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Hesburgh draws crowd to Keough

Janice Flynn | Wednesday, November 17, 2004

University President-Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh awed the audience the moment he entered the Keough Hall Lounge, bringing commotion to a complete hush, and continued to captivate as over 100 students sat in rapt attention for nearly an hour, soaking in the anecdotes and advice of Notre Dame’s greatest living legacy.Hesburgh stood for the entire question-and-answer lecture, gesticulating with his cane and drawing on his life’s experiences with characteristic humility. “Excuse me for talking so much about myself,” he said.The Keough Hall government invited Hesburgh to be the first of three presidential lectures themed “Past, Present, and Future.” The hall hopes to host Fathers Malloy and Jenkins to speak later in the year.Although students posed only four broad questions, Hesburgh’s stories spanned much of his life as he described his roles as University teacher, football chaplain and executive. He also explained his role on the Civil Rights Commission and his vision for the University.”What he’s done for the University, for America, for the world, it’s just unbelievable,” said Bryan Bylica, Keough vice-president.True to form, Hesburgh seemed to enjoy himself and showed his endearing quality of connecting with students. He related to students’ dorm life, speaking about living on the third floor of Badin Hall early in his career.”It was a wonderful time,” he said. “I never got to bed before 2:30, and of course we always had 7:00 Mass – I used to just about fall asleep.”As recipients of his legacy but never witnesses of his leadership, students asked about change over his years at the University, and were told that the enrollment of women and the increased endowment of the university rank among the most important during his tenure.Hesburgh even tackled the issues of same-sex dorms and parietals.”Men tend to dominate at times, and I wanted the women to have the time to be independent, to be free to do what they maybe can’t do with men there,” he said, defending his reasons for the gender restrictions.”Well, I’m sure nobody in this room will agree with that,” he deadpanned. “But it has served us well.”When talking about his time as a charter member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Hesburgh broached an area of his life several students were unfamiliar with, but one that he remembers as among the greatest experiences of his life.A student asked how Hesburgh became involved in the Civil Rights movement.”Well it was very simple,” he said. “I got a call one day from the White House.”This extensive list of Hesburgh’s associates and responsibilities amazed the crowd. They chuckled at the enormity of one of his digressions.”I’ve had 15 presidential assignments,” he said, “some of them pretty big. In fact, once I was offered to head up NASA, which is a pretty big agency.”Sophomore Matt Plaska, Keough liturgical commissioner and organizer of the lecture, said he was impressed by Hesburgh’s consistent values among such prominence.”Very few people know so many important figures, but the fact that he’s remained so humble and willing to listen to people sets a really good example,” Plaska said. “For me he’s a very good role model in that regard.”Plaska’s fellow attendees were equally in awe.”I’ve never seen him before, that was awesome,” said sophomore Aileen Wu.”Seriously how much can one person do?”A lot, according to Father Hesburgh.”My message to you tonight is to have vision and don’t say … ‘I can’t do that,'” Hesburgh advised. “Use the brains God gave you, do everything out of enthusiasm. Don’t put any limitations on you life. God only knows what you can do.”