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Bidding farewell to the senior class

Gary Caruso | Thursday, April 22, 2004

Some say that life is all about advantages. Many agree that a college degree adds ten times more earning power over those without such an educational benefit. Most would concur that our ultimate advantage might be knowing the meaning of life.

In a few weeks the Notre Dame Class of 2004 will mark its four-year educational anniversary with commencement exercises. While the graduating seniors are celebrating the receipt of their hard-earned degrees, I hope they will take a moment to pay tribute to a fellow Domer who is currently quite disadvantaged.

Notre Dame Professor Emeritus Gil Loescher is the sole survivor of the Baghdad blast of the United Nations headquarters. In late May, Loescher, who gave 25 years of his life teaching at Notre Dame, will mark his nine-month anniversary as a double amputee. His is a remarkable story of survival featured in this spring’s Notre Dame Alumni Magazine.

The U.S. Army has billed Professor Loescher for medical treatment amounting $190,000, which is almost three times what his annual salary was before he retired from Notre Dame. It is estimated that within the next five years when he must fit new prosthetic limbs and make handicapped accessible modifications to his home in Great Britain, his expenses will top $800,000. His travel insurance will not cover terrorist-related expenses, but I am hopeful that Notre Dame will sponsor a special collection for him.

As the world’s foremost authority on refugees, displaced persons and forced migration due to famine and war, Loescher has asked the Notre Dame administration for another full professorship teaching position at the ND London program along with preliminary use of the faculty flats at Trafalgar Square. It will be interesting to see how the University bureaucracy addresses his request either through a fast track approach or typical red tape.

The point of the “Legs for Loescher to put him on his feet” campaign is that each of us, regardless of whether or not we asked, gained a further sense of community for having attended Notre Dame. While some of us are more conservative and fundamental with the teachings of scripture than others, each of us can instantaneously recognize the worthiest of causes. Jesus would not heal just one eye of the blind man. He made him whole. Notre Dame should do the same for its faithful son, Gil.

For me, after thirty years away from college, I finally settled into a thought of what is the meaning of our existence here on earth. At one time, I was like one of those guys in the Domino’s commercial who runs blindly in a herd to the door at the sound of the doorbell then asks in unison, “Domino’s Philly Cheese Steak pizza?”

Now, life to me can partly be described by Judge Judy who once said in her courtroom, “Try to be nice to each other. That’s what the world is all about.”

It can also be partly explained by physic John Edward, star of “Crossing Over,” who announces, “Communicate, appreciate and validate those around you, and along the way enjoy life’s journey.”

I personally like to think that we exist here on earth only as long as our souls need to help others and grow. Anyone who has lost a loved one is forever changed with a new perspective from within. It strikes me that if we open ourselves to our surroundings, we gain so many subtle insights into life, especially if we have ever owned a pet dog.

God has shown us through the eyes of a canine what heaven’s love must be. Those animals are vessels of pure unconditional love. Last November I lost Miss Beavis, a 13-year-old black Chow who looked like a small black bear. She was neglected and confined twice at the humane society’s shelter before I entered her life. Her love and loyalty taught me much about myself, and her example strengthened my faith.

This year the world is not a pleasant place into which students may graduate. War rages abroad, our government scares the hell out of us about terror at home, the economy is sluggish, and it all reminds me of my graduation in 1973. With such a dismal outlook this year, I can say with all honesty that Notre Dame graduates are attracted to a higher call of community, public and family service. The trick is to think of others more often than of yourself.

Therefore, members of the Class of 2004, tuck the unconditional love of Miss Beavis in your back pocket and remember the words of Judge Judy and John Edward. Life is not as complicated as our Internet-soaked society portrays. If you can keep a watchful eye on those like Professor Gil Loescher, if you can make time for others less fortunate than you, the meaning of life will be yours on the day of your graduation – which is a thirty-year advantage over me.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame class of 1973, served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at hottline@aol.com.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.