At the University of Maryland, thoughts of the future and of friends made in the past occupied students' minds last week, as the faces began to disappear from College Park with the coming of the gentle warmth of early summer.
More than 4,000 are leaving with their first college degrees, many bound for unknown destinations in a shaky job market. All they can leave behind are promises--to visit again, to call, to write.
Some students--10,000 of them--will stay for summer school, working through the sweltering months for the day when they too can leave.
Most are bound for summer jobs and travel, and will return in the fall to join the ranks of more than 27,500 undergraduates when the whole cycle begins again.
Thousands took to the lawns during these final weeks, covering the mall, Byrd Stadium and dorm-side lawns with bare skin as they let the sun burn away the aches and anxieties pent up through the year.
And as the end of the school year drew near last week, squads of comrades evacuated the dormitories, bumbling down steps with stereos, lamps, albums, books. They stuffed cars with their belongings at a pace that left parents gaping in amazement, all in the last rush to grab a place in the lines of loaded autos lumbering out the campus gates.
"The University of Maryland is a school of lines. You stand in one line to stand in another," said Louisa Evangeline Kolson, Vangie to friends who hailed her as they drove by the shady intersection where she guarded administration parking lots by the authority of a floppy, orange safety vest. At 21, she has one year to go--her fifth. Her parents in Gaithersburg don't mind, she said, especially since her brother and sister spent a total of 13 years in college.
She'll keep working through the summer as a campus police aide at $3.60 an hour, taking a class and thinking about the student-teaching assignment she will have next year, working with the "iddy-bitty little ones," before she gets her degree in early-childhood education.
"I have no qualms about staying an extra year," Kolson said. "I don't want to go out in the Real World." But she's seen friends do that four times now, enough to make her miss "those first couple of years when you didn't have to care, grades or not.
"Last year I lost a lot of friends. I really miss them now. People get so wrapped up in graduating and hunting up a job, they forget to say goodbye," she said. "That's why most people try to pop down to the College Park bars, just to see all the people one last time before they go."
The lines grew longer last week in front of the Rendezvous Inn on Rte. 1, stretching around the corner and down Knox Road. More and more students who had finished their final exams came to scribble addresses on scraps of paper at the sticky tables. Tending bar there for the past eight months, Eli M. Kosanovich has seen a lot of memories exchanged and a lot more spilled out on the barroom floor. Like the time last October when the 'Vous reopened after a month-long refurbishing, and something went wrong with the new overhead bar plumbing. Hundreds of squealing patrons held aloft pitchers and mugs and cocked back their heads with open mouths to catch the free beer raining from the ceiling.
The tips should be better in the summer, he said. About as many people show up (the bar's capacity is 350) and customers working summer jobs ought to have a bit more money to spend.
By day, though, Kosanovich will sweat through the long hours of summer school, something he told himself he'd never do again. But this time it's different. This is the last class he'll ever have to take: "Business Policies--the conglomerate course of everything I've learned."
By fall, he'll have his general business degree. "I would never have thought I would graduate in four years," he said. "Nobody does that, not anymore."
Kosanovich didn't want to come to the University of Maryland. Penn State had been his first choice when he applied to schools, and it had been a family tradition, where his grandfather went to school, where his father played football. It took Kosanovich about a year to get used to Maryland; then he began to make friends in Calvert Hall dormitory and at classes.
"It's going to be hard to say goodbye. In everything you do, you have fun with your friends, and you know you can never come back. But if you stay till the experience is exhausted, you won't have anything to look back on."
He plans to go to work helping to manage his brother's restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz. His father also managed a restaurant years ago in Chicago, where Eli was born. His father remembers the long hours and would rather see his son take a job with a corporation, said Kosanovich. But he understands that his son wants to continue a family tradition.
Beth Moran laid out the slips of paper bearing her professors' comments, fingering each one and smiling with a special satisfaction. Last week was the end of her first year in college.
"I'm having a ball," she said. "I'm learning to sing!"
That's been her dream, the one thing she's loved doing ever since she can remember--singing with her family on car trips, entertaining her aunts and uncles, taking parts in school plays as she grew up in the Baltimore suburb of Pasadena.
She took the money she had saved from relatives' gifts over the years, added money she earned babysitting, arranged some scholarships and moved to College Park last fall, enrolling as a voice major.
"I'm the first one in my family that's ever gone" to college, Moran said. And College Park was like nothing she'd imagined. "It was so different. The first few nights I stayed out till four in the morning. And nobody to say anything to you. . . . I felt like a woman. I felt like a person."
It's been another city, a new hometown, and at 19 Moran has made new friends. "That's what I keep thinking about: What if I leave to go to work this summer, and I can't come back?"
She's been able to line up only about $200 worth of scholarships for next year, and is hoping for more. She will have to earn the rest. Her room, board and tuition will cost $4,020 next year. Her parents won't pay for it; in fact, they never wanted her to go to college. "They wanted me to get married and have kids."
Going back to Pasadena is something Moran finds especially discouraging. "I could go home and work at Super Thrift and spend the rest of my life in that damn place," she said. "Get married there, raise a family there, die there. . . . There's just not much of a chance for kids to really grow up there."
It's a blue-collar town with proud and stubborn traditions, she said, where most young people marry in their teens, take jobs in stores and service stations, and seldom leave for a different life.
"What happens to all the pins and needles and umbrellas in the world? Well, what happens to these kids? They just disappear," she said. "It really hurts."
She remembers those precious times she has had and dreams of many more--when she steps out on stage and it's her turn to sing alone: "You can't see the audience, but you can feel their presence. You give it your all. There's nothing more exciting."
Moran knows the market for singers isn't inspiring, but she wants to come back and study voice.
"It's not going to be a bed of roses any way I go. But there's something out there, there's so much to learn, and I'm just starting out. And if I don't make it here, I'll make it someplace else. All you need is one chance. And hope to God you don't blow it."