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Always time for a ‘do-over’

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, September 7, 2006

Of the hundreds of hazy memories I have from my own Freshmen Orientation weekend (which was, ahem, more than 20 years ago), one still stands out for me. At one of the many meetings for freshmen, our rector in Farley, Sister Jean Lenz, kept telling us, “Don’t drink the punch.” She talked a little more about other things, and then she’d say, “And really, don’t drink the punch!” Then she introduced all the RAs, and slipped in a quick mention of not drinking the punch. “The punch” was usually created in a big bowl or a bucket in guys’ dorms by mixing Hawaiian Punch or Hi-C and Everclear. Unfortunately for those – mostly freshmen women, it seems – who drank it out of big cups, it tasted just like, well, plain old punch. Of course, after being told 25 times not to drink the punch, my roommates and I from my quad in Farley went over to Holy Cross Hall, and one of my quad-mates drank quite a quantity of punch. Now that quad was such a horrible room that it no longer exists in Farley, and Holy Cross was such an old hall that it no longer exists on campus (though a mournful little gravestone notes its former site along the side of St. Mary’s lake), but people often still lose their bearings in one way or another soon after they arrive at Notre Dame.

Perhaps you heard before you came here, “Oh, college is a chance for new beginnings! It’s a fresh start! Make the most of it!” All of which is true. So, given the opportunity for a fresh start, in a new place, with new friends, new classes, where no one knows that in high school you were a geek, or a party animal, or a soccer player, or the valedictorian or whatever … have you made the most of it? Certainly none of us came here thinking, “I’m so excited to go to Notre Dame. I can start out my career here as a really heavy drinker!” or, “Can’t wait ’til college so I can sleep in and miss my 8:00 class!” or, “I bet I’ll meet some guys down the hall and spend all my time playing video games with them instead of getting involved on campus!” But have we found ourselves in a place we never expected to be and can’t quite figure out how we got there?

I myself never touched the punch; I would have been petrified to so much as sip it. I made plenty of other mistakes while I was here, however, and mostly because I forgot. I think we often lose our bearings in a new place because we forget – we forget the best of what we’ve learned along the way, in our old places, where people knew exactly who we were and probably exactly what we needed to hear. If you’re not feeling too comfortable with your “new” self right now, go back and remember the best of the best; think of the best mentor you’ve had – in your family, at your church, in your school, on a sports team – and then think of the best advice that person gave you. Remember all you’ve learned from the people who have known you best in life, and keep that close to your heart.

Fresh starts are tougher than advertised. They’re a bit more work than we’d like to admit; we really have to pray hard and think and examine who we want to be. We’re not always willing to make the time and to take the mental energy required to do so, and lots of distractions eat away at our days and nights. However, even if the start of this year doesn’t feel so fresh to you any more, there’s always time for a “do-over.” Make your own new way; be the person you can be proud to be; never forget what the people you admire most have taught you. Notre Dame can truly be a place where you will feel most like the person God created you to be, not the least bit lost at all and ready to navigate any unfamiliar territory that comes your way.

Kate Barrett is the Director of Resources & Special Projects for Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

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