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What I'll remember about being a sophomore

By Jesse Rifkin
On April 25, 2012

Sophomore year, supposedly, is the most lackluster among the four grade levels of college.

Freshman year means endless possibilities for exploration: new school, new friends and new opportunities. Junior year means crunch time: upper-level classes and internships (plus finally turning 21). Senior year means culmination: writing a thesis, possibly applying for graduate school and receiving the diploma.

But what excitement occurs sophomore year? Well, I finish sophomore year next week. Let me tell you about it. I remember, upon moving into my new dorm room, unpacking bags while listening to the comedy radio program "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!", my suitemate John, who I had never met, overheard me laughing and asked to listen in. For the rest of the year, we set aside an hour every weekend to sit together and hear the jokes from hosts Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell.

I remember Senator John McCain's daughter Meghan speaking on campus. During the question-and-answer session, I asked if she would vote for her father absent a family connection. After laughing nervously, Meghan paused for a moment before unconvincingly saying, "Yes," which, clearly, meant "no."

I remember discovering Congressman Joe Courtney was on campus answering questions about education. My friend Joel and I spontaneously convinced him to come participate in an interview for our soon-to-premiere comedy talk show "The UConn Tonight Show" on student television station UCTV. Who knew about Congressman Courtney's dead-on Bill Clinton impersonation?

I remember applying for the "alternative spring break" community service trip to rural poverty-stricken Dungannon, Virginia only to be waitlisted for months. Then, two days before departure, a spot opened up. Instead of spending spring break sitting around doing nothing like originally planned, off I went for a hands-on week helping the less fortunate. Not to mention making good friends including Joey, Andrea and Owen.

I remember enrolling in the self-paced course "Philosophy and Logic," where exams could be taken as frequently or infrequently as one wished provided you finished everything by semester's end. After skipping every lecture and just reading from the book, I finished the course two months before semester's end with an A-.

I remember NBA All-Star Ray Allen delivering a speech on campus. During the question-and-answer session, I asked what his second choice college was after UConn. He replied "Kentucky," among our biggest rivals. A thousand students started booing. "Hey," he exclaimed, "I came here, didn't I?"

I remember attending guest lectures from Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Nobel Peace Prize recipients Betty Williams and Michael Mann, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman and comedy performances from huge names Billy Gardell and Bo Burnham.

I remember convincing my father to see Bo Burnham with me. That was a mistake. Walking to our seats, my dad looked around and noted, "I am the oldest person here by at least two decades." Dad, when you once took me to see Rich Little, I was the youngest person there by at least three decades.

I remember renting a free bicycle from the bike-share program on campus, randomly riding around Mansfield with no cell phone or GPS, getting lost and pedaling furiously hoping to find my way back before the 5 p.m. return deadline.

I remember ascending to vice president of the student organization UConn Marketing Society. Terrific guest speakers presented, including heads of marketing at ESPN, Subway, LEGO, Mohegan Sun, Xerox, XL Center, BIC Pens, Connecticut Lottery and Bob's Discount Furniture.

I remember my appearance in the college television quiz show "Schooled" airing. UConn's three-person squad - including my newfound friends Marc and Genna - lost to Providence College, the eventual champions. That could have been our $15,000, free cell phones and Boston Red Sox box seats. So close!

I remember President Obama's State of the Union address broadcasting in the Branford Hall lounge. Upon the president's proposal to mandate high school attendance through age 18, sharp cries of "No!" rang among fellow students.

I remember for weeks in September watching every paternity test episode of "Maury" after my friend Joel and I appeared in the live studio audience. Whenever the camera cut to a crowd reaction shot, we jumped up screaming, "Yes! That's us!"

I remember watching the women's Final Four basketball game versus Notre Dame, all of us gasping at every miss and cheering at every score. A heartbreaker overtime loss cast the team from Denver, but that night I felt an appreciation for the women's program as never before.

So is sophomore year actually boring and lame? Only if you make it so.

Just like life itself. 

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