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The college sophomore

Mike Gilloon | Friday, May 18, 2007

Before Notre Dame played Nebraska in 2000, I mowed an interlocking “ND” logo into my sloping Omaha front yard. Passing drivers probably thought I was obsessed with a football game. Although that’s true, I created that large lawn decoration because I was proud.

I wanted everyone (or, at least, the handful of people who glanced awkwardly toward my house that week) to know that I was for the Fighting Irish.

This weekend, I graduate from the only school I ever wanted to attend.

While I’m as proud as ever, I don’t believe Notre Dame is perfect. It has its problems. The administration can be too controlling, the students can demand too much and, sometimes, we do take football too seriously.

I’m proud today because this school is my home. We came as North Siders and South Siders, Californians and Pennsylvanians, Nebraskans and New Yorkers. We leave as Notre Dame.

And that’s a group that includes more than just the few thousand people on campus.

We snicker when Chuck Lennon “raises the roof” at pep rallies, but there’s a little Chuck Lennon in everyone who loves this university. When someone buys a Victory March-playing key chain or drives 12 hours after work to see the Irish beat Duke by five touchdowns, we know that Notre Dame is more than a little college in northern Indiana. It’s a community built by the passion people have for it.

It’s bigger than its size. Go anywhere in the world and there’s someone who wants to talk about Notre Dame. Whether it be your grandfather, the grocery store cashier or Regis himself.

Most people talk about how they would love to visit for a day. We were lucky enough to live here.

We spent our mornings in DeBartolo, our Saturdays in the Stadium and our Tuesdays at Corby’s. There’s a lot that we’ll miss about this school. But we only had four years here – we knew that going in. That’s four more years than most will ever spend at this place.

Like a friend of mine said about graduation, “I’ve had my fun.” Me too. I’ve spent four years with my best friends at the school I love.

One sophomoric night, a dozen of us on Stanford Hall’s fourth floor spent hours duct-taping a room shut while its occupants slept. We slept in the hallway just to see Ray and Joe’s reaction in the morning.

Buying the Huddle out of its duct tape supply was stupid. But it wasn’t a waste of time. It was what happens when kids take advantage of the only moment in their lives when they don’t have anything better to do.

From now on, I’ll return to Notre Dame and remember when I was a sophomore. Maybe that’s the beauty of college that we get out before we get too old.

I’ve never felt better than when I was 19 on a Football Friday afternoon. We had no responsibility, save for sneaking Keystone Light down North Quad before an evening at Turtle Creek. Meals were paid for, parents were away and nothing mattered but five classes and 12 football games.

Senior year is different. Most of us are concerned with starting (or finding) a job and renting an apartment. We’re worried about cable bills and cell phone charges. We’re nervous about the real world.

But we won’t have to worry about Notre Dame.

As much as we’ll miss it, it’s not going anywhere. It’s a place where we will always be young.

One of my best friends and roommates asked at dinner a couple years ago, “Guys, can we ever say anything not sarcastic? Can we ever have a serious conversation?”

I don’t know, Packy. Maybe when we’re 57, the college sophomore inside us will be gone. But I hope not.