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In good company

Claire Heininger | Sunday, August 21, 2005

What a year to be new to Notre Dame.

You’ve got company unpacking your suitcase and hooking up your laptop -and I’m not just talking about the roommates and dormmates who will be chanting and sweating by your side all weekend.

This company is on the ornate fourth floor of the Main Building, where new University President Father John Jenkins is settling into his office and his influence. It’s on the famed field of Notre Dame Stadium, where new Head Coach Charlie Weis is breaking in his vocal chords and his team.

Yeah, sure, you say. “I have as much in common with those guys as parietals do with sense.”

You’re partly right. You have something they don’t.

Breathing room.

As the new president and new coach embark on their first year, they’ll have dozens of trustees, thousands of alumni and countless more fight song-breathing Notre Dame enthusiasts looking over their celebrated shoulders and shining a spotlight of scrutiny on their actions, words and intentions.

You, on the other hand, are free to make your share of inconspicuous – and glorious – mistakes.

If they mess up, they’re whisked unceremoniously out of their honeymoon period. If you mess up, you’ve got a great story.

I’m not saying there’s no pressure. You’re part of the smartest class in University history, and I bet most of you didn’t come to Notre Dame expecting to throw those achievements away.

But you’ll never be brand new again, and a few harmless rookie mistakes couldn’t hurt.

So get lost on the way to DeBartolo. Twice. Splurge consistently at LaFortune, and watch your waistline expand and your Flex Points dwindle. Pronounce LaFortune “Law For Toon,” while you’re at it.

Get caught sleeping in class. Take embarrassing pictures. Throw a cramped dorm party, or 20, and always run out of beer.

That’s what freshman year is for.

Even at perfection-obsessed Notre Dame – especially at perfection-obsessed Notre Dame – that’s what freshman year is for.

Take it from a classic Domer perfectionist who would never live her freshman year again but wouldn’t change a thing – you’ll learn infinitely more from one year of college mistakes than from four years of high school striving.

You’re not perfect, and this year won’t be, either.

Embrace it.

Father Jenkins could raise tuition, and he’d have students groaning. Charlie Weis could punt on fourth-and-short, and he’d have fans booing. But you could spill your tray in the dining hall, and leave your friends laughing.

Unlike your counterparts getting comfortable under the Dome and in the house that Rockne built, you can get away with being new in town. So mangle the football cheers beyond recognition. Procrastinate for days. Run out of spending money by Thanksgiving.

You’ll never again get to enjoy the best part of being new – being so wrong, and so right.