Press-Republican

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September 19, 2013

Schools try new strategies to battle college drinking

The bars near the University of Virginia were packed on graduation day, seniors in billowing black gowns drinking away their final few hours before entering the real world. It was 7 a.m.

Waiters and bartenders, many of whom had worked until the Saturday night shift ended a few hours earlier, shuttled pitchers of Bloody Marys, mimosas and manmosas (beer, vodka and orange juice) and poured round after round of shots: cinnamon fireballs, Southern Comfort with lime, and straight tequila.

"Sweet Caroline" blared as sorority sisters in flip-flops danced and sipped mixed drinks at the Virginian. At the Biltmore, the bouncer waved in anyone wearing commencement garb. The Pigeon Hole put out a chalkboard sign that originally read "Graduate in style!" but someone had crossed out "in style" and written "under the influence!"

At Trinity Irish Pub, students crammed onto a balcony that provided the perfect spot to look for friends and snap photos. Below, dozens more gathered on a patio, drinking on who-knows-whose bill.

"Our tab is already $400!" one student excitedly announced from atop a black metal chair at about 8:20 a.m., with another solid hour left before they were due at the ceremony. One of his friends smirked: "It's not $500 yet?"

A 21-year-old double-major wearing a wrinkled blue button-down under his black gown defended this scene as he drank a mimosa from a plastic cup. Soon his other hand was filled with a cheap shot of vodka, bringing him to at least half a dozen drinks in less than two hours - not that he was counting.

"All of us have jobs. All of us have real majors. None of us got majors like psychology," he said. "This is out of character, even for us. We are getting it out of our systems now, and then we will go into the real world."

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