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Columbus- Inside Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 1,300 recent law-school graduates are enduring perhaps the three most stressful and important days of their professional lives as they take the Ohio bar exam.
Outside, on Wednesday morning, three massage chairs were being assembled and enough sandwiches to feed a courthouse full of lawyers were unloaded from vans and catering trucks. Beneath one of the tents dotting the parking lot, a wide-eyed puppy waited to comfort the frazzled.
Welcome to the event that one test-taker joked is "the worst tailgate party ever."
In what has become an increasingly elaborate tradition, staffers from the state's law schools pitch the tents in the parking lot outside the auditorium where the bar exam is held. They feed, comfort and cheer on bleary and nervous test-takers.
The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University started the trend about five years ago with a small tent under which coffee and Tums were dispensed, accompanied by a smile from a familiar face.
This year, all but one of the state's nine law schools, plus the University of Northern Kentucky, had some kind of presence at the test.
Alumni groups from the schools typically supply the box lunches, fruit, drinks, chips and cookies. The offerings were eagerly sought out by test-takers who poured out the doors of the auditorium after three hours spent answering 100 multiple-choice questions on Wednesday morning. They had an hour off before returning for three hours and 100 more questions.
Last year, observers in the parking lot couldn't help feeling that the stakes had been upped when Ohio State University's law school showed up with massage chairs. The chairs were back this year, and Buckeye shoulders were being kneaded nonstop by three masseuses during the lunch break.
Capital University had a pooch on hand last year for students to dote on, and this year Bella, a rescue dog from a Cleveland animal shelter, was there as a guest of Case Western Reserve University's law school.
She was a crowd-pleaser, gazing especially lovingly at those holding turkey sandwiches.
Law graduates descend on Columbus every February and July to take the bar exam.
Kelly Johnson of North Royalton, who graduated in the spring from CWRU's law school, told her parents a week ago that she wouldn't be talking to them until after the test.
She passed up the subs from Jimmy John's being offered under the CWRU tent because she has eaten only peanut-butter sandwiches for days, fearing an upset stomach. But she appreciated the university's effort.
"At this point it's really not about luck because I've been preparing all summer," Johnson said. "But it's nice that they've thought of everything. You never know what little thing could push you over the edge."
Ear plugs are popular under the tents. As is aspirin.
"I always say, you never know what your little tic is going to be," said Cori Tarzwell, who works in the alumni relations office at OSU's law school, as she rifled through a box stuffed with such things such as stain remover, bandages and a sewing kit.
CWRU staffers went to a drugstore to buy replacement reading glasses for a student who forgot hers. And throughout the tents, there was a camaraderie built on understanding how hard the test is and how long students have been preparing.
Sean Martin, a recent graduate of Ohio Northern University's law school, appreciated having a place to huddle with people he knew.
"I'm not worrying," he said as he prepared to head back in. "It won't do me any good to worry, and if anything, it will only make things worse."