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Combating ‘senioritis’

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, January 28, 2005

For the soon-to-be graduating class of 2005, January brings the beginning of the end of what is commonly referred to as “the Notre Dame experience.” Most seniors, this writer included, morph into an unusual mode of existence during their final semesters on campus. It is a condition uniformly described as “senioritis,” but one with many symptoms, some unique only to certain individuals.

The Board of Trustees eventually cures senioritis each spring by conferring degrees, although peculiar symptoms may linger long after some matriculated students physically depart campus. To adequately understand the atmosphere that has just presently begun but climaxes in May, begin with the choice of commencement speaker and work backwards through time.

Graduating classes take on the character of their commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. Each class strives for the most globally prestigious marquee of speakers, oftentimes hoping for a president on the dais, and certainly seeking anyone affiliated with Notre Dame. This year, as the turmoil of death headlines the Iraqi war and a tsunami in the Far East, the atmosphere begs for a speaker who epitomizes the qualities of humility and sacrifice. The logical choice is Notre Dame Professor Emeritus Gil Loescher, the world’s foremost authority on refugees, displaced persons and forced migration due to famine and war. In 2003, Loescher was the sole survivor of the Baghdad blast that leveled the United Nations headquarters.

As a result of his ordeal, Professor Loescher is a double amputee. His is a remarkable story of survival that was featured in last spring’s Notre Dame Alumni Magazine. The University also responded quite generously to assist with the professor’s staggering medical bills. The commencement selection committee would do well to summon Loescher to convey his personal struggles, revelations, faith and revised view of life now that he has felt the breath of God while trapped in a building’s rubble. Notre Dame’s Loescher is the living embodiment of the character of every fallen veteran and civilian in the bloody Iraqi conflict. His insight would leave no eye dry in the Convocation Center.

Wet eyes and aching hearts are obvious symptoms of senioritis. Sometimes eyes water on our day of departure, but many times hearts swell when each of us, regardless of whether or not we asked, gain a further sense of community for having attended Notre Dame. Ultimately, time catches up with every senior who is thrust into the final semester. They are forced to think of losing their friends, moving their surroundings and changing their lifestyles. Ready or not, senioritis sets into their consciousness.

The best way to combat early January senioritis is to slow time by savoring each moment of the final semester at Notre Dame. I can still vividly remember my birthday party in February, interhall sports, broadcasting at the campus radio station, attending a spring dance, Bookstore Basketball, playing pranks on my fellow Domers and several other warm memories of my second semester of senior year. I forced time to crawl for nearly four months.

By semester’s end, I moved closer toward my faith and came to better know some of my closest classmates whom I thought I knew for three and a half years prior. Appreciating my surroundings helped cleanse me of many prejudices and allowed me to absorb many of the diverse perspectives espoused by others. Ironically, my slowed sense of time had excellorated my learning curve.

By opening ourselves to our surroundings when we savor each moment, we also gain many subtle insights into life. My last semester bestowed upon me more of a sense of belonging to Notre Dame. I can say with all honesty that I moved closer to better understanding how Notre Dame graduates are attracted to a higher call of community, public and family service. Upon my graduation, I could feel the ghosts of those who had gone before me struggling with similar lessons and feelings.

Those of us who are currently mere ghosts of another time on campus continue to live in the blood of the bricks. Once we pass through Notre Dame, our heartaches and triumphs can soon be forgotten. I, however, can reflect on what once was mine but remains so vividly portrayed in a scene similar to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

On a long-ago May 20 when I watched the golden dome disappear in my rearview mirror, I conquered senioritis despite my lingering feelings of heartache and loss. What could have been a fiasco of my final semester actually was the most memorable of my tenure at Notre Dame.

Although my boring and unimpressive commencement speaker has since faded from my memory, my final semester remains a colorful part of me. Countering senioritis is more of a process than a remedy, a process that can begin well before January of senior year rather than after our exodus from campus. The trick is diagnosing your personal symptoms and starting your savoring process.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, 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.