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Seniors reflect on changes, memories at Notre Dame

Joe Piarulli | Friday, May 19, 2006

At a University where history, tradition and consistency are said to reign supreme, the only person that has been here for it all is the one on top of the Golden Dome.

Though many changes will come after they leave, the members of the class of 2006 witnessed some of the most significant recent events at Notre Dame: a new University President and a new head football coach.

“A new president is probably the biggest transition that the University has faced since I was here,” senior Ryan Finlen said. “It does usher in a new era with Father Jenkins more so than anything else.”

Finlen said he remembers being around Jenkins during his freshman year in Sorin College.

“He used to sit down on the floor in one of the senior rooms where I used to watch some of the away games,” he said. “A couple years later he becomes [University president].”

Senior Mary Ellen Botta said the inauguration of Jenkins as the University’s 17th president is already showing some benefits.

“It was good, especially because all sorts of different dialogues were opened, even just with all the inaugural events,” she said. “His willingness to talk to students and come out with public statements is a big step.”

Finlen said the switch from Tyrone Willingham to Charlie Weis was not the defining event for the senior class.

“We switched from a coach that we only had for three years so it wasn’t like Ty was settled in really,” he said. “So even though it made headlines I don’t think it was the biggest change that the University has seen.”

Senior Sarah Sibley mentioned construction and physical changes at Notre Dame as something that sticks out in her mind.

“One thing is the expansion of campus, and that’s something that’s going to continue in the future,” she said. “Even with the Jordan Auditorium, the [Guglielmino Athletics Complex] and the road work done on Douglas [Road], campus has just gotten bigger.”

Senior Vince Lyzinski said that some of the most defining transformations at Notre Dame were already in place for his class.

“A lot of the changes they made were right before I came, like the alcohol policy, and I think campus became a lot more chill,” he said. “A lot more people went off-campus because Notre Dame had a successful war on fun.”

Sibley said Notre Dame is as concerned as ever with how it is perceived.

“We are extremely concerned with our national image and how that might affect alumni contributions and national ratings,” she said.

Predicting the future

Most seniors said they see a bright future for Notre Dame, one with expansion and many victories on the gridiron.

“The years ahead look pretty promising especially with the ten-year plan and talk of new dorms and a college town,” Finlen said. “I think the University is only going to grow and get better in the next few years, especially under Father Jenkins.”

Lyzinski said he looks forward to returning to Notre Dame, even if it’s not the way he left it.

“The campus is going to get completely overhauled,” Lyzinski said. “They’re getting wireless Internet and everything. I won’t recognize it in ten years, but I’ll come back.”

Sibley said she expects Notre Dame to grow to unprecedented heights.

“I think we are going to expand campus a lot and really improve our interactions with the community,” she said. “I also think, with our emphasis on national ratings, we’re going to increase our graduate programs and PhD programs.”

Botta said she hopes the underclassmen will be able to keep up with the forthcoming changes.

“I think Jenkins will keep it interesting,” she said. “Everybody who I know who is an underclassman seems really cool, so I hope it won’t get any stricter.”

Lyzinski said there is one change he cannot wait to see.

“We will win the National Championship [in football] next year,” he said.

Memories

“Oh goodness, there’s so many good memories,” Sibley said. “Most of them are just things I did with my friends.”

Finlen said his first memory of Notre Dame was the people.

“I remember everyone being so friendly and welcoming as soon as you step on and really that hasn’t changed in four years,” he said.

When recalling his best and worst times, Lyzinski remembers football games from his freshman year.

“The Michigan game my freshman year was a highlight, we won on like a last second play,” he said. “My worst memory is the Boston College game freshman year.”

Senior Andrew Romano remembers a more recent football game.

“The USC weekend was like a perfect weekend, all except the last seven seconds of the game,” he said. “The game actually lived up to the hype.”

Though Lyzinski found joy in watching a game from the stands, he said playing on the field was much better.

“Playing in the stadium twice for Interhall football was one of the coolest things ever,” he said. “Playing in Notre Dame Stadium has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.”

Botta expressed disappointment over “our basketball team’s progressively downward funk,” but said campus always promised a good time.

“There used to be this thing called craft corner that [Student Union Board] had when my friends and I were freshmen,” she said. “We would tie-dye T-shirts and random stuff like that, so that was always fun.”

Lyzinski described seeing his dorm room for the first time as a “terrifying experience,” but said Notre Dame offered him some unique opportunities, such as studying abroad in Hungary.

Lasting impressions

Despite an uncertain future, memories of big events and an ever-changing University, Finlen said the little things add up more than anything else.

“The big changes are important but the little things, like the extra effort that all the faculty give students here, are going to make a huge difference,” he said. “I think that’s why people choose Notre Dame – for the little things.”

According to Botta, Notre Dame was not without its faults, but it will leave a positive impression.

“I loved it, but no place is perfect,” she said. “It was really cool and I think the atmosphere … really did help me find out what kind of person I am.”

Finlen said the most important things he’ll take away from Notre Dame are the friendships.

“I’ve met a lot of good people here and I’ve kept in touch with as many as I could,” he said. “Those are people that are going to be around for the rest of my life.”

Sibley, like Finlen, said the connections she has made at Notre Dame will never be broken.

“I’ve made the best friends of my life here who will stick with me until my dying day,” she said. “I heard a story once where one gentleman went to an admissions counselor and said, ‘you don’t know, but you assigned my room and just picked my wedding party.'”

Down the road, when her kids ask her about Notre Dame, Sibley said she knows how to respond.

“I would say ‘let’s hop in the car, once you see it you will understand and you will love it.'”