Thursday, March 3, 2011

Soapbox - On Notre Dame

The following is an article that I wrote for the March 2011 issue of Scholastic, Notre Dame's student magazine. It appeared as the "Soapbox" essay, a monthly feature.

As I write for the final Scholastic issue of my Notre Dame career, I cannot help but wonder where the time went, both in terms of the last four years and the two weeks when I could have been writing this essay. It is hard to discuss the passing of time without being cliché or trite. We hear it so often: "Make the most of your time here" or "Time flies. Cherish it." But there is a reason we hear these words so frequently, a reason they have become commonplace — they are true.

I have always been a sentimental and nostalgic person. Anyone close to me knows my affinity for sharing (and often repeating) memorable stories among friends. But rather than recall specific and unforgettable afternoons, evenings or late nights, I will stand on my "soapbox" to remember what makes Notre Dame special and why this university will forever have a place in my life.

I would be lying if I said I understood what Notre Dame was all about when I arrived in August 2007. Like many, growing up Irish Catholic was reason enough to root for ND on Saturdays in the fall and, ultimately, to make the trip to South Bend as I began the college search.

As an 18-year-old from upstate New York, I had my doubts about coming to Indiana. One of the first memories I have of this place is meeting an alumna at a local club event. She told my dad and me about her experience at the university and started tearing up.

Today, as I think about the few short months until graduation, I can understand why she was so emotional when speaking about ND. I cannot imagine having spent the last four years anywhere else. As the admissions brochures say, there truly is "Nowhere Else But Notre Dame." My passion for this university, coupled with the fact that my future is still uncertain, makes me wish it were possible to return for a fifth year — a victory lap around the Dome.

I find myself in a position similar to that which I faced four years ago: not quite ready to leave a place I have grown to love so much. In high school, people could not wait to move on, to get out of town and experience the world on their own.

Still, many left with grand plans to keep in touch with old friends. But now, in 2011, we can probably count those we still call and see during semester breaks on one hand. We realize that we do not have as much in common with those former schoolmates as we once thought. At Notre Dame, we are excited about the opportunities that life will bring, but not as anxious to move on, perhaps not ready to say goodbye.

Earlier this semester, I had the opportunity to attend the senior retreat. The Dr. Seuss theme was a flashback to childhood and also a reminder that regardless of where we go after we receive our diplomas, no matter how many beverages are purchased at Finny's or Kildare's we are still kids at heart.

With friends I have had since freshman year, classmates I knew only by name and others who I had never seen before, we came together in the spirit of Dr. Seuss to discuss "the places we'll go." But we also reflected on all that Notre Dame has given us since we arrived for the absurdity of Frosh-O.

In four years, Our Lady's university has afforded me opportunities and taught me lessons upon which no lofty tuition bill can place a value. When I finally sign that first job contract, I will, of course, appreciate my degree and the academic rigors of Notre Dame.

Yet, more than anything, I will remember how Notre Dame has transformed from a place 719 miles from my home to a place that effectively became home. Ballston Spa, NY will always have a special place in my heart — fond memories, my family and those few friends I will have for life — but eventually, that connection to my hometown may fade.

I am confident that my connection to Notre Dame never will. The Notre Dame spirit is special. It goes beyond a common affection for the Blue and Gold or a shared understanding of du Lac and residence halls.

After we leave ND, life will lead each of us in different directions. Whether in New York or Chicago, London or Tokyo, graduate school or the "real world," there is one place where our paths may cross again — Notre Dame. This university is a uniting force. It is a place where Knights, Kangaroos, Shamrocks and Purple Weasels reconnect, where Zahmbies, Ramblers, Ducks and Chaos will bring their children to pep rallies, Rocco's and Bruno's, tailgates and football games, the Grotto and Basilica and back to the old dorms, carrying on the family traditions that have been passed down for generations or those that have developed in the last four years.

As students and future alumni, we share a familial connection. But part of what makes ND unique is that brotherhood or sisterhood that is shaped in the residence halls. I would never consider myself a loner, but like Alan from "The Hangover," Notre Dame has given me a wolfpack — the 3-West Wolfpack of Keenan Hall, a section I called home for three years (and believe it or not, that was our section mascot back in 2007, before Alan & Co. hit the big screen).

Early in college, I found myself counting down the days until the next break, the next chance I could return home. It has often been said, "Distance makes the heart grow fonder." I am not sure that is necessarily true. But each time I leave Notre Dame, as I spend time away from North Quad, the Keenan "Fratres in Christo," and the Golden Dome, I find that my appreciation for this university grows stronger.

For the underclassmen, if you have not yet recognized and embraced Notre Dame as a true home, I hope you will soon. For my fellow members of the class of 2011, take comfort in remembering the unbreakable nature of the Notre Dame bond. Our time together is running out, but truly, it is just the beginning of our connection to one another and to Notre Dame. We will always be welcome at Notre Dame, a place we can visit in times of celebration and in times of need, a place we can always, and should always, call home.