configuration and other factors: Macbook Pro vs. Air? What's better suited for three years of grad school?

I'm starting grad school this fall working in a program with a significant online component. I currently have a desktop system, but a laptop is required.

Unique considerations:
• Lightweight - my previous laptop (circa. 2003) weighed approx. 9lbs and wasn't conducive to taking places. I want to be able to comfortably take a new laptop everywhere.
• I will be storing files for school - assignments, projects, etc over a three year period.
• I will be moving between applications a lot and running a a lot at the same time.
• I will be participating in online discussions, chats, video daily.
• I need the laptop to last through grad school and hopefully beyond a bit.
• My previous laptop started a slow death halfway through undergrad and was not functioning at all soon after I graduated.

I've been considering the Air (config. w/ 8GB ram because not upgradeable at a later date) due to it's size/weight, but the larger hard drive options are way out of my budget, even with the ed discount. I like the Pro because of the larger hard drive (albeit not flash storage) and the ability to upgrade both the ram and hard drive at a later date if needed. The Pro is still considerably lighter than my previous beast.

I will likely need an external hard drive at some point due to the sheer number of files and backup over the next three years no matter what I choose.

Will an Air perform well over three years or is an upgradeable system a wiser choice? Is the weight difference significant? Which is more durable? Faster? Thanks so much!

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