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Maturity will come, but it can wait

Pat Leonard | Saturday, August 20, 2005

The first day I arrived on Notre Dame’s campus my freshman year, I did my best to do things differently.

Standing in front of the Main Building, I looked at the intimidating steps that led to the main entrance and remembered what countless classmates and upperclassmen had already told me: undergraduates who walk up those steps risk not graduating.

It’s a silly legend, I told myself. A stupid superstition.

So, with the spirit of Rocky in my Philadelphia-born blood, I walked to a plateau I had never imagined would be in reach.

I turned and there I was, looking at God Quad, with Washington Hall and LaFortune Student Center on my left, the Basilica and Sorin Hall to my right.

There were no fist pumps, and there was no “Eye of the Tiger” song playing in the background, just a quiet confidence that no one could stop me from doing anything.

And that’s when it hit me. I shouldn’t have done it. Or should I have?

The overriding theme at that point in my life was its inconsistency. I’d make decisions, then regret them. Make others – for different reasons – and be content.

That’s how it is when you’re a freshman, and by the time you get to senior year, those regrets disappear.

There are aspects of Notre Dame that will excite you, places that will intimidate you, rules you’ll disagree with (trust me) and people you’ll love.

You’ll take classes that you’ll wish you’d never signed up for, and you’ll have class with teachers who will become good friends.

And all it means is that you’re growing up, nothing more or less.

Be confident and mature, but also be whimsical and carefree.

I have friends who are pre-med majors. I have friends who accidentally have lit cookies on fire in the microwave.

I have friends who have graduated in three years. I have friends who have taken a semester off – involuntarily.

There is no right way to do things, only the responsibility to be loyal and fair to yourself and your friends as you go.

The way you perceive this school, its people, its strengths and its weaknesses will have everything to do with what you get out of Notre Dame, out of college and out of four of the most formative years of your life.

But begin by not trying to fit in or being what someone else thinks is best. Be what you are and do not change for anyone but yourself. Unconsciously, you will mature because the constructs, the people and the classes at this University are among the finest and most supportive in the country.

You must recognize immediately that Notre Dame is not an accurate representation of the outside world. In contrast with the most bustling cities in the United States, crime remains low on campus, someone else cooks your meals and guys can’t have girls in their rooms past 12 a.m. on weeknights. And vice versa.

Your life, over the course of the next few days and for the rest of your life, is going to change because you came here. And it will change for the better. Notre Dame is too powerful and too unique not to have a drastic effect on you.

There is a whole world outside of Notre Dame, and you must see this University for what it is – an institution that alters the mundane present day to gear its graduates towards a rich future.

This weekend, my brother becomes the second person in my family to grace the Notre Dame campus. For the first time since my senior year in high school, I’ll be enrolled at the same school as my only sibling.

So what will I tell him as the more experienced older brother? Well, for one, I’ll tell him how to get to Windsor.

But I’ll also tell him I don’t want to hear any lip about my being lucky to live off-campus, being 21 years old, having a car, having a job and owning 40-yard line tickets at Notre Dame Stadium (fingers crossed).

Regardless of whether he is indifferent or curious about life as a senior, though, I will constantly wonder what it would be like to have four more years.

A few nights ago at a friend’s house, I was reminiscing about our first year in Dillon Hall, when we were new and we didn’t know much.

My friend cut me off mid-sentence.

“Stop talking about freshman year or I’m gonna cry,” he said.

Of course he didn’t mean he’d literally cry, but I knew if it actually came down to it, he could.

And I knew I could, too, because that’s how excited we were then – and that’s how much we miss it now.

Now go walk up those steps.

Pat Leonard is an American studies major with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. He hails from Philadelphia, Pa., where the cheese steak is king, fried food is good for you and everyone’s idea of Utopia is a weekend at the Jersey Shore. Struggling from a severe case of “LosingthreeNFCChampionshipsinarowthengettingtotheSuperBowlandlosingagain,” Pat’s only wish for the rest of his life is for Donovan McNabb to hold the Lombardi Trophy and not a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup.

A vegetarian for the first 18 years of his life, Pat quietly became carnivorous, if for no other reason than he had to answer “Sorry, I’ve never had one” to the question “How good are your cheesesteaks?”

Now, he says the answer is “good enough to not call them Philly Steak & Cheese like the dining hall.”

Contact Pat Leonard at pleonard@nd.edu

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