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Not your average university

Matt Bramanti | Thursday, May 13, 2004

In many ways, Notre Dame is like countless other top American universities.

The academic life can be similar.

Professors with patches on their elbows engross themselves in subjects ranging from high-energy particles to Haitian politics. Students sit in massive lecture halls and doze through freshman chemistry.

Notre Dame dorm life has a lot in common with other schools.

Dave Matthews’ latest album resonates from huge speakers in tiny rooms. The Dumpsters are full of empty 30-packs of Keystone Light. Study rooms are used primarily as a source of extra furniture.

Even the protests have all been done before.

Students complain about the administration’s policies and tear up copies of duLac. Social justice advocates protest the wages and living conditions of migrant farm workers. Gay-rights supporters dress up like Knott Hall freshmen to say “fine by me.” And the Progressive Student Alliance demonstrates against everything but Birkenstocks.

And yet, Notre Dame has so much that makes it unique. For several years, the admissions office has used the slogan “Nowhere else but Notre Dame.” That has always struck me as appropriate.

Take the architecture, for instance. The Golden Dome and “Touchdown Jesus” are among the most famous college landmarks in the world. The entrance to the bookstore seems to resemble the foyer of heaven. As for DeBartolo Hall, you won’t find a building that looks more like a row of milk cartons.

Or the food. This is a school so bursting with pride that it molds the monogram “ND” into its waffles. But if you get tired of dining hall food, just call up the nearest Papa John’s store. But they’ll put you on hold, because Notre Dame students have made it into the single highest-grossing pizza shop in the history of civilization.

And though we’re often slammed for our lack of diversity, think of the background the University has. The fabric of Notre Dame is woven of threads from all over the place. Latin-speaking French priests came to Indiana to establish a school among the Potawatomi Indians. A black North Carolina native now leads a team called the Fighting Irish, a team catapulted into the national spotlight by a Norweigian immigrant. The campus is dotted with the sculpture of Croatian genius Ivan Mestrovic, in between buildings bearing names like Mendoza, O’Shaughnessy and Pasquerilla.

But the thing that really makes Notre Dame a special place is the character that permeates it.

Students here bring more to campus than a little refrigerator and an astronomical SAT score. They bring a desire to serve others. They bring the ability – and the willingness – to improve their own little slice of the world around them. And they do it with faith.

Although most students are hard-working achievers who don’t really need the help, they still light innumerable candles at the Grotto every day. There are 175 Masses a week on campus, and people go. A subtle but strong faith in something higher than themselves is evident when students say a quick prayer, asking for Mary’s help with this or that.

During his eulogy for Father Joyce, Father Hesburgh said that when Notre Dame was in trouble, he would look at the statue of Mary and say a short prayer:

“Lady, it’s your school, and I’m sure you’re going to take care of this little problem.”

“And you know,” Hesburgh said. “She always did.”

Matt Bramanti will be driving back to the great state of Texas the day after graduation, where he will begin work as a commercial real estate appraiser. He’d like to thank everyone who helped him study, write, work and play, especially his parents Frank (’78) and Theresa (SMC ’79). He’ll be back on campus for the BC game, with plaid pants and a big ol’ Guinness.

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