns out latte after latte. A long line forms at the soda machines. Even those who have finished exams have come to offer support. The mood is jovial but tense. If not for the underlying urgency, you could mistake the scene for a social gathering instead of a cram session. This library is so often swarming with activity, students affectionately call it “Club Clemons.”

With so many flocking to Clemons during exams, it’s hard to imagine that much work gets done. But students argue the opposite. “It’s encouraging to know that everyone’s studying and going through the same thing,” says Momah, “and it’s definitely comforting to study with friends.” Ansuya Harjani (Col ’09) agrees. “You learn more in the last week of the semester than you’ve ever known in your life,” she says, as her study group huddles around laptops and a bag of fresh bagels.

Many take advantage of group-study areas, dividing up exam material among classmates and culling their outlines. “Planning how to study usually takes longer than actually studying,” says Blair Barrett (Col ’08), as she joins Harjani to discuss their politics exam.

Garrett Berntsen (Col ’08) sits at a desk on the basement floor of Clemons, which is reserved for quiet study. Unlike the floors above, the first floor is divided into individual carrels—and is completely silent. Hunched over piles of loose notes, Berntsen wields a pink highlighter, furiously marking up his outlines. “I find I have the knowledge intrinsically just from taking the class. It’s hardest just figuring out how to answer the questions,” Berntsen whispers of his essay-based exam. Around him, anxious students try to catch up on a semester’s worth of reading. Others type frantically on their laptops, drawing annoyed stares when the tapping of their keys becomes distracting.

All-nighters in Clemons are practically a student rite of passage at UVA. Students devise makeshift beds by pushing two cushioned armchairs together and curling up in the middle to catch quick power naps. They order pizza directly to the library and arrive laden with provisions. “I can’t study at home,” Berntsen says. “The bed is too tempting.”

Every student has a strategy for accomplishing the Clemons all-nighter. “Red Bull is my drink of choice,” says Barrett, pulling a can of the caffeine-packed energy drink out of her backpack. “I like to go for an early-morning run and take a cold shower,” says Berntsen.

As dawn approaches, the mood in Clemons sobers. While the library is still packed with students, most are deep in concentration. Some have fallen asleep, pen in hand, head on book, only to receive an elbow in the side from their study partner. Students exchange knowing glances and display unusual kindnesses. One tiptoes into the library carrying a large bag of Little John’s subs for friends. Plates of cookies sit on many tables, with a note: “Please take! Good luck everyone.”

Suddenly, the quiet is broken by a male student’s screams. “I can’t believe you’re dumping me in the middle of Clemons during exams!” he shouts at a girl sitting beside him. Instead of looking embarrassed, the girl laughs delightedly—and so does everyone around her. The dumpee, unable to continue his diatribe with a straight face, starts grinning. “It was a dare,” explains the supposed dumper, Nina Otchere-Oduro (Col ’08). “We’ve got a rewards system going when we study together. Like, we’ll demand silence for an hour. If you break that silence, you have to do the dare. It’s a nice, quick break—and hilarious for everyone. So, really, we’re doing a community service.” Despite a few annoyed glances from the truly panicked, most students laugh and applaud, grateful for the reminder of life outside the library.

Pop Quiz

Think you’ve still got what it takes to survive as a UVA student? Take a crack at this quiz. We asked professors to share a typical question their students might face on exam day.

1. ECON 201:
Principles of Economics, Kenneth Elzinga
Athena owns a home worth $100,000, gets an annual paycheck of $100,000, has a stock and bond portfolio worth $100,000, owns a car (deuce coupe street rod) worth $100,000, gets dividends and interest payments each year of $100,000 (nice ROR, Athena), and has debts (i.e. liabilities) of $100,000. Athena’s income and wealth (i.e., net worth) respectively are

a. $100,000 and $500,000
b. $100,000 and $400,000
c. $200,000 and $500,000
d. $200,000 and $300,000
e. $200,000 and $200,000

2. PLAP 101:
Intro to American Government, Larry Sabato

Marbury v. Madison (1803) implied from the Constitution the power of ______ for the Court:

a. appellate jurisdiction
b. judicial review
c. advising the President
d. judicial activism

3. PHYS 105:
How Things Work, Louis Bloomfield

It’s a cold, cloudless night and you’re standing and shivering in the middle of an open field. To help keep warm, you go and stand under a tall tree with a thick layer of leaves high overhead. The tree helps to keep you warmer because it

a. stops you from losing heat via convection.
b. does not conduct heat to the sky as quickly as the open air did.
c. sends extra heat down to you via convection.
d. radiates more heat at you than the cloudless night sky did.



answers 1.e 2.b 3.d