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The dome: more than just gold

Meghanne Downes | Thursday, March 24, 2005

It was excruciatingly hot, and my roommate and I were moving our belongings into our tiny freshman-year double. My dad brooded and questioned why he was paying all this money for me, his only child, to leave home and stay in this room. At probably the most inopportune time of that roller-coaster-of-emotions weekend, when my dad was trying to fashion a bookcase, my roommate’s father said, “It’s just amazing. You are so lucky.”

I looked up. My dad glared. Neither one of us could imagine what was so amazing about the 100-plus-degree hallway on the 4th floor of Walsh Hall. My roommate’s dad, a double Domer, started to ramble on about how we were lucky to have room 435 because he believed it was the closest women’s room to the Dome. In his eyes, we were privileged – we could wake up and look at the Dome. Coincidentally, our bunk beds were next to the window.

His comments buoyed my spirits somewhat. But I’m not going to lie. I didn’t really get his mesmerization with the Dome. See, I didn’t grow up rooting for Notre Dame. I had never ever been to a football game. I certainly didn’t come here for a Dome that was gold. State capitals have domes – some are gold. I came to Notre Dame because it is Catholic and it provides students with an excellent education.

Needless to say, it took me a while to understand what was so great about the Dome. But I roomed with a girl whose dad was a double Domer and whose three sisters were Domers. She breathed Notre Dame. By my first football game, she had taught me the fight song and other Notre Dame traditions. I was fully prepared and began to become enamored with that aura of Notre Dame. When finals rolled around, I began going to my “hovel” on 11th floor Hesburgh. My hovel, or desk, had a picture-window view of Dome and the Basilica, and I loved watching the sun set from there.

I love Notre Dame. But please know, it’s not because the structure at the top of the Main Building happens to be dome-shaped. I love Notre Dame because of its distinctiveness and because of the crazy people that it graduates who, despite their intelligence, go insane over everything that represents the blue and gold. I love that one of my friends memorized the Notre Dame Football Media Book at the age of seven, makes nightly trips to the Grotto, dons ridiculous get-ups for basketball games and rushed to the bookstore as soon as he could to order his class ring. That’s Notre Dame. And that dome structure represents the embodiment of Notre Dame tradition.

Notre Dame thrives on tradition. It’s why the candles are lit at the Grotto. It’s why people sing the fight song at The ‘Backer. It’s why families – with mom, dad, sister, bother and even grandma and grandpa – line up on orientation weekend, football weekend, Junior Parents Weekend and commencement weekend at Main Circle or the “Jump Momma, Jump” statute to take pictures in front of the Dome.

These pictures document the memories of the tradition.

My mom, who did not graduate from college, called me last week wanting to know why she wasn’t going to have a Golden Dome at “her” graduation. Even my dad got over his initial issues and insisted on gathering the family up to take one of those pictures at Main Circle. We waited – on a football weekend no less – for people to stop cutting in front to get the perfect shot.

It’s not just me. Yesterday, I heard that someone’s mom sent him a black graduation robe. He took his picture in front of the Dome before the scaffolding was nearly complete (he intends to Photoshop out what he can).

When my 93-year-old grandma made her only trip to Notre Dame, it was important for her to see the Dome. After all, it is the school’s most recognizable landmark. But somehow, I think it represents more than that. Why else would Notre Dame put it on the medal that we get at orientation and on the side of our class rings?

Will the tradition of Notre Dame still exist without a pristine Dome at graduation? Yes. Will I be disappointed that my cap-and-gown pictures lack that Dome? Yes – and I don’t think I will be the only crazy Domer who will feel that way.