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Run it again

It was simple curiosity, I suppose.

Not malice, not schadenfreude, not even good journalism.

I was just curious.

The setting was all too familiar: a somber Duke locker room following a season-ending NCAA Tournament loss-the second time I've had the chance to experience it. There, in the middle, was Greg Paulus, realizing that he would likely never play another meaningful basketball game in his life.

And so I asked him the first question that came to my mind: "How hard is it gonna be to take off that uniform?"

Paulus chuckled for a second-the way anyone does to initially ward off the question they've been consciously postponing for weeks (Trust me, it's the same way we unemployed seniors respond to the ubiquitous, "What are you doing next year?"). He asked for a second to gather himself, sniffled a few times, then talked about what Duke meant to him.

The agony was derived not so much from the loss of the game, but from the loss of the opportunity to play again. And so Greg Paulus, four years removed from being the top point guard recruit in the country, coped with the ultimate destiny of every individual who ever proudly pulls a jersey over his head-that moment when you have to rip it off one last time, the sweat making it cling to the skin, as if shouting, "Run it again, just one more time."

It was the mortality of the athlete summarized not in words, but in shoulders slumped and eyes glisteningly red. Greg Paulus, Point Guard, was officially retired.

Just as Paulus' basketball career ended March 26, my career as a student ends Wednesday, to slightly less fanfare. Beyond that, though, they're pretty similar conclusions, every few springs being that time when we close certain phases of our lives.

But this isn't just the end of the four-year life-in-the-Duke-bubble-where-class-and-work-are-optional-but-Shootah's-never-is phase; for most of us, it's the end of something much more hitherto intrinsic to our existences.

Tim Britton, Student, is now retired, his polo shirt, jeans and track jacket unlikely to be raised to the rafters.

When September rolls around, it will be the first autumn I will not be attending school of some sort in two decades. As in, since 1989. As in, since people wondered whether Michael Jordan would ever win the big one.

It's the fall I've been waiting for ever since I learned how to add four and four to eight, solve that school ends after 16th grade and calculate that I would thus be the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year (because nobody left early back then).

But it's also the fall I've dreaded ever since I realized that this school thing wasn't so bad, provided the books were good and the homework perfunctory.

The question now is, Who are we when our self-definitions fade? Tim Britton, Student, will soon become Tim Britton, Unpaid Intern and then Tim Britton, College Graduate Living at Home. And something tells me Michigan or the Green Bay Packers won't be offering me reprieves from that reality.

The good thing is that Duke is forever a constitutive part of our identity, the University taking its rightful place in the tapestry of our pasts. In future conversations, we get to casually drop unprovoked references to our times at Cameron, forgetting of course that we never witnessed a home win over Carolina. We get to talk about climbing the Chapel, living through lacrosse and handing in our theses (Well, not me on that last one. I'm-what do you call it?-smart).

And I personally can bring up the all too narrow, all too cluttered, all too crowded and all too memorable confines of The Chronicle in 301 Flowers. It's a place I've avoided because of its seemingly Siren-like hold on other staff members-one that's sure to be eulogized ad nauseam in the year's final issues and the seniors' final statements.

But it's a place that had as big a hold on my time at Duke as any other, one that stretched from covering fencing to the NCAA Tournament, from doing actual reporting to sitting down and writing stream-of-consciousness columns. When I think of the Gothic Wonderland, my first memories may be of the well worn path down the left sidewalk toward the Chapel, turning left into Flowers and bounding up the odd-even-odd-odd-even staircases to The Chronicle office.

Now, as I think about that unredeemable time, and slip off the proverbial press pass for the last time at Duke, it clings to me, as if shouting, "Run it again, just one more time."

Tim Britton is a Trinity senior. He is a co-editor of Towerview and former sports managing editor.

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