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Fourth Year, Interrupted

Posters adorn the door of Lawn room number 15
Hopeful messages left on a Lawn door include “We will walk this Lawn together one day.” Andrew Shurtleff

Zach Cummings (Com/Col ’20) would do anything to play one more gig with his indie rock band, The Shrugs. Shannon Cason (Col ’20) wants the opportunity to say goodbye to classmates and professors she may never see again. And what Lillie Lyon (Col ’20) misses most after the final semester of her fourth year was cut short is seeing Charlottesville in bloom—and spending more time in her Lawn room.

“It was such a privilege to live on the Lawn and wake up every morning and open up the door to that,” says Lyon, the outgoing Honor Committee chair, who is back home in Minnesota. “And spring in Charlottesville is just beautiful. To be able to walk around Grounds and hang around the Lawn and see the trees bloom, all of that was really important.” 

The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the lives and plans of students, faculty members and staff as UVA moved classes online in mid-March and normal student life in Charlottesville shut down. But, for fourth-years, the abrupt ending to their undergraduate experience comes with additional heartbreak. 

Final projects and theses, culminations of academic careers, were finished virtually. Long-awaited year-end club celebrations, often featuring parting shots from fourth-year leaders, couldn’t happen. The Restoration Ball, Foxfield Spring Races, garden parties and spring formals were called off or postponed. And Final Exercises were moved online, with that much-anticipated walk down the Lawn postponed until this fall or next spring. 

To make matters worse, as the United States’ unemployment rate skyrocketed amid pandemic-related closures, fourth-years wondered what kind of future would be available to them once they did get that degree.

“Everyone is all over the place,” says Derrick Wang (Col ’20), the student member of the Board of Visitors. “It’s just a very challenging time. It’s really difficult because you have an expectation of what your spring semester is going to look like, and this really just upends lives in a lot of ways. It’s a difficult transition to make in such a short time—for the students, the faculty, the staff. Everyone is sort of figuring out this new world.” 

Wang was at home in Richmond on spring break when he learned that classes were moving online. At a time when he expected to be returning to Charlottesville, gearing up for the final wind-down of the spring semester, he was packing up his Lawn room instead. 

“It was a cloudy, overcast day, and it was really bizarre being back on Grounds at a time when we really would have started classes back up,” he says. “Instead, it was kind of deserted.” 

Wang feels good about his after-graduation plans. He has a job working at an antitrust consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Cummings is thankful he chose graduate school at the University of Southern California over accepting a job in an uncertain workforce. 

But Cason, the outgoing University Judiciary Committee chair, isn’t sure what she’ll do. She had planned to take a year off before applying to medical school, possibly traveling abroad to teach English. But MCAT dates were postponed, which could delay her application plans, and a trip abroad seems unlikely. “It’s really stressful to not even have a prospect for the future,” she says.

Lyon had just started looking for a job in earnest in early spring. She’s nervous about the job market but optimistic about her future—and the future of her classmates.

“It’s disappointing that fourth year ended this way, and we don’t get some of those rituals that make transitioning out of college easier,” she says, “but I think UVA equipped us really well to jump into things and figure this out.”